The following article contains all of the bios and headshots for RogerEbert.com's inaugural Black Writers Week writers and participants, headed by our Editor-in-Chief, Chaz Ebert, and arranged alphabetically according to the following categories: guest editors, Profiles in Courage subjects, panelists and contributors.—The Editors
Chaz Ebert is the CEO of Ebert Digital LLC, which publishes the movie review site, Rogerebert.com. She produces television and movies, and co-founded the Ebertfest Film Festival, now in its 22nd year, with her late husband, Pulitzer-prize winner, Roger Ebert. She awards The Golden Thumb and Ebert Humanitarian Awards at Ebertfest, and at the Toronto and Chicago International Film Festivals to filmmakers who exhibit an unusually compassionate view of the world.
As president of the Roger and Chaz Ebert Foundation her civic passions include programs to help break the glass ceiling for women and people of color, and to provide education and arts for women, children and families. She also supports programs with a global interest in encouraging empathy, kindness, compassion and forgiveness. She has provided grants to support films with strong social justice themes, and also encourages and supports emerging writers, filmmakers, and technologists with her endowment of scholarships, internships or awards at the Sundance Film Festival, Film Independent Spirit Awards - Project Involve, the University of Illinois Ebert Fellowships, the Hawaii International Film Festival-Young Critics Program, the Telluride Ebert/TFF University Seminars, the Chicago International Film Festival- Ebert Director Awards, and the Columbia College Links Journalism Awards in conjunction with the Chicago Urban League.
She is an executive producer of 3 recently acclaimed films: "Passing," directed by Rebecca Hall; "A Most Beautiful Thing," directed by Mary Mazzio; and "Mr. Soul!", directed by Melissa Haizlip. She is also an executive producer of the New Works Virtual Festival to assist in raising funds for The Actors Fund, a charitable organization supporting performers and behind-the-scenes workers in entertainment, helping over 17,000 people each year.
Previously as an attorney she was named Lawyer of the Year by the Constitutional Rights Foundation. She was named the 2019 Beethoven Laureate for being "a humanist who promotes justice and a better world through the arts"; by the International Beethoven Project. She is a life trustee of the Art Institute and serves on the boards of the Lyric Opera, the Abraham Lincoln Library Foundation, After School Matters, the Shirley Ryan Ability Lab, the Honorary Board of Family Focus, and the Advisory Board of Facets Multimedia. Some of her professional affiliations include the African American Film Critics Association,
the Alliance of Women Film Journalists and the Chicago Film Critics Association.
Robert Daniels is a freelance film critic based in Chicago with a MA in English. He’s the founder of 812filmreviews, with words written for RogerEbert, ThePlaylist, The New York Times, LA Times, Polygon, and so forth.
Odie "Odienator" Henderson has spent over 33 years working in Information Technology. He runs the blogs Big Media Vandalism and Tales of Odienary Madness. Read his answers to our Movie Love Questionnaire here.
A lover of film noir, musicals, Blaxploitation, bad art and good trash, Odie has been a Far Flung Correspondent since 2011. He has written for Slant Magazine's The House Next Door blog since 2006. He is the troublemaker responsible for the Black History Mumf series at Big Media Vandalism. His work has also appeared in The Village Voice, Vulture, Cineaste Magazine, MovieMezzanine, Movies Without Pity, Salon, and of course, here at RogerEbert.com.
In 2013, Odie entered the world of film festival programming, presenting 9 movies at the Off Plus Film Festival in Krakow, Poland.
Based in the NYC area, Odie enjoys writing code almost as much as he enjoys writing prose. Something is wrong with that guy.
Sergio Mims is a film critic and journalist and is the host and producer of the weekly Bad Mutha’ Film Show WHPK-FM (88.5PM Chicago) a screenwriter and appears every week on the Movie Madness podcast on the Now Playing Network. He is also the co-founder and co-programmer of the Black Harvest Film Festival in Chicago which is one of the largest black festivals in the world and which this year will be celebrating its 27th continuum year.
A former member of the Director's Guild of America as an assistant director both here in Chicago and Los Angeles and Mims is also a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and is also a commentator for Blu-ray DVDs for Vinegar Syndrome, Scorpion Releasing, Imprint Films, Kino Lorber and Arrow Films.
Danielle A. Scruggs (she/her) is a photographer, photo editor, and writer living in Chicago, Illinois. She graduated from Howard University with a degree in journalism and from the Maryland Institute College of Art with a master’s degree in digital art.
Danielle is also the founder and editor of Black Women Directors, a digital library highlighting the work of Black women and non-binary filmmakers throughout the Diaspora. Her photography clients include the New York Times, AARP, Buzzfeed News, ESPN, Financial Times, and the New Republic. She has written about art, culture, and film for Ebony, Essence, Teen Vogue, Artsy Magazine, and Observer.com.
T. SHAWN TAYLOR
A self-described nerd who wrote short stories and poems in grammar school and charged kids on the playground a quarter apiece to read them, in 2006, Shawn tapped into that entrepreneurial spirit to found Treetop Consulting, a boutique communications firm, following a successful career in newspapers that spanned the Midwest. She spent 15 years at the Chicago Tribune and held several positions including copy editor, cops and courts reporter, business writer and weekly columnist, and feature writer. She also worked for the Kansas City Star and Detroit Free Press as a copy editor, and interned at the St. Louis Post Dispatch, which awarded her its minority journalism scholarship in 1984 to attend the University of Missouri – Columbia’s top-rated journalism school.
Still a journalist at heart, Shawn has employed her interviewing and research prowess to examine the social, emotional and economic impact the early deaths of Black men have on families and communities in the documentary in progress “Gone Too Soon: America’s Missing Black Men.” In October 2019, she graduated from Kartemquin Films’ Diverse Voices in Docs program for aspiring filmmakers.
Shawn has built a reputation as a skilled writer and master storyteller, developing content for individuals and organizations on a range of topics including social justice; gender and racial equality; equal pay; equity in education; entrepreneurship; small business financing; the manufacturing and aerospace industries; restaurants; labor and management issues; and healthcare and risk management. She has helped produce content for the Chicago Public Schools and Cook County Risk Management, and developed web content, event scripts, press materials, as well as speeches, Op Eds and keynote addresses for organizational leaders at the Chicago Urban League, global researcher Nielsen and Johnson Publishing Company.
Her first book, “The Girlfriend’s Guide to Closing the Deal,” (220 Publishing/June 2019) was co-written with Melody Spann Cooper, president of Midway Broadcasting Corporation, owner of the iconic WVON 1690 AM Radio station in Chicago. Shawn is currently collaborating with a journalist/broadcast television star to produce the first two books in a crime series. A trained flutist and master Hoola Hooper, Shawn says comedic writing is her next frontier. “I’m in the most creative phase of my life, and I’m loving it.” Her motto is, “Whenever possible, start at the top.”
DR. KIZZMEKIA S. CORBETT
Dr. Kizzmekia S. Corbett is a research fellow and the scientific lead for the Coronavirus Vaccines & Immunopathogenesis Team at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Vaccine Research Center (VRC). She received a B.S. in Biological Sciences, with a secondary major in Sociology, in 2008 from the University of Maryland–Baltimore County, where she was a Meyerhoff Scholar and an NIH undergraduate scholar. She then enrolled at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she obtained her Ph.D. in Microbiology and Immunology in 2014.
A viral immunologist by training, Corbett uses her expertise to propel novel vaccine development for pandemic preparedness. Appointed to the VRC in 2014, her work focuses on developing novel coronavirus vaccines, including mRNA-1273, a leading candidate vaccine against the virus that causes COVID-19. In response to the ongoing global COVID-19 pandemic, the vaccine concept incorporated in mRNA-1273 was designed by Corbett’s team from viral sequence data and rapidly deployed to industry partner, Moderna, Inc., for U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved Phase 1 clinical trial, which unprecedentedly began only 66 days from the viral sequence release.
Dr. Kahil El'Zabar, (PHD Interdisciplinary Arts from Lake Forest College ,2006),has been performing professionally, as a creative musician (multi-percussionist), since the late 60’s. He first went on the road with the legendary Gene Ammons, and later throughout his career with such luminaries as Dizzy Gillespie, Pharoah Sanders, Stevie Wonder, Lester Bowie, Nina Simone, Archie Shepp, Eddie Harris, David Murray, Donny Hathaway, Malachi Favors, Kurt Elling, Neneh Cherry, and on.
El’Zabar joined the legendary AACM(association for the advancement of creative musicians) in 1970, and later became chairman(1975-82). He is leader and founder of the internationally renowned Ethnic Heritage Ensemble and the Ritual Trio, and has recorded more than 60 acclaimed projects worldwide. He has won numerous awards over the years for his musical skills, from Down Beat and Jazz Is magazines, as well as the Jazz Journalist Association. Sir El'Zabar was actually Knighted by the French Government in 2014,(Chevalier Medal of Letters) for his impactful contribution to the arts internationally. He was named Chicagoan of the year in 2006 by the Chicago Tribune. He has been an artist in residence since 2008 in the City of Bordeaux, France, where he has created, organized, and produced a myriad of stellar performance and exhibition projects. Sir Kahil El'Zabar is considered by his peers, to be one of the most innovative and influential musicians of his generation.
An internationally-recognized and widely-respected peacemaker, Erica Ford has been at the forefront of reducing youth and community violence in New York City and beyond for over 30 years.
Believing in the power of partnership, Erica has championed personal and systemic approaches to conflict resolution worldwide. Through LIFE Camp, Inc.’s groundbreaking programs, Erica has empowered thousands of individuals and families to break the cycle of violence and promote peace. Erica’s concept for increasing safety has been adopted and implemented by New York City resulting in a 10% reduction in violence citywide.
Through the years, Erica’s dedication to reducing violence among New Yorkers has garnered countless awards, accolades and praise by notable public figures such as former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Oprah Winfrey and hip hop mogul Russell Simmons. Her recognized leadership has brought extensive travel and teaching opportunities in prisons, community centers, high schools, college campuses and conferences throughout the world.
Jeremy is the owner of Black People Eats, LLC a digital advertising company that promotes black-owned food and beverage businesses. He highlights these companies through food reviews, food videos/pictures, and his black restaurant directory ( www.blackpeopleeats.com).
His team's primary focus is on black-owned establishments only because they want to serve as a platform that gives black-owned food businesses a global voice. Once he realized how black restaurants were not promoted as much as they should be on other media platforms and he wanted to be the catalyst for change.
Julieanna L. Richardson created a unique path to founding and heading up the largest national collection effort of African American video oral histories on record since the WPA Slave Narratives. With her diverse background in law, television production and the cable television industries, she combined her various work experiences and her passion for American Studies to conceptualize, found and build The HistoryMakers.
Richardson received her J.D. degree in 1980 from Harvard Law School and began her career as a corporate lawyer at the law firm of Jenner & Block prior to serving in the early 1980s as the Cable Administrator for the City of Chicago’s Office of Cable Communications. She went on to found Shop Chicago, a regionally based home shopping channel. She then started her own production company, SCTN Teleproductions, which for eight years managed local cable channels, and served as the local production arm for C-SPAN.
PANEL #1: “The Tanning of Hollywood: Reimagining Equity and Inclusion as a Pinnacle Measure of Cinematic and Theatrical Excellence” on June 16th
Jon Carr is executive producer of The Second City. Prior to joining us, he was artistic director for Dad’s Garage Theater in Atlanta, Georgia. A seasoned improviser, performer, and award-winning playwright with nearly 20 years of industry experience, Jon has been part of Atlanta’s creative community for more than 15 years, where, among his many creative accomplishments, he held the position of audience development manager at Alliance Theatre and founded United Atlanta Improv to help improv theatres around the city come together through collaborative works.
With his Dad’s Garage improv group “Dark Side of the Room,” Jon has worked with the Center for Civil and Human Rights, performing across North America. His original play Black Nerd was awarded the 2018 Suzi Bass Award for Best Original Play. Originally from Los Angeles, he holds a degree in marketing and business administration from Georgia State University. He looks forward to making homeschooled kids like himself proud.
Shawn Edwards is a journalist, TV and film producer and marketing and event consultant. As a nationally recognized film critic for Fox 4 News in Kansas City, Missouri he has won numerous national awards including Best TV Film Critic twice by the LA Press Club's National Entertainment Journalism Awards.
Edwards co-founded the African American Film Critics Association in 2003, and produces their annual award show that takes place annually in LA. He is also on the Board of the Critics Choice Association. Edwards created and executive produces 'A Celebration of Black Cinema' in conjunction with the Critics Choice Association which premiered in 2014 in Los Angeles at the House of Blues Sunset and aired nationally in 2021. Edwards also created iloveblackmovies in 2008, the popular social media film community. He also published a digital book in 2019 celebrating 100 years of black filmmaking.
Edwards has produced numerous TV shows and documentaries for FGW Productions and BlackTree TV, both based in Los Angeles. Edwards currently works at Hidden Empire Film Group (“Black and Blue,” “The Intruder” and “Fatale”), based in Los Angeles, as a Senior Marketing Specialist. He is a life-long lover of movies who began making his own films in the 7th grade.
Karen Horne is a senior executive with over 20 years of experience within the entertainment industry. She has been recognized as a Diversity and Inclusion pioneer and pipeline builder. Karen recently joined WarnerMedia where she is Senior Vice President of Equity & Inclusion. She leads the domestic and international creative talent development pipeline programs and initiatives across the enterprise’s many brands, including HBO, HBO Max, Warner Bros film and television, the Turner Networks, Adult Swim, Cartoon Network, CNN, DC Comics and WarnerMedia’s gaming divisions.
Prior to joining WarnerMedia, Karen spent over a decade at NBCUniversal, where she was Senior Vice President, Programming Talent Development and Inclusion for NBC Entertainment and Universal Television Studios. In this role, Karen was responsible for overseeing in-front-of and behind-the-camera primetime diversity efforts. The programs and initiatives she created and/or developed became the industry’s gold standard and a blueprint for many other companies
Horne’s lengthy resume includes a variety of disciplines and contacts. She served as Director, Creative Affairs, at IDT Animation and she designed, implemented and oversaw Nickelodeon’s Writer Fellowship Program. Horne also was the Director of Writer Development & Special Projects for Walt Disney Studios and Walt Disney Network Television. Previously, she served as Director, West Coast, for the Black Filmmaker Foundation.
Horne was also a Co-producer at HBO for the Emmy Award-winning animated series “Spawn.” Her early career includes stints at ABC as an Executive Assistant to the President, ABC Entertainment, as well as positions at ABC Television Network Group and ABC Sports.
Ms. Horne has spoken both nationally and internationally on diversity and inclusion best practices and has been honored with several awards and recognitions for her diversity and inclusion work and her service to underrepresented communities. She serves on the boards of Montclair State University’s School of Communication and Media; USC’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, The Alliance of Women Directors, the Bay Area’s Urban League and is a member of several entertainment industry organizations.
JANEIKA & JASHEIKA JAMES
JaNeika and JaSheika James have had an ongoing love affair with film and television since childhood. It wasn’t until college that the twin sisters decided to pursue careers in film and TV, both graduating with bachelor’s degrees in Telecommunication from the University of Florida’s College of Journalism. While sharing common goals to write for television, JaNeika and JaSheika have taken very different paths in achieving those goals.
Upon graduating from the University of Florida, JaSheika went on to work for the hit series, DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES and DEXTER, and later in post-production at ABC Studios. Her professional experience in the writers’ room began on ABC’s REVENGE, where she joined the writing staff in the third season. Following JaNeika’s master’s studies at Syracuse University’s Newhouse School of Public Communication, she had the opportunity to interview Yvette Lee Bowser, Creator and Executive Producer of the hit FOX television series LIVING SINGLE. She began her career working for Mrs. Bowser on UPN’s HALF & HALF. JaNeika went on to work under the producing team of Jennifer Crittenden and Gabrielle Allan (SEINFELD, SCRUBS, WHAT’S YOUR NUMBER?) at ABC Studios, and later in Scripted Development at VH1.
JaNeika and JaSheika rose up the ranks from Staff Writers to Supervising Producers on Fox’s groundbreaking hit series, EMPIRE. They also served as Co-Executive Producers on Netflix’s limited series, TRUE STORY, starring Kevin Hart and Wesley Snipes, and HBO Max’s GOSSIP GIRL, and are currently developing Showtime’s MABEL, an origin series based on Tyler Perry’s Madea, as Executive Producers alongside Tyler Perry and Tim Palen. The James Twins are committed to creating, developing, and writing projects that enlighten, inspire, and entertain audiences around the world. Their debut book, LIVING DOUBLE, is a behind-the-scenes look at the competitive world of writing for television, as well an inspiring account of two sisters determined to make their dream careers a reality – and to share life lessons with those who have big dreams, but are uncertain how to achieve them.
Troy Osborne Pryor is an American producer, host, and actor. His collaborations have led to award-winning projects and content with ABC, Warner Brothers, TruTV, HGTV, DIY Network, TV One, Aspire TV, KweliTV, and more.
A Chicago native, Troy is an advocate for connecting local, undiscovered diverse talent to mainstream content and media platforms through his entertainment network, Creative Cypher and the various brands under his chief company, Pryor Holdings. Troy was the youngest person ever to be elected to SAG-AFTRA Chicago’s Board of Directors and was a mentor for President Barack Obama’s White House project, A Call to ArtsHis with SAG-AFTRA. As a former collegiate athlete, Troy was a record-breaking powerlifter and linebacker for the University of Illinois. As a Chicago Scholars 35 Under 35, Ariel Investments/WVON 40 Game Changer, Black Enterprise TCX Fellow, and ADColor nominated Innovator of the Year, Pryor has a tenacity for innovation and big-picture, strategic thinking.
Still very much grounded in the values of his church family, he continues to spend his time ministering, mentoring, and coaching as he strives daily to reach his full potential. Learn more at troypryor.com.
REBECCA FORD (moderator)
Rebecca Ford Terry is a partner at the law firm Scharf Banks Marmor. She is the former Executive Vice
President and head of litigation at the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer movie studio. She is current or former trustee of numerous civic and cultural institutions, including the Goodman Theatre, the Field Museum, the Chicago Humanities Festival, the Renaissance Society, Injustice Watch, and the Art Institute of Chicago.
Rebecca received her B.A. from Harvard College and J.D. from the University of Chicago Law School. A published writer and accomplished public speaker, she has written for the Milken Institute Review, The American Lawyer, the Reader, the New York Law Journal, the Chicago Tribune and IICLE. Rebecca is a frequent movie and entertainment contributor to Variety.com, the Chicago Daily Law Bulletin and WCPT AM820.
PANEL #2: “Whose Gaze: A Roundtable of Black Film Critics at the Movies” on June 18th, moderated by Chaz Ebert
Sarah-Tai Black is a film programmer, critic, and arts curator living in Toronto/Treaty 13 Territory. Their writing has been published by several outlets, including The Globe and Mail, The Los Angeles Times, Cinema Scope, and MUBI Notebook. They have spoken about arts culture, film, and moving image arts in their many forms as a guest of the National Gallery of Canada, the Museum of Contemporary Art (Canada), Screen International, and Huffington Post. Sarah-Tai currently appears as a co-host on Netflix Film Club’s online video series Black Film School and has previously worked alongside the programming teams at TIFF, Tribeca Film Festival, and True/False Film Festival. Their work often focuses on the affective and functional capacities of Black life in screen images and visual media.
Emmanuel Noisette (or “E-Man” ) is the author and creator of E-Man's Movie Reviews. He is a Rotten Tomatoes approved film critic, and a member of the African American Film Critics Association. Emmanuel is also the Director of the Chicago Indie Critics who seek to highlight diversity in film criticism.
He serves as the lead film critic for TheMovieBlog.com, and has been featured on TheWrap.com , Yahoo Entertainment and MSNBC. In addition to writing about films, Emmanuel is also a video content producer and social media influencer.
He has a combined social media following of over 300K followers including Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram.
Tambay Obenson founded the Shadow & Act Black cinema and television online hub in 2009, where he served as editor-in-chief for 8 years, before selling to Blavity Inc in 2017. After a year-long vacation, he joined the Indiewire editorial team, where he is now a full-time staff writer, covering primarily cinema and television of Africa and its global diaspora.
Reggie Ponder, The Reel Critic, can be heard each Friday on WBEW 91.1 FM Chicago/Vocalo.org. He is the resident film critic for The Garfield/Lawndale Voice in Chicago and has several radio/internet segments designed to elevate Black voices in film.
His latest project is The Reel Critic Roundtable @ reggieponder.com, a weekly showcase featuring four African American critics discussing film, TV and industry news. His work can also be found at various publications - most recently Variety Magazine. Reggie is member of the African-American Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Awards.
Carla Renata aka The Curvy Film Critic™ is a graduate of Howard University and named one of 2018’s Underrepresented Critics of Color by the Los Angeles Times. Her reviews, articles and/or op-ed's have been featured at AAFCA.com, Ebony.com, NPR.org, her own site The Curvy Film Critic, ET Live! Maltin on Movies, RogerEbert.com, as well as Shadow and Act, EUR Web, FOX 11-LA, Good Day LA and Variety. She is a highly sought after host/moderator who had the privilege to host an evening of The Black Experience on Film for Turner Classic Movies sponsored by AAFCA, Q&A's for Bentonville Film Festival, Netflix, SAG-AFTRA, American Cinematheque, Lionsgate, Film Independent and more.
Being a proud member of AAFCA (African American Film Critics Association), (OAFFC) The Online Association of Female Film Critics, (AWFJ) Alliance of Female Journalists, Tomatometer approved critic on Rotten Tomatoes and a member of (CCA) Critics Choice Association.
The Curvy Critic with Carla Renata streams LIVE every Sunday 5pm PST via YouTube featuring reviews, news and interviews with stars in front and behind the camera.
For nearly three decades, writer/author Gil L. Robertson IV has used the written word to enlighten, empower and uplift. The one-time political organizer initially made his mark in entertainment journalism, penning over 50 national magazine covers and contributing bylines to a wide range of publications that include the Los Angeles Times, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Billboard, Fortune, Essence and Ebony. He is also the founder and creator of the nationally syndicated Arts & Lifestyle column, The Robertson Treatment, which began twenty years old with an interview with Samuel L. Jackson for Eve’s Bayou. Today, The Robertson Treatment has a reach of nearly two million.
As an author, Robertson has specialized in books that empower his readers, beginning first with the self-published Writing as a Tool of Empowerment (2003), a resource guide primarily aimed at young people interested in journalism. From there, he edited the groundbreaking 2006 anthology Not in My Family: AIDS in the African American Community where he gathered a diverse mix of voices that include Oscar winner Mo’Nique, Congresswoman Barbara Lee, legendary singer Patti LaBelle and former U.S. Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders, all addressing one of the most pressing public health and social challenges of our time. His subsequent anthologies—Family Affair: What It Means to Be African American Today (2008) and Where Did Our Love Go: Love and Relationships in the African American Community (2013)—ignited a national conversation about identity and love and relationships in the 21st century.
In addition, Robertson has been a regular contributor to The African American Almanac (Gale Press). Accolades for his work include “Pick of the Week” selection by Publisher’s Weeklyfor Family Affair and a NAACP Image Awards nomination for Not in My Family. Book of Black Heroes: Political Leaders Past & Present, his latestfrom Just Us Books, is a full circle moment for Robertson who began the first phase of his career in politics. The collection of biographies on game-changing elected political leaders like former President Barack Obama, pioneering Los Angeles mayor Tom Bradley, current U.S. Senator Kamala Harris and Reconstruction era governor Pinckney Benton Stewart Pinchbank is intended to introduce young readers especially to not only dynamic personalities but to the concept of individual and political leadership.
Never one to sit on the sidelines of any pressing issue, in 2003, Robertson rolled up his sleeves and got to work as the co-founder of the African American Film Critics Association (AAFCA), the largest collection of Black film critics in North America. As its president, Robertson oversees the annual AAFCA Awards, which has become a recognized fixture of the Hollywood awards season. In addition to highlighting African American achievement behind and in front of the camera, AAFCA works with the industry to usher in and support African Americans in the Hollywood community, uniting consumers, creators and gatekeepers. Robertson also serves as a public ambassador for diversity within the industry, appearing on numerous shows on networks like CNN.
Robertson earned a B.A. in Political Science from Cal State Los Angeles and is a professional member of the National Press Club, National Association of Black Journalists, The Recording Academy, The National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences and the Motion Picture Association of America. He is also a national lecturer who speaks on such issues as fostering diverse representation in the entertainment industry, as well as personal and communal development.
Kathia Woods is a movie critic/entertainment journalist out of Philadelphia, PA and the creator of CupofSoulShow. CupofSoulShow is an online outlet that covers minority creatives in film, television, and music. She is also a contributor to Mark and Denise in The Morning on 860 A.M WWDBAM.Com. Sundance, SXSW, Tribeca, and The Philadelphia Film Festival are some of the events that she has covered through her brand.
Kathia was born in Munich Germany but is of Brazilian descent. She is fluent in 5 languages and a graduate of Temple University, where she obtained a Bachelor of Arts. Kathia is a member of several great organizations amongst them Philadelphia Grammy Chapter, Women in Music, NAWBO, NABJ, NAHJ, and LVVH. She's the co-chair of the Arts and Entertainment committee of her local NABJ chapter PABJ. Her most important title, however, is wife to Kevin and mother to Katharina. In her spare time, she likes to read, travel and cook. Twitter: @Kathia_Woods; Instagram: Kathia_Woods; Facebook: Kathia Woods
PANEL #3 “The Evolution of Afro-futurism: Black Power, Black Love, Black Superheroes and Magic” on June 19th
Steven Barnes is a New York Times bestselling author, screenwriter and educator who has written more than thirty science fiction, fantasy, and horror novels. Octavia E. Butler called Barnes’s Endeavor-Award winning novel Lion’s Blood “imaginative, well researched, well written, and devastating.” The NAACP Image Award winner is also a pioneering television writer who has written for The Outer Limits (Showtime), The New Twilight Zone (Showtime), Stargate SG-1, Andromeda, and Ben 10: Alien Force. He has been nominated for Hugo, Nebula and Cable Ace Awards. Barnes has lectured at UCLA, Mensa, Pasadena JPL, taught at Seattle University, hosted the "Hour 25" radio show on KPFK, been Kung Fu columnist for Black Belt Magazine, and been a "Starred Speaker" at the L.A. Screenwriting Expo. An avid yogi and martial artist with three black belts, Steven is also a pioneer in the human potential movement, creating the groundbreaking “Lifewriting” creativity system, making writers the heroes of their own stories. He and Tananarive Due recently co-wrote an episode of “The Twilight Zone,” hosted by Jordan Peele.
DR. JOHN JENNINGS
Dr. John Jennings is a Professor of Media and Cultural Studies at the University of California at Riverside. Jennings is co-editor of the Eisner Award-winning collection The Blacker the Ink: Constructions of Black Identity in Comics and Sequential Art. Jennings is also a 2016 Nasir Jones Hip Hop Studies Fellow with the Hutchins Center at Harvard University.
Jennings’ current projects include the horror anthology Box of Bones, the coffee table book Black Comix Returns (with Damian Duffy), and the Eisner-winning, Bram Stoker Award-winning, New York Times best-selling graphic novel adaptation of Octavia Butler’s classic dark fantasy novel Kindred. Jennings is also founder and curator of the ABRAMS Megascope line of graphic novels.
My book imprint is called MEGASCOPE after the magical device in WEB DuBois' sci-fi fantasy short story "The Princess Steel" (1909). You can read more about his work at The New York Times and NPR and Publishers Weekly. Also check out this link to the first four books of the line, including ACROSS THE TRACKS, a primer for younger readers that deals with the Tulsa Race Massacre (read the Publishers Weekly review of HARDEARS here).
Ytasha L. Womack is an award-winning author, filmmaker, independent scholar, and dance therapist. She is a leading expert on Afrofuturism and lectures on the imagination and its applications across the world. Ytasha was honored among DesignHub’s 40 Under 40 designers for social good and innovation in 2017 and listed as a Filmmaker to Watch in The Chicago Tribune. Her book Afrofuturism: The World of Black Sci Fi and Fantasy Culture (Chicago Review Press) is the leading primer on the subject and taught in colleges and universities. Afrofuturism is also a Locus Awards Nonfiction Finalist. She is an inaugural resident with Black Rock Senegal helmed by celebrated artist Kehende Wiley, was a creative in residence with Kickstarter Spring 2019 and was a writer-in-residence with Emerson College in Boston Fall/Spring 2018-2019. She recently completed a writing residency in October 2020 as a Writer on the Bloc with Writers on the Wall (WOW) in Liverpool, England.
A prolific writer, her books include the time travel series the Rayla Universe including Eartha 2198, Rayla 2212 and Rayla 2213. Her Afrofuturism novella series A Spaceship in Bronzeville (Mouse Books) was created during her creative in residence with Kickstarter. She’s also author of the nonfiction works Post Black (Chicago Review Press), and Beats Rhymes and Life: What We Love & Hate About Hip Hop (Random House). Her graphic novel epic BLAK KUBE (Megascope), illustrated by Tanna Tucker, debuts in 2022. Ytasha is director of the Afrofuturist dance film A Love Letter to the Ancestors From Chicago. The film was televised on WTTW Chicago and screened at the Afropunk Festival in Brooklyn; Black(s) to the Future Festival in Paris, France; the Reeltime Film Fest in Nigeria, Afrotopia in Bristol England and the Black Harvest Film Festival in Chicago among others. The film won Best Experimental Film at the Collected Voices Film Fest.
Her other films include the romantic comedy Couples Night (screenwriter) and the documentary Tupac: Before I Wake (coproducer). Her feature films Love Shorts (producer/writer), and The Engagement (director) were nominated for Best Film at the American Black Film Festival. She was nominated for Best Director for The Engagement at the festival as well. Ytasha created and leads an Afrofuturism dance therapy program for teens and adults often providing workshops to high schools, corporations, and museums. Ytasha has lectured at a number of universities, festivals, and futurist conferences. She gave the closing keynote address at PRIMER 19 and was a featured speaker at MIT’s Beyond the Cradle, The Ecole Nationale Superieure d’Architecture de St. Etienne in France, Sonic Acts Festival in Amsterdam, the Deutsche Kinemathek ‘s Science in Fiction in Berlin, the WOW Festival in Liverpool, and the Acheworks Chicago Series among others.
She’s an invited participant in the Decolonizing Mars Unconference at the Library of Congress, a keynote presenter for the Afrofuturism & Indigenous Futurism Conference at the University of North Caroline Chapel Hill, and a keynote speaker for Planet Deep South at Jackson State University. She’s also presented at Duke University, University of Chicago, Clark Atlanta University, Yale University, The New School, Chicago State University, The City Colleges of New York and others. She created and moderated the University of Chicago’s Afrofuturism Symposium, a partnership with the Oriental Institute and the Gray Center for Arts & Inquiry. The event had a special focus on Time Travel and Ancient Egyptian and Nubian art’s influence in comics and Afrofuturism.
She’s a frequent speaker and artist presenter at Comic Cons and science fiction conferences across the US. She’s a two time guest of honor at Convergence Con and a Guest of Honor at Diversicon in Minneapolis, MN. She also co-curated the Black to the Future Afrofuturist playlist with recording artist Janelle Monae for Spotify. Ytasha began her career as a journalist covering arts, entertainment and business. She is guest editor for the business magazine NV Magazine; a former editor-at- large for Upscale Magazine and former columnist for the Chicago Defender. Her work has appeared in Essence, VIBE, The Huffington Post and more. A Chicago native, she has a B.A in Mass Media Arts from Clark Atlanta University and studied Arts, Entertainment and Media Management at Columbia College in Chicago. She has a Masters Certificate in the study of Metaphysics and New Thought Philosophy from the Johnnie Colemon Institute.
TANANARIVE DUE (moderator)
Tananarive Due (tah-nah-nah-REEVE doo) is an award-winning author who teaches Black Horror and Afrofuturism at UCLA. She is an executive producer on Shudder's groundbreaking documentary Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror. She and her husband/collaborator, Steven Barnes, wrote "A Small Town" for Season 2 of "The Twilight Zone" on CBS All Access and episodes in SerialBox’s BLACK PANTHER: SINS OF THE KING.
A leading voice in Black speculative fiction for more than 20 years, Due has won an American Book Award, an NAACP Image Award, and a British Fantasy Award, and her writing has been included in best-of-the-year anthologies. Her books include Ghost Summer: Stories, My Soul to Keep, and The Good House. She and her late mother, civil rights activist Patricia Stephens Due, co-authored Freedom in the Family: A Mother-Daughter Memoir of the Fight for Civil Rights. She and her husband live with their son, Jason.
Steven Boone is a cinema lover based in the Bronx, New York.
Lateef "Cal" Calloway was born August 5, 1971 in Detroit, Michigan. Lateef graduated from Michigan's oldest and most respected film school, the Motion Picture Institute. He is the founder of the Phoeion Group LLC (dba Calliwood Productions LLC) which since 1999 has produced over 26 creative films, technical training films and videos.
The Calliwood Production team is producing a Documentary about Sojourner Truth, the former slave, abolitionist and woman's rights advocate from the mid-1800s.
Lateef was raised by his mother Audrey Allison and his stepfather Robert Allison who are professional musicians. His parent's non-profit organization The Storytellers (1980 to date) uses jazz/world music to creatively tell stories about social justice, civil rights and positive role models for children and communities throughout Michigan. In this environment, Lateef developed his passion for the art of storytelling and Sojourner Truth.
Lateef is the father of two wonderful sons, Brendan Calloway and Roman Calloway.
Al Chambles was born and raised during the 1940s and 1950s in the Fellowship Community located on the outskirts of Thomaston, Georgia where he attended its segregated school system. He spent his early years within a loving and nurturing community of former African American tenant farmers and sharecroppers at the foot of Brooks Mountain; was indoctrinated into a culture of superstition, segregation, and Jim Crow of the Deep South where his primary language was the Negro dialect that was typically spoken in the area. He had an early interest in science; however, his interest in chemistry was primarily due to him casually looking through a window into the chemistry laboratory of his high school and saw a small piece of sodium metal buzzing around on the surface of water like a water bug while giving off what appeared to be steam, and eventually busting into flames. He was at once and forever fascinated with chemistry.
Regrettably, African-American chemists were not being employed in that region of the South at that time due to racial discrimination. Therefore, many felt that studying science was a terrible waste of time for African Americans. Nevertheless, Al pursued a career in science, receiving a B.S. degree in chemistry from Tuskegee University. He did what countless other African Americans with degrees in science-related fields had done in the South in order to stay in that field – he entered the teaching profession and taught chemistry, physics, and general in the segregated Butler-Baker High School in Eatonton, GA for two years. Eventually, due to Affirmative Action and other initiative during the mid-1960s, employment in fields previously denied to African Americans in the South was slowly being opened to them. In 1967, Al was employed as a chemist at the Union Carbide Y-12 Plant, Oak Ridge, Tennessee - becoming the first African-American chemist to be hired in the Y-12 Plant Laboratory. He completed an M.S. degree in science education from the University of Tennessee via the Academic Year Institute in Physical Sciences at the Oak Ridge Institute of Nuclear Studies.
His novel, CLIMBING THE COLORED SIDE: A Gifted Colored Child’s Struggles to Understand Science in the Superstitious and Segregated and South of the 1940s, is a dramatization based on the life of the author. Some names were changed; some characters are composite, and certain other characters and events were fictionalized.
Lydia “Sue-Ellen” Chitunya is a filmmaker who hails from Zimbabwe. She is a 2019 Georgia State University “40 under 40 honoree” and a graduate of the UCLA professional producing program. Her success as a short film producer, was recognized with membership of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences (AMPAS / OSCARS).
She is a Roger and Chaz Ebert Foundation Fellowship award recipient. Chitunya has participated in various artist development programs including: 2020 Film Independent Producing Lab, Women In Film INSIGHT, Industry Academy at Lincoln Center NY, Rotterdam Lab, Durban FilmMart, Film Independent’s Project Involve, Berlinale Talents, Cannes Film Festival Marchè Du Film Workshop, Kyoto Filmmakers Lab, and Durban Talent Campus.
Chitunya has produced several shorts that have screened at festivals around the world including BFI London, Tirbeca, Iris Prize, and Outfest. Her varied work experience includes marketing for Disney College Program, programming for Zimbabwe, Atlanta and Slamdance Film Festivals; She recently worked as a Post Production Coordinator on Marvel Studios’ Avengers: Endgame (2019) and Black Panther (2018).
Melissa Haizlip (Producer | Director | Writer) is an award-winning filmmaker based in New York. Her work responds to pressing social issues at the intersection of racial justice, social justice, activism, and representation. Her goal is to advocate and amplify the voices of women and people of color. Melissa’s feature documentary, Mr. SOUL! was shortlisted for the 93rd Academy Awards, for Best Original Song. The film won the NAACP Image Award for Outstanding Writing in a Documentary (Television or Motion Picture), the 2020 Critics Choice Documentary Award for Best First Documentary Feature, and the 2018 IDA Doc Awards for Best Music Documentary. Mr. SOUL! received 33 nominations and won 21 awards, including 14 film festival awards. Melissa went to Yale University, and is a Chaz and Roger Ebert Producing Fellow. She’s currently co-executive producing a docuseries on women in hip-hop for Netflix.
ANDRE HAMMEL, ESQ.
Andre Hammel, Esq., has been a family lawyer for over a decade. He created Biadvo to provide co-parents with information and cost-effective resources to independently develop or modify co-parenting plans and agreements.
Filmmaker Mark Harris never set out to make movies. But from an early age he knew two things for sure: he wanted to be his own boss and he loved to write. Now, with over 20 film projects distributed worldwide, this self-taught mogul in the making is just getting started leaving his mark on the entertainment industry.....his way.
Mark grew up in Englewood on Chicago’s Southside. Like many youth from his neighborhood, sports was a positive outlet in an environment that was filled with loving families, and riddled with drugs, gangs and violence. Harris would eventually earn a football scholarship to the University of Wisconsin River Falls and study English. Then in late 1992, already being a lifelong lover of films, Harris experienced Spike Lee’s iconic “Malcolm X”, and would never be the same. Soon thereafter, he returned to his hometown and after working a few stints at various jobs, he landed a position as a sales rep at a popular furniture store where, unbeknownst to him, he would meet the first serious supporters of his film career. In 1997, Mark decided to try his hand at writing a screenplay of his own.
Fiercely independent with a “do for self” motto, he studied as many books on the art form as possible then got started. He wrote over 10 screenplays before finally pitching a project entitled “Zombies in the Hood” to various studios, including ActorProducer Tim Reid’s New Millennium Studios. This eventually led to a number of industry insider introductions, mentorship and an opportunity to write spec scripts. Then in 2005, after writing several spec scripts and waiting for one of them to be produced, Harris realized “if I want to see my work done, I’m going to have to make the film myself”. He was known among his furniture store colleagues to talk nonstop about his love of movies.
So when he announced that he was going to make his first film, “Why Men Cheat”, and finance it with his own salary, within the week two co-workers handed over $2,000 in cash to invest in the film. With that push, his production company, 1555filmworks, was born. Since then, in addition to producing films, Mark has created an online marketing company, Black Films Rock LLC, and in 2010, cofounded the Englewood International Film Festival to bring a celebration of film and positive entertainment to the community that raised him. In May 2021, Harris partnered with Vertical Entertainment to release “White People Money”. The film, starring Drew Sidora (RHOA, Step Up, The TLC Story) and Barton Fitzpatrick (The Chi, Bronzeville), enjoyed a limited theatrical release in nearly 40 theatres across the U.S. Several of Mark’s works are also available on Netflix, Amazon Prime and several other streaming platforms.
Travis Hopson has been reviewing movies before he even knew there was such a thing. Having grown up on a combination of bad '80s movies, pro wrestling, comic books, and hip-hop, Travis is uniquely positioned to geek out on just about everything under the sun. A vampire who walks during the day and refuses to sleep, Travis is the co-creator and lead writer for Punch Drunk Critics. He is also a contributor to Good Morning Washington, WBAL Morning News, and WETA Around Town. In the five minutes a day he's not working, Travis is also a voice actor, podcaster, and Twitch gamer. Travis is a voting member of the Critics Choice Association (CCA), Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA), and Late Night programmer for the Lakefront Film Festival.
Working as a film critic for the last twelve years, Charles Kirkland Jr. got his published start as when he appeared on the radio show Spectrum which aired on WMAL 105.9. He would appear on the show to promote the activities of the DC Film Society, review movies and discuss the Oscars. After being pronounced as an “Award Predictor” by a group at the Film Society, he started his podcast, The DC Film Life in September of 2013. With co-host Michael Bryant, The DC Film Life, “where real guys talk about real movie stuff,” reviewed movies and movie trends and became the go-to podcast site for filmmakers in the city to promote their projects. While the podcast has temporarily podfaded, currently his reviews and musings can be found on the Facebook site, The DC Film Life the website, Thefilmgordon.com and a show on DC Radio (DCradio.gov) called Conversations where he discusses movies and interviews filmmakers. He is also co-host of the show, Keeping It Reel with Film Gordon where they review movies and talk about the entertainment world on a weekly basis. Keeping it Reel can be found on DC Radio, Youtube, Blogtalk radio and many other outlets.
Charles is a longstanding member of the DC Film Society currently serving on the Publicity committee, a member in good standing of the Washington DC Area Film Critics Association (WAFCA), a voting member of the Black Reel Awards and a reviewing judge for the DC Shorts Festival. He serves as the Features Programmer for the Lakefront Film Festival in nearby Columbia, MD
CRAIG D. LINDSEY
Craig D. Lindsey is a writer, critic and Dame Helen Mirren fan who has written for Houston Chronicle, San Francisco Chronicle, The Guardian, The AV Club, Nashville Scene, Village Voice, Vulture, RogerEbert.com and other publications & outlets. He lives in Houston, Texas.
David Moses is a California based actor and writer who remains actively involved in the analysis of the performances of actors, the craft and technique of the character of film through blogs, vlogs and panel discussions.
An actor for 13 years, a writer all his life and even a stand up comic for 5, he extends a sense of humor and the actors perspective to each of his write-ups and commentary on film; from TV to the big/silver screen. In his spare time David continues to hone his skills in his other interest, as a sketch artist, or spends time with his close-knit brothers & family or friends.
JM Mutore is a NYC-based writer and film critic.
He owes his allegiance to cinema, Octavia Butler, and 4X strategy games.
Remnants of his consciousness can be located on Twitter: @JM3K.
Sherin Nicole is a writer, an author, and may also be a covert agent. There are whispers the CIA offered her a scholarship to college (but that's classified). After graduating from Howard University she worked in a variety of creative spheres, before returning to grow the radio upstart she helped to launch. By day, she's an agent provocateur as chief creative officer at idobi Network. By night, she writes for idobi.com and produces content for geeks and nerds alike on the Geek Girl Riot radio show, as well as for publications like Blcklst.com, RogerEbert.com, and the Alliance of Women Film Journalists (AWFJ). She is also a Black Reel Awards voter. Culturally, Sherin is half American, half British, and very southern; right down to the accent and love of grits. Government reports show a residence in DC but Sherin spends most of her time on the astral plane and hopes to meet you there.
Expanding media literacy is philosophical glue that holds together Professor Pierson’s multiple strands of scholarly and creative work. He strives to create work which reflect academic rigor while also being accessible to those outside of the university setting. Professor Pierson’s work appears in a wide variety of venues as he strives to reach diverse audiences, some of the venues where you find his work are academic journals, edited book collections, film festival panels, and museum exhibits.
Taj Rani is a digital content producer, copywriter, and digital strategist that has spent the last decade lending her voice and expertise to brands like BET, Red Table Talk, and Janelle Monáe's Wondaland Arts Society. She is also the producer of comedian Amanda Seales' new web series Views From Amandaland. When she's not making digital magic behind her computer screen, she is indulging in the latest in pop culture, relaxing to her favorite oldies, and enjoying sunny L.A.
Jourdain Searles is a writer, film critic and performer who hails from Georgia and is currently living in New York City. She has written for the New York Times, Vanity Fair, The Hollywood Reporter, Sight & Sound, Vulture and many other publications. Additionally, she is the co-host of Bad Romance, a weekly film podcast.
Kaiya Shunyata is a freelance pop culture journalist based in Canada. They are currently the Creative Director at Obscur Media, and they have written for Next Best Picture, Adolescent, Screen Queens and more.
Whitney Spencer is the Marketing Manager at Kartemquin Films in Chicago, telling the stories of the independent films and filmmakers bringing their stories to the world.
She was a 2019 Roger Ebert Sundance Fellow for Film Criticism.
American Writer/Producer/Director, Doreen Spicer-Dannelly is best known for Disney Channel’s critically acclaimed animated series, The Proud Family where she is credited as Developed by and Supervising Producer. The series was nominated for an Image Award and won the BET Comedy Award in a Children’s Program in 2003. Also for the Disney Channel, Spicer developed and wrote the musically driven film, Jump In!, which broke records in television cable with 8.2 million viewers and Variety deemed the film “...the highest rated MOW ever.”
Spicer’s first junior novel, Love Double Dutch! debuted spring 2018 for Penguin Random House Publishing which Kirkus praises as "A fun, well-paced read bubbling with energy and charming, diverse characters.” Also, Spicer served as Consultant and Writer on the Emmy Award winning Netflix animated series, Motown. Currently, Spicer is the Showrunner and Executive Producer for the animated series, Onyx Monster Mysteries, for Amazon Kids+ and Pocket.Watch.
To date, Doreen Spicer-Dannelly is the first credited woman of color to develop and produce an animated series for the Disney brand with The Proud Family and has recently become one of the first woman of color voice directors on the Amazon Kids+ animated series, Onyx Monster Mysteries. Spicer has several projects in the works with other major studios and production companies in all the genres of kids, teens & family entertainment.
Back in 2010, Spicer independently produced the international tween hit sitcom, The Wannabes Starring Savvy, and served as Showrunner and Executive Producer. The series follows six teens who want to be pop-stars. Spicer was instrumental in licensing the twenty-six episode series around the world which debuted in Australia on ABC 1 & 3 and became their number one kid show as well as on HBO Latin America. The show aired in over 100 countries including Starz Kids & Family US.
In 2013, Spicer made her directorial debut with a musically driven short film, Playground Politix, featuring eight girls and eight boys battle dancing for space at a playground. The short is aimed at gender bullying and premiered at the esteemed LA Shorts Film Fest in 2014. Playground Politix also became the official selection at Dances with Films Kidz, Sunscreen, The Maryland Kids Film Fest and Reel Women UK.
Spicer earned a Bachelor of Science Degree in Communications at the HBCU, Morgan State University with a minor in English through the Warner Bros. Writing Program at the university. Having established expertise in television, animation and film, Doreen Spicer-Dannelly is committed to developing inclusive projects under the auspices of her own company, SpiceRack Productions Inc.
Brandon Towns is a multidisciplinary artist working in still photography, motion picture, and design. His work explores relevant themes within the black community such as cultural identity, gentrification, police brutality, and gun violence. He received his Bachelor of Science in advertising with a minor in photography in 2020 from Bradley University. He is the first Bradley University student to be the recipient of the Multicultural Advertising Intern Program Fellowship or MAIP in 2019. He was also one of three recipients of the Sundance Institute's Roger Ebert Fellowship for Film Criticism in 2018.
Ciara Wardlow is a freelance writer and development coordinator at Maven Screen Media, where she’s always searching for great stories highlighting underseen perspectives. As a film critic, her bylines include Pajiba, Film School Rejects, and The Hollywood Reporter. She is also a 2021 Film Independent Project Involve fellow in the executive track. Ciara lives in Harlem with a roommate and a cat.
BRANDON DAVID WILSON
Brandon Wilson is a filmmaker and lecturer. Born and raised in Los Angeles, he attended UCLA where he took a B.A. in African-American Studies and an M.F.A. from the UCLA School of Theater, Film, and Television. Wilson has directed two micro-budget features: 2005’s The Man Who Couldn’t... which is on YouTube and Sepulveda from 2016 which is streaming for free on Vimeo. Wilson has taught Film Analysis for Filmmakers and Introduction to Editing courses at UCLA. He also teaches at Columbia College Hollywood, Los Angeles Valley College, NYU’s Los Angeles Branch, and Long Beach City College where he teaches classes on auteur filmmakers, national cinemas, the essay film, and diversity in cinema.