A new venture fund focused on African-American content has launched and teamed with its first partner, Queen Latifah’s Flavor Unit Entertainment.
The Essence Creators and Makers Fund has a $20 million endowment from Essence Ventures, the parent company of Essence Communications. The fund will support and partner with creators and makers of color in an effort to mitigate the barriers faced in securing financing for the development and production of projects.
The fund will create and finance film, television, digital and documentary-style content that reflects the lives and experiences of women of color. It will also seek to collaborate with content creators globally focused on Essence’s core audience of black women, with the content produced encompassing themes that relate and connect across audiences.
Essence will have the first right to produce and finance future film, television and digital content associated with the creators. In addition to capital, the Essence platform – including print, digital and live events – will be used to market and promote projects funded by the Essence Creators and Makers Fund.
“The real value in content creation is ownership, and if you look at the funding challenges that creators and makers of color have – whether in film, television or other verticals – they are not getting the capital needed to develop projects,” said Richelieu Dennis, founder and chairman of Essence Ventures. “More importantly, they are not getting equity in the projects that they are creating. This results in a structure where they basically become work-for-hire rather than equity partners in the content that is driven by their creative ideas and energy around our culture. They are at the bottom of the totem pole when it comes to the economics, and that has to change. We and our partners will be focused on creating an ecosystem that does just that and elevates opportunities for the creators and makers who need it most.”
The Flavor Unit partnership was announced at the recent Essence Festival. The company, founded by Latifah and business partner Shakim Compere, has produced films including Beauty Shop, The Perfect Holiday, Just Wright and Bessie, as well as HBO’s Life Support, which earned Latifah a Golden Globe Award.
“Essence has always celebrated our culture and was there when it was hard to find stories and images for people who look like me,” said Queen Latifah. “Shakim and I have built our business on creating content, whether it be film, television or music, for those very same people. We have realized that although they come from our perspective, these narratives are universal, so for us to join forces is thrilling.”
Queen Latifah will serve on the fund’s investment committee, which will approve of any investment. Additional members of the investment committee will be added as new partners and creators join the fund.