Times Standard (Eureka)
Disney’s diverse storytelling brand is making waves
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.