Amid the ongoing debate about Hollywood diversity and inclusion in the wake of the #OscarsSoWhite controversy, African-American producer Marvin Peart came up a novel idea -- influential black figures in the industry should create their own studio.
Citing Dreamworks as a model -- the brainchild of three powerful men: Steven Spielberg, David Geffen and Jeffrey Katzenberg -- Peart has argued that the only way to institute real change is to have a minority-led home base for creative talent to compete with the major studios. Although African-American A-list stars like Oprah Winfrey, Denzel Washington, Morgan Freeman and Queen Latifah all helm their own production companies, none have the clout of a fully fledged studio operation.
Kevin Tsujihara at Warner Brothers is currently the only person of color running a major Hollywood studio. Peart, the co-founder of Marro Media Company, and the first African-American to executive produce a major animated motion picture (2013’s “Escape From Planet Earth”), believes that calls for a black boycott of the Academy Awards may be coming form a sincere place, but they won't fundamentally address the dearth of content and representation when it comes to people of color.
Peart told MSNBC on Thursday that after more than a decade in the film industry, he has encountered just three executives of color. He grew tired of being passed over for prestige projects, while getting offered stereotypical urban comedies instead, and he believes the problem is bigger than the Oscars. "I don't think it should be black or white," he said. "If you're black you should be able to pitch movie about a mafia family in Brooklyn."
The solution? "A black Weinstein company. You pick the schedule, you pick the projects," said Peart, who made it clear that he is talking about minority ownership, not necessarily "black movies."
"I think if Will Smith wanted to do it, Will Smith could do it," he added. Peart compares the current climate in Hollywood to pre-Obama America. Few African-Americans imagined there would be a black president in their lifetime prior to 2008, and now that it's a reality the concept of national candidates of color is no longer outside the norm. He believes that same phenomenon can occur when it comes to the creation of a minority-owned studio.
Peart says he has received encouragement from industry insiders, with one unnamed executive suggesting that he consider launching a company built within the existing infrastructure of one of the major studios. "I think it will happen because I’m gonna make it happen," said Peart, "I am going to put one foot in front of the other ... and I think I know what to do to get it done."
"The creative community, I think, will embrace it," he added, citing the results of this year's SAG awards as not just a rebuke of the Academy Awards, but proof that actors, writers and directors all are interested in advancing the cause of diversity, not just on movie screens but in board rooms, too.
In the aftermath of this year's Oscar controversy, the Academy, which is currently being led by African-American Cheryl Boone Issacs, for the first time instituted radical reforms to increase racial and gender diversity within their ranks. Starting next year, Oscar voters will be on term limits, and if they haven't won an Academy Award themselves or been active in the industry in the last decade, they could be bounced out. Meanwhile, hundreds more women and minorities have been invited to join the Academy.
"[The Academy] should create a system where they send you a movie and I have to be able to tell that a person watched the movie," said Peart, who is a member of the Producer's Guild but declines to vote for awards because, like a lot of Oscar voters, he doesn't get to watch all the nominated films. He believes what the academy and the industry requires is a broader sensibility, "someone who can see a movie like 'Room' is a great movie, but also see that 'Straight Outta Compton' is a great movie."