Essence and Queen Latifah Unveil $20 Million Fund for Artists of Color

By Sameer Rao Jul 12, 2018

The company behind Essence magazine just partnered with musician, actress and entrepreneur Queen Latifah for a multimillion-dollar initiative to give more creators of color the financial support and ownership they need.

Essence Ventures LLC announced the Essence Creators and Makers Fund in an emailed statement yesterday (July 11). The new $20 million initiative aims to build a stronger economic and production infrastructure for artists of color—especially those making content about and for women of color, like the Black women in Essence’s target audience.

"The fund will create and finance film, television, digital and documentary-style content that reflect the lives and experiences of women of color," the statement adds. "It will also seek to collaborate with content creators globally focused on Essence’s diverse and dynamic core audience of Black women, with the content produced encompassing themes that relate and connect across audiences."

In addition to investment and connections, the fund will support artists by promoting projects via Essence’s various platforms. It will also share ownership rights with creators, which Essence Ventures founder Richelieu Dennis says helps to correct a frequent power imbalance in the entertainment world.

“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,” Dennis noted in the announcement. “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…. 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 official announcement comes several days after Dennis and Queen Latifah first mentioned the fund at the 2018 Essence Festival. Dennis confirmed that Latifah’s Flavor Unit Entertainment, which produced several of her films, including "Beauty Shop" and "Bessie," is its first partner company. The multihyphenate artist will also serve on the fund’s investment committee, which the release says will evaluate and approve financing proposals.

"Essence has always celebrated our culture and was there when it was hard to find stories and images for people who look like me,” she said in the statement. “Shakim [Compere, Latifah’s business partner] 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."