How Charles D. King is Using Hollywood to Shift Culture
At this year’s Academy Awards, Mary J. Blige was the first person to be nominated for an acting role and an original song at the same time. Rachel Morrison was the first woman to be nominated for cinematography. And Writer/Director Dee Rees was the first black woman to be nominated for best adapted screenplay. The nominations were for the women’s work on the period epic Mudbound, and they served as yet another proof point of the success of MACRO, the diversified media and entertainment company making waves—and history—in Hollywood.
Helmed by industry veteran Charles D. King, MACRO is on a remarkable journey to relay a more authentic world view: one that accurately portrays the real experiences, particularly, of people of color. With unwavering optimism, King is out to prove that Hollywood can and will value voices that have been underrepresented, both on screen and behind the camera. Not only because it’s reflective of the real world we live in, but because in an industry that depends on diverse movie-goers to buy tickets, it’s smart.
“These stories should be able to be told by people who are coming from the community that they’re being told about,” says King, who represented black entertainers from Oprah Winfrey to Prince and Janet Jackson and is clearly thrilled to help lead this transformation. Despite being a veteran of the notoriously tough industry, he exudes the positivity and excitement of an entrepreneur with the potential to change the world. “This is what’s shaping culture on a global level,” he says.
The film and TV industry has made great strides over the last few years, and King is enthusiastic about this progress. But on the whole, Hollywood creators and their stories remain far less diverse than our real-world culture. It’s a subtlety that end users can’t always see, but the experiences of every person involved in a production—writers, grips, editors, cinematographers, music supervisors—make a difference. MACRO is creating an enterprise that is far more purposeful about diversity, both from those who tell the stories, and the characters who bring the stories to life.
How MACRO is Changing the Game
Today MACRO is behind successful projects from award-winning films Fences (2016) to TV series like the upcoming Gente-fied, executive produced by MACRO and America Ferrera and depicting a Mexican neighborhood dealing with shifting generations and perspectives in Los Angeles. Denzel Washington’s performance in MACRO’s Roman J. Israel, Esq., was also up for an Oscar this year. MACRO’s strategy is simple: invest in the voices and talents of people of color, and they will create authentic stories that speak to real audiences. Audiences, in turn, will show up.
“To this day, I’ll go out on pitch meetings where we’re in a room and there’s not even a single person of color,” King says, despite the fact that 50 percent of movie-goers are. “You need to have a better makeup of the room, of decision makers, at the studios, and at the network."
And if real change doesn’t happen that way? “You need to start institutions and companies that will disrupt the marketplace,” he says matter-of-factly.
This innovative spirit has driven King since before he began working in the industry. Growing up in the Atlanta area, he was acutely aware that few characters in movies and TV looked like him. So when he began working as an agent in the 2000s, he differentiated himself by making a conscious choice to get to the root of that problem.
“When you represent actors, you’re waiting for roles that are already being developed to see what your clients may fit,” says the father of two. “But when you represent the people creating those stories and defining those roles, you have the ability to shape the product and fight for it to be produced—the right way."
MACRO Has Already Paved the Road Forward--and Won’t be Slowed Down
It’s fulfilling for King to blend his passions for civil rights and activism with the media work he loves. And it’s been a long road to get here. For a long time, he was “quietly operating,” he says, building relationships, getting experience, and getting exposure in the industry. Now that he’s built credibility and a reputation for producing world-class work, he’s able to be open about his intentions. And he’s more optimistic than ever about the potential for change.
“I’m able to be unabashedly myself, and be much more free about it,” he says excitedly. “I’m definitely trying to open the doors and burst them open for many more people.”
To be sure, King has faced strong resistance over the years. The “old guard” studio heads dismiss successful movies geared toward diverse audiences as “flukes or exceptions.” Even as recently as last year, following commercial success of blockbuster films like Moonlight, Hidden Figures, and Get Out, a potential MACRO investor got cold feet at the last minute, claiming the market for MACRO’s work was “too small.”
While moments like these are disappointing, King has always use this kind of resistance as fuel to keep pushing. The industry has already seen so much progress that there’s no turning back now. It’s not just about him and his dreams, it’s about empowering and uplifting communities on a global level by ensuring all voices are represented.
“It’s time for people of color to see themselves in the characters and stories on their screens,” he says emphatically. And it’s in the best interest of studios and investors to get on board. Just do the math behind the record-smashing success of Black Panther to see it’s true.
“I’m not doing this just for me, this is a much larger global push,” he says. “It’s well beyond me, and it’s my duty. I want to be able to show it can be done, and make it that much easier for the next person. Nothing is going to deter me—period."