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Black History Month: Spotlighting Debra Martin Chase, Terence Blanchard and Other Artisans Making a Difference

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Courtesy of Glen Wilson/Focus Features

In honor of Black History Month, Variety continues to shine a spotlight on African American artisans who have made their mark on Hollywood.

Among those are costume designer Paul Tazewell, who won a Primetime Emmy for his work on “The Wiz Live,” as well as a Tony Award for creating the look of “Hamilton.” He was recommended by costume designer Ruth Carter to “Harriet” director Kasi Lemmons, since Carter was busy working on “Dolemite Is My Name.”  Tazewell crossed over from Broadway to film with “Harriet” and later this year, his work will be showcased in Spielberg’s “West Side Story.”

Debra Martin Chase also worked on “Harriet” and consciously chose to hire women and people of color for the film. Together with Lemmons, they hired 13 people of color to work on the film, eight of them being below-the-line.

“There’s definitely no shortage of people of color behind-the-scenes,” Chase told Variety. “People have to put forward the effort [to hire them].”

Casting director Kim Coleman was another person who worked on “Harriet.” Coleman, who also cast Spike Lee’s “BlacKkKlansman” and Sundance release “Zola,” is the recipient of two Artios Awards. With over 119 credits to her name, Coleman was the first person Chase thought of when it came to casting “Harriet.” “She had just finished casting my ABC pilot [‘Get Christie Love’] and we went to her immediately,” Chase said.

Below are more artisans who deserve to be recognized:  

  • Terence Blanchard earned an Oscar nomination for his work composing “BlacKkKlansman” and has scored over 71 films and TV shows. He frequently works alongside Spike Lee in a collaboration that dates back to 1991’s “Jungle Fever.” Blanchard who has won six Grammy Awards also is a renowned jazz musician.
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  • Hairstylist Araxi Lindsey’s credits include “Dexter”, “Bones”, “Glee” and most recently “Black-ish.” As with any artist, Lindsay’s work, especially on “Black-ish,” strives to tell a story. Whether it’s through braids, tight curls or loc twisting on Tracee Ellis Ross and Marsai Martin, the varying styles celebrating the culture of beauty in this visual form.
  • Wynn Thomas got his start working in theater. After moving to New York, Thomas worked as a production designer for the Public Theater and soon began his lifelong collaboration with Lee, working together for over 20 years. Thomas won the Art Directors Guild Award in 2016 for creating the look of NASA HQ in “Hidden Figures.” Having worked on over 37 films and created the worlds of “A Beautiful Mind,” “Cinderella Man” and “Mars Attack,” Hannah Bleacher, whose historical win in production design for “Black Panther,” cited Thomas as an early influence and mentor. Thomas was also the first African American production designer.
  • Editor Terilyn Shropshire was recognized by the ACE Eddies in 2010 when she won for “Redemption: The Stan Tookie Williams Story.” This past year, Shropshire was recognized for her work on “When They See Us.” Her work first came to attention when she cut Lemmons’ “Eve’s Bayou.” Shropshire has gone on to edit over 33 films and TV shows including the 72nd Annual Academy Awards. It was Shropshire who Ava DuVernay called on to edit the first episode of her series, “When They See Us.” Shropshire’s work would set the tone for the devastating and gripping series. It was her work that established, with Bradford Young’s cinematography and DuVernay’s lens — the lives of the young boys and who they were. And it was her work that kept us in the interrogation room.

As the drive for diversity continues, filmmakers and producers are doing their work to taking action. As Chase says, “There’s definitely no shortage of people of color behind the scenes. People have to put forward the effort” to hire.”