MGM+ Orders ‘Hollywood Black’ From Justin Simien, Forest Whitaker Docuseries Exploring The Black Experience In Cinema History

MGM+ has given the green light to Hollywood Black, a documentary series from director Justin Simien that aims to serve as “a definitive chronicle of a century of the Black experience in Hollywood.”

The four-part series, based on the work of scholar Donald Bogle, is being produced by Simien’s Culture Machine, Forest Whitaker and Nina Yang Bongiovi’s Significant Productions, and the Academy Award-winning production company RadicalMedia. 

“We are thrilled to work with Justin Simien, Jeffrey Schwarz, RadicalMedia, and to expand our prolific creative partnership with Forest and Nina,” Michael Wright, head of MGM+, said in a statement. “Hollywood Black, like other recent MGM+ docuseries, is an entertaining and thoughtful look at a vital part of American culture, examining the evolution of Black cinema and the talented artists who built it. It is a timely and relevant look at the Black experience in Hollywood.”

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Simien’s credits include directing the 2014 film Dear White People, as well as the Netflix dramatic series based on that film, and the comedy-horror feature Bad Hair from Neon. Haunted Mansion, Simien’s film inspired by the Disneyland attraction, comes out this July. No release date for Hollywood Black has been announced.

“Hollywood, like many American industries, was built on Black culture and Black talent, even though it excluded Black people from many of its origin stories,” Simien observed. “[Hollywood Black] seeks to illuminate present-day controversies, from #OscarSoWhite to the almost regular ‘blackface reveal’ of prominent white celebrities, told through the lens of Black individuals throughout Hollywood history. It’s the most important story I’ve been able to tell to date, on such a large scale, and I’m incredibly grateful for the opportunity to tell it with this team.”

Whitaker commented, “We love collaborating with visionary filmmakers, so it’s an honor to team up with Justin Simien/Culture Machine and Radical Media on Hollywood Black, especially alongside such immense support from Michael Wright and MGM+. Through this meaningful exploration of Black history in cinema, we’re excited to celebrate its future.”

Culture Machine’s Simien and Kyle Laursen, Significant Productions’ Forest Whitaker and Nina Yang Bongiovi (Godfather of Harlem), and RadicalMedia’s Dave Sirulnick, Stacey Reiss, Jon Kamen (Summer of Soul) and Jeffrey Swartz will all serve as executive producers. Amy Goodman Kass is showrunner, and Simien is set to direct. The docuseries will be internationally distributed by MGM. 

MGM+, a division of Amazon, is the premium linear channel and streaming service formerly known as Epix. Its lineup of docuseries includes Murf the Surf, Emmy-nominated Laurel Canyon, Helter Skelter, and Slow Burn. MGM+ scripted series include Emmy winner Godfather of Harlem, which stars Oscar winner Whitaker as Ellsworth “Bumpy” Johnson; Western adventure Billy the Kid; and dramatic series War of the Worlds, Rogue Heroes, and Belgravia. Premium movies available on the service include No Time to Die, House of Gucci, Cyrano, and Licorice Pizza.

Significant Productions, co-founded by producing partners Forest Whitaker and Nina Yang Bongiovi, “is committed to creating opportunities for underrepresented narratives and storytellers by championing films and television shows starring people of color, alongside diversified representation behind the camera.”

Significant Productions credits include Fruitvale Station (2013) by Ryan Coogler, Dope (2015) by Rick Famuyiwa, Songs My Brothers Taught Me (2015) by Chloe Zhao, Roxanne Roxanne (2018) by Michael Larnell, Sorry to Bother You (2018) by Boots Riley, and A Kid from Coney Island (2020) by Coodie & Chike. Passing, Rebecca Hall’s directorial debut, was released globally on Netflix in 2021, yielding four BAFTA nominations. Earlier this year, Significant launched Fancy Dance by Erica Tremblay and To Live and Die by Qasim Basir at Sundance. 

RadicalMedia describes itself as “one of the world’s leading producers of premium content. The company develops, creates & produces film, television, advertising, design, digital and immersive experiences.” RadicalMedia’s credits include Oscar-winning documentaries Summer of Soul from director Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson (available on Disney+ and Hulu), and Fog of War from director Errol Morris. RadicalMedia earned two additional Oscar nominations for Paradise Lost (HBO) and What Happened, Miss Simone? (Netflix).

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