Times Standard (Eureka)

Disney’s diverse storytelli­ng brand is making waves

- By Stacy Perman

When Oscar winner Mahershala Ali and his producing partners made the rounds last year, pitching an adaptation of Jean Hanff Korelitz’s bestsellin­g novel “The Plot,” it sparked a bidding war.

The buzzy thriller about a failed author who engages in an “act of literary theft,” forever changing his life, is primed for success. In addition to executive producing, Ali is starring in the series; . two years earlier, another Korelitz novel was adapted into the acclaimed HBO series “The Undoing.”

“The response was overwhelmi­ng. Every single place we pitched made an offer,” said Layne Eskridge, president of POV Entertainm­ent, who along with Ali brought the project to six networks and streamers under her producing deal with Endeavor Content.

In the end, Onyx Collective — a relatively new brand focusing on creators of color and underrepre­sented voices — won out, ordering an eight-episode limited series to stream on Hulu.

Operating much like a mini studio and network, Onyx is a content arm for Disney, developing, producing and acquiring projects exclusivel­y for Hulu and other Disney platforms.

Onyx, whose president, Tara Duncan, had a track record at Netflix and elsewhere for bringing quality, entertaini­ng stories to the screen, demonstrat­ed vision and competitiv­eness, Eskridge said.

But the fledgling brand also brought something else to the table: During the pitch meetings, Duncan and nearly every member of the executive team involved was a person of color. Moreover, they all had the power to greenlight the project.

“We knew we weren’t going to get that anywhere else,” Eskridge said. “That is unique to Onyx. It’s super special, and we wanted that.”

At a time when Hollywood continues to make public pronouncem­ents about inclusion even as such efforts remain faltering, Onyx has assembled a roster of talent in less than two years that includes Ryan Coogler and Natasha Rothwell in overall deals and has generated an impressive slate of projects with Oprah Winfrey, Kerry Washington and musician-filmmaker Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson.

After the murder of George Floyd in 2020 and the Black Lives Matters protests that sparked a global reckoning over race and society, Hollywood faced heavy pressure to address its lack of diversity in film and executive suites. Although those events occurred after the initial discussion­s surroundin­g Onyx, they did accelerate and inform its developmen­t.

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