The digital era has made it a lot easier for Black creatives to gain visibility in the TV/film world. It’s still not an easy business to break into, and there’s so much to navigate—especially when it comes to finding the right opportunities. But Black creatives are thriving, putting out entertainment that has something for everyone, and forging lanes where they see fit. That’s why AURN Online has put together this list of six Black creatives in TV and film who go hard in the paint. They have talent, heart, skill, experience, and good advice for how to hone your creativity and breakout in the business—whether in traditional film, streaming, or development.
Malachi Rivers is an award-winning actor and producer who is well-versed in performing and visual arts. He’s a recipient of the 2017 Peach Theater “Rising Star Award” as well as “Best Musical in a Play” from the National Association of Women in the Arts, for his lead role in the NAACP Theater’s Ferguson The Musical. Rivers is currently EP, lead actor, and music supervisor for Poz Roz, a series that Shadow and Act heralds as must see web TV. It’s a dark comedy that explores the life of 20-something Rozzlyn Mayweather once an HIV+ diagnosis adds even more drama to her already crazy world. Rivers wears many hats when it comes to Poz Roz, which isn’t uncommon in the game, but the grind has given him invaluable knowledge and insight.
“My passion is acting,” Rivers tells AURN, “so that was always my priority with Poz Roz. I wanted to make sure that I did my job as an actor first. Poz Roz was my first time as an executive producer, and I learned so much as a creative—specifically a Black creative—and the hurdles we have to hop over sometimes. As an EP on an indie production, I never left the project. I was there from the beginning, securing the financing. I was there for the script development editing with Carlton Jordan, the creator. I was on set acting and even acted as a production assistant when we cut or when I didn’t have to be on set. I was there in post [production], which is key to making sure you have a solid product. It never ends. I even handle the social media. As far as the music supervisor role, it was a natural thing for me to hear music and put it with scenes because I am a music artist as well.”
Rivers added that, while administrative work can be tedious, when it comes to the business side, it’s also important to remember why you started in the first place and to imagine the benefits you reap when you keep going.
“I maintain my sanity by understanding the bigger picture and the end goal for the project. Also, knowing when to take breaks and have boundaries with my personal space. Poz Roz is a wonderful story that needs to be told and has become such a passion project of mine that I will see it through until the end.”
Next up for Poz Roz are the festival circuit, award show considerations, and a screening moderated by Sheryl Lee Ralph on February 11. Aside from Poz Roz, Rivers has a supporting role in a Netflix series entitled Mank coming out this fall.
Carlton Jordan is a writer, director, and producer with several years of experience in television, film, and digital under his belt. He got a traditional start in the business as an intern for Brian Garden, the former president of programming for MTV, where he learned the ropes. Jordan has a passion for unscripted TV and has worked on projects like Time’s Up for MTV, Big Freedia: Queen of Bounce, and more. His other passion is his original web series Poz Roz. You can watch all 13 episodes here.
Keep up with Carlton Jordan on Instagram
Caryn Ward Ross
Caryn Ward Ross is an actress and choreographer who comes from a family of professional dancers. Her grandmother was a chorus girl who moved to NYC in the 20’s to pursue her passion for dance, and her mother was a professional dancer before becoming a lawyer. Ward Ross recalls watching her mother in her dance classes and being inspired as young as 3 years old to eventually begin dance lessons as well. As a child, she was also glued to the TV watching Debbie Allen and all of the dancers on FAME. Then the power of positive thinking worked a miracle.
“I visualized myself on FAME,” Ward Ross tells AURN, “Through a series of fortunate events, I landed a recurring guest starring role on the show. I knew early on that the imagination is a powerful tool. It was Ms. Allen that gave me my first dance choreography assignment in one of the episodes. I was only 7 or 8 years old at the time, and I was trembling in my boots, but my dance training surely paid off and gave me the confidence I needed. I believe the discipline of dance carries over into other areas—whether it’s how you carry yourself when you walk into a room or the way you tenaciously pursue a goal.”
Some of Caryn Ward Ross’s other acting credits include: The Game, Entourage, Monogamy on UMC TV(which was created by her husband), and more. But she also writes and produces. She and her husband, Craig Ross Jr., are the minds behind 1019 Studios, a production company with multiple projects in development, including a dance-centered drama series that will be announced soon.
“The biggest lesson I’ve learned about creativity,” says Ward Ross, “is that it is yours alone. What I mean by that is: how you see things, your perception, your interpretation and your execution of a thought or idea, belongs solely to you. It doesn’t matter how many people are doing the same or something similar. It’s yours. And the more you grasp that concept, the more, I believe, you will nurture your own unique creative spark. It sounds so cliché to say, ‘there is no one like you’, but it’s true. You are unrepeatable. The more I have matured as a person and as an artist, I have come to know this immutable truth. Accessing your unique ‘print’ is what will fuel you and help you stay true to your vision when no one else can see it.”
Keep up with Caryn on Instagram @Caryn Ward Ross.
Every creative knows how easy it is to get attached to a project, but it’s also important to know when to let go. The latter is a concept Diamonde Williamson understood when she decided to walk away from her baby Blossom, a digital streaming platform geared toward Black women, where she oversaw content development.
“I stepped away from Blossom because I wanted to focus,” Williamson tells AURN, “I wanted to really hone in on the craft of creating content. I asked myself, ‘What does it mean to be excellent at the thing you want to be excellent at?’ and since then, I’ve let the answer be my North Star. I still have ownership at Blossom, but I have stepped back to let the new CEO take the company where she wants to.”
Williamson, who specializes in production, development, and content strategy, is currently the Chief Creative Officer at third & wonder production house and has worked as a producer for OWN. She got her start by creating videos on her YouTube channel to practice developing content and eventually reached out to a woman in her network who was in the business. Nearly eight years later, the rest is history.
“The most important thing I’ve learned [thus far] is to plan and commit to evolving,” says Williams, “The work won’t always look the same. The work I do now is very different than what I did eight years ago. Today, I am committed to quality over quantity, so I find myself spending more time focused on the details—both operationally and creatively. However, it does require intense planning. As creatives, I believe we have to stay committed. I’ve removed all deadlines I’ve had for ‘making it’ and stayed focused on being excellent and doing what I have been called to do. What does it mean to ‘make it’ anyway? The journey doesn’t stop.”
Williamson is most excited about a few documentary projects she has in the works.
Keep up with her on IG @TheRealDiamonde
Kirk A. Moore
Kirk A. Moore is a supervising producer and writer who got his start in the game right when he thought he should quit. The Houston native went to Atlanta and then LA to pursue his dreams, but constantly being told no almost broke his spirit. It’s a good thing he didn’t quit! Moore kept pushing and ended up helping Faith Evans develop some pitches for a reality show. He used that time to make connections and prepare for the success he eventually achieved. In 2014, Moore became an NBC “Writers on the Verge” Fellow and wrote for Netflix’s 13 Reasons Why. His other impressive credits include Marvel’s Runaways, American Crime, and more.
He’s also hilarious on Twitter. Follow him @KirkWrites79
Andrea Lewis is well known for her role as Hazel in 2001’s Degrassi: The Next Generation. The Canadian actress, who is based in LA, also flexes her skills as a writer and producer. Her latest venture is Jungle Wild Productions, an entertainment company she co-founded with the goal of helping experienced content creators focus on producing original TV, film and digital content that showcases women, people of color and the LGBT community.
“Launching a production company and being a full time artist is a lot of work, but I always knew that this would be my path,” says Lewis. “The biggest lessons I’ve learnt in producing is that every project is a different uphill battle so always be prepared to learn and go with the flow.”
Lewis also tells AURN that she has two feature films going into production this year and is excited to get them off the ground.
Keep up with Andrea’s content via her YouTube page.