In May, Disney General Entertainment officially introduced its content brand Onyx Collective, dedicated to curating a slate of premium entertainment from creators of color and underrepresented voices. Led by Freeform president Tara Duncan, the brand is off to a running start, growing its talent roster and stable of scripted and non-scripted projects.
Its first, Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson’s acclaimed documentary Summer of Soul (…or, When the Revolution Could Not be Televised), was released theatrically by Disney’s Searchlight Pictures before it landed on Hulu in early July. In June, Onyx Collective added another documentary project to its slate, partnering with OWN: Oprah Winfrey Network and Hulu for The Hair Tales — billed as an exploration of Black women, beauty and identity through the lens of Black hair — from executive producers Tracee Ellis Ross (Black-ish) and Michaela Angela Davis (The Meaning of Mariah Carey).
Spearheading the brand’s non-fiction content is Jacqueline Glover (pictured, left), ABC News’ head of documentaries and former SVP of HBO Documentary Films, where she worked for nearly three decades, and Jihan Robinson (right), VP of alternative programming at Freeform.
Serving as head of documentary programming and VP of documentary programming, respectively, Glover and Robinson will also oversee Hulu’s The 1619 Project docuseries.
“There is a whole Disney company behind Onyx Collective,” Glover tells Realscreen. “There’s these relationships that we have throughout the company that we can leverage. That’s an important aspect of who we are and what we bring to the table.”
Now, with more projects in development, the division is firing on all cylinders to build “a home where creators of color are inspired, empowered and have unparalleled access to reach audiences around the world,” as Duncan said in May.
“We want to entertain and delight, and while we’re not shying away from obstacles in the lives of people of color, our lives are not inherently political and social justice can be a byproduct of the stories that we tell, but it’s not our mission,” Robinson tells Realscreen. “We’re looking to show the texture of our experiences.”
Realscreen caught up with Glover and Robinson to discuss Onyx Collective’s documentary strategy.
What types of docs are you most interested in?
JG: We’re certainly looking for projects that are premium. We’re really focusing on uplifting stories… We want to really be original and think about the stories filmmakers want to tell and lean into their creativity and try to be forward thinking as well.
JR: We’re looking to identify entertaining and aspirational stories from a distinctly Black and POC point of view. I’m looking for stories with authenticity and optimism and looking to amplify the voices of best in class creators of color, provide a platform for uncompromising stories and creators of color. That’s a core tenet of our work.
How will Onyx serve to empower creators of color, both established and emerging?
JR: It’s really being intentional about equity and creating a balance in the marketplace which might still be considered a radical concept but we think that the ethos of Onyx counters that notion.
When it comes to seeking out emerging creators specifically, how are you going about finding that talent, and is there a way for emerging creators to pitch to you or to make themselves known to you?
JG: We’re open to taking pitches. We certainly will be in the spaces where filmmakers are, in addition to working with filmmakers who’ve been doing this for a long time. We’re always keeping our eye out for new folks, certainly at film festivals, markets — all of the obvious places that people go to present their work.
How much of your strategy on the doc side will be leveraging the talent and IP of the various brands under the Disney umbrella?
JR: We’re telling stories of underrepresented voices and so, while we wouldn’t turn any story away, we’re really focused on the things that we haven’t seen or the stories that we don’t know more so than leveraging IP for things that are already out there. But, we’re at the very early stages. The mission’s really to bring new voices into the fold.
What are your goals for the future of Onyx Collective?
JR: I hope to inspire and delight. For example, [with] Summer of Soul, from the outside it may look like this documentary about this amazing concert, the Harlem Cultural Festival… but you leave from Summer of Soul feeling that this is an incredible historical document about a pivotal time in U.S. history for Black Americans, told through the lens of this concert that presents Black joy and community and culture in a way that feels really positive and energetic… I hope that our programming can do that — create a nuanced perspective and portrayal of Black, POC life.
JG: Bringing stories from a very specific point of view but that are universal. These stories are going to be either entertaining or informative or just moving in some way that makes you think about the human condition. Celebrating the filmmakers that tell those stories is important.
This story first appeared in the September/October 2021 issue of Realscreen Magazine, which is out now. Not a subscriber? Click here for more information.