Even when Charles D. King was attending Howard University School of Law, he had his eye on the prize. In his 1996 graduation commemorative book, the onetime superagent turned producer vowed, “In 10 years I’m going to be at the helm of a diversified entertainment and media company.” It’s no surprise that the film, TV and digital production enterprise he would eventually launch would be called Macro.
It took the ambitious law school graduate much longer than a decade to realize his dreams; he worked as a top talent agent for nearly 20 years at the William Morris Agency (now William Morris Endeavor). But in 2015, King left behind a superstar roster of clients that included Oprah Winfrey, Prince, Tyler Perry and Missy Elliot to start Macro, whose mission was to produce content from the perspective of people of color. It’s a mandate, King says, that has taken on even greater urgency in the Trump era because he believes that films can help people find common ground.
The Hollywood-based company found instant success with its first three films: “Fences,” “Mudbound” and “Roman J. Israel, Esq.,” which collectively earned nine Oscar nominations. Viola Davis notched a win for her supporting role in “Fences,” an adaptation of August Wilson’s play that also starred Denzel Washington.
Now Macro is entering its next phase of growth, having raised $150 million last fall from Emerson Collective, the philanthropic and investment organization headed by Laurene Powell Jobs, among others. The additional financing is earmarked for an annual slate of four to six films as well as television projects such as “Raising Dion,” a series co-starring Michael B. Jordan that’s being developed at Netflix. The streaming giant has also picked up “Gente-fied,” a Latino-themed digital series produced by Macro and America Ferrera.
In recent weeks, he has been excitedly anticipating the release of Macro’s next feature, “Sorry to Bother You,” a sci-fi comedy written and directed by Boots Riley. The film debuted at the Sundance Film Festival and was released in theaters July 6. Distributed by Annapurna Pictures, “Sorry to Bother You” tells the story of a black telemarketer (Lakeith Stanfield) who uses his “white voice” to rise to the top of his company, while his co-workers and his girlfriend (Tessa Thompson) go on strike and demand to form a union.
Riley, the Oakland activist and rapper, says that his film is just the type of project that likely would have been overlooked by the major studios. He credits producers Nina Yang Bongiovi and King for helping bring to life a movie that he jokingly says gets weirder the more you hear about it.
“I believe that they all had a hand in it,” Riley says in an interview with Variety. “Charles is basically like a ringmaster. … He has that thing where he’s able to make people think they’re supposed to be doing something and they’re going to be left out if they’re not on board. I saw Charles apply that to this movie, even before he was
Macro production president Kim Roth says executives at the company immediately saw “Sorry to Bother You” as being fully in line with its broader mission.
“Everybody at the company just appreciated the audacity and how wildly original and smart the storytelling was,” says Roth. “It’s disruptive. … It shows a new renaissance of new voices.”
As a leading figure in the fight for diversity and inclusion in Hollywood, King keeps a packed schedule of speaking engagements and seems at ease in just about any setting. In the past two months alone, he has spoken about the economic and social necessity of diverse storytelling at VidCon, the annual online-video confab; the Produced By Conference; and other trade events.
“Creed” and “Black Panther” star Jordan, a former client of King, says King has been instrumental in his success, serving as a guiding force who has helped him as he has moved into producing film and television. “Charles has been one of my biggest champions since the early days of my career,” notes Jordan. “I specifically remember the day we discussed ‘Raising Dion’ and the confidence he instilled in me from day one of that process as a producer, trusting my vision — and later, his unwavering support as we shepherded it into a reality.”
He also credits King with opening the door for other minorities in Hollywood. “He is a trailblazer and a backbone in the media space for people of color, supporting and mentoring the careers of so many, myself included,” Jordan notes. “The industry as a whole is indebted to the contribution he has and continues to make.”
As King describes Macro’s quest, one can hear the passion in his voice when he talks about the stories he wishes to tell, particularly when the country is so politically divided. Scooting closer to the edge of his chair, his eyes widening, King says there’s an added importance to making films from the viewpoint of people of color — frequent political targets of President Trump.
King says the current political climate is the product of an older-guard community grappling with shifting demographics and a resistance to letting go of what once was.
“I think where there is all of this divisiveness and hatred, telling those kinds of stories [is what] can bring people together,” he muses.
Director Ava DuVernay, a longtime friend, says King’s background as a talent agent allowed him to learn all facets of the business and honed his approach to his work.
“He’s a real student of history and student of this industry,” DuVernay says. “He’s not entering into anything that he’s doing in a vacuum. He’s connected to a legacy of what’s happened before and can really take that into the future with him.”
DuVernay, who is developing Octavia E. Butler’s novel “Dawn” with Macro, suggests that one has to dissect King’s journey to really understand why his accomplishments are so inspiring.
“We see someone like Charles, who at a pretty young age has been able to jump over the hurdle of presence, the hurdle of surviving, the hurdle of existing, of making a mark, and now to go beyond that is something so many creators of color never get to, so many women never get to, because we’re just trying to be here.”
Phillip Sun, a partner at WME who was once an assistant to King, credits his former boss’s work ethic and professionalism for helping him forge relationships with some of the biggest names in Hollywood.
“Charles just does it in a very classy, above-the-board way,” Sun says. “You can see that through the projects, the clients, his production company, the people he surrounds himself with, his family. As hard as it is to do it the right way, he does it the right way.”
He also remembers King instilling in all of his assistants a sense of humility.
“This is Charles in a nutshell. We call everyone back because as he teaches all of his assistants … we’re better than nobody,” says Sun. “Don’t get too big for yourself. Everyone deserves a shot, so everyone gets a call back.”