Feature:Amandla Stenberg

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Named for the Zulu and Xhosa word for “power,” Amandla was born in Los Angeles on October 23, 1998, to Karen Brailsford and Tom Stenberg. Her mother is African-American and her father is Danish (and of part Inuit-Greenlandic ancestry).

Amandla landed the first of her Disney catalog modeling shoots when she was four years old. She has shot numerous commercials, most notably for McDonald’s with Ronald McDonald himself, for Walmart with DJ Tony of The Ellen DeGeneres Show (LeVar Burton aka Kunta Kinte directed), and for BuildTheDream.org. This moving, Boeing-sponsored PSA, which raised funds for a national memorial in Washington, D.C., honoring Martin Luther King, Jr., premiered during the weekend of President Obama’s inauguration in January 2009 on Meet the Press and other NBC/MSNBC programs. On October 16, 2011, Amandla was invited by the MLK Memorial Foundation, along with such luminaries as Jesse Jackson, Tommy Hilfiger, Dan Rather, Stevie Wonder and Nikki Giovanni, to participate in the memorial’s dedication ceremony. After an introduction by actress Cicely Tyson, Amandla paid tribute to the four little girls who were killed in the Birmingham church bombing.
In the summer and fall of 2010, the actress shot her first feature, Colombiana, an action-thriller starring Zoe Saldana whose character, Cataleya Restrepo, Amandla plays as a child. Amandla opens the movie, setting the stage for Saldana’s cold-blooded assassin. The Luc Besson vehicle is quintessential Besson, featuring lots of daring stunts, some of which Amandla performed herself. On set to help Amandla hone her natural athletic abilities was David Belle, the French-born creator of Parkour. “A star is born!” raved one reviewer. The New York Times declared, “her portrayal of the future deadly-but sensitive killer is such a perfect combination of trembling, action chops and deadpan humor.”

In April 2011, Lionsgate announced that Amandla had landed the coveted role of Rue in the screen adaptation of Suzanne Collins’ popular young adult series, The Hunger Games. The news was greeted with overwhelming support by fans, and the highly anticipated film opened in theaters on March 23, 2012, to much acclaim and big box office numbers. The Los Angeles Times noted “the presence of young actress Amandla Stenberg, who makes a powerful impression as 12-year-old Rue.” Time magazine said Amandla “adds underage winsomeness as Rue,” and Variety called her a “winning newcomer.” For her heart-breaking performance, Amandla earned an NAACP Image Award nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Motion Picture and a Black Reel nomination for Best Breakthrough Performance. She also won (with Jennifer Lawrence) a Teen Choice Award for Choice Movie Chemistry and a Black Reel Award.

To promote the movie, the young actress, who was featured in a Hunger Games movie poster, graces the cover of Scholastic’s Tribute Guide and has her own Rue doll, traveled around the country greeting fans and signing autographs on Lionsgate’s mall tour. She also conducted numerous print, television and video interviews with media outlets such as Entertainment Weekly, People, Us Weekly, Publisher’s Weekly, Seventeen, Essence, Vanity Fair, E! News and The Wall Street Journal. Singled out as one of Hollywood’s young stars to watch by Rolling Stone, Paper and Ebony, Amandla made her mark as a fashionista, landing on magazine covers (Girls’ Life and Justine), and earning kudos for her red carpet style.

In November 2013 Amandla began a guest-starring, four-episode arc playing Macey, the daughter of Captain Irving (Orlando Jones), on the first season of Fox’s Sleepy Hollow. Amandla appeared as series regular Halle Foster on NBCUniversal’s Mr. Robinson opposite Craig Robinson in the summer of 2015. In January 2016 she traveled to Park City, Utah, to attend the premiere of her latest film, As You Are, which won a Special Jurat the Sundance Film Festival.

Amandla appears in the visual album Beyoncé: Lemonade (2016). In March 2016 Fox 2000 won a heated bidding war for Angela Thomas’ debut novel, The Hate U Give. with Amandla attached to star. The actress is also slated to star in the YA adaptation Everything, Everything (2017), the Amma Asante World War II vehicle, Where Hands Touch (2017) and the sci-fi thriller The Darkest Minds.

In addition to on-camera jobs, Amandla has put her sensitive ear to work in ADR gigs for both film and television. Amandla lent her voice to Rio 2 (2014) playing a high-flying, feathery spawn of Anne Hathaway (Jewel) and Jesse Eisenberg (Blu). A gifted musician, Amandla plays the violin, drums and guitar. In 2009, she performed the violin with the Los Angeles Unified School District’s Honors Orchestra at the Luckman Fine Arts Complex. Her involvement with the Rock STAR Music Education program landed her gigs at the House of Blues and the Hard Rock Cafe, as well as a studio session with producer/engineer Gerry Brown, after her band won RockSTAR’s Battle of the Bands.

In 2013 Amandla began performing on the violin and singing harmonies at LA venues such as Genghis Cohen, Room 5 Lounge and Amplyfi with singer/songwriter Zander Hawley. The folk-rock duo known as Honeywater released a self-titled first EP in August 2015; a second, “Wonder,” dropped November 2016.

When she’s not making music, Amandla is making noise on social media. Declared “one of the most incendiary voices of her generation” by Dazed magazine, which featured Amandla on the cover of its Autumn 2015 issue, the social activist helped catapult the topic of cultural appropriation into public discourse when she posted her school project video, “Don’t Cash Crop My Cornrows” on her Tumblr. Time Magazine named her one of The 30 Most Influential Teens of 2015 and 2016. Amandla appeared on the cover of Teen Vogue’s February 2016 issue, for which she was interviewed by Solange Knowles. ELLE UK dubbed her an “icon of change” on its September 2016 cover while Interview called her “a new progressive” on its cover. Amandla interviewed (and danced with!) Gloria Steinem for Teen Vogue’s September 2016 issue.

Oprah Winfrey has taken note of Amandla’s activism and invited her to give a talk (“My Authenticity Is My Activism”) for SuperSoul Sessions Series 2 at UCLA’s Royce Hall in April 2016. Highlights were featured on SuperSoul Sunday. Black Girls Rock! honored Amandla with the Young, Gifted and Black award and she is also the winner of the BET Awards’ YoungStars award. The Ms. Foundation for Women named Amandla (along with Rowan Blanchard “Feminist Celebrity of the Year” for 2016.

Amandla is co-author, with Stranger Comics’ Sebastian Jones, of the comic book series Niobe: She is Life. She is a youth ambassador for No Kid Hungry (Jeff Bridges serves as spokesperson for the charity’s umbrella organization, Share Our Strength) and supports the Ubuntu Education Fund, which nurtures children “from cradle to career” in Port Elizabeth, South Africa.

 

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Feature: Luenell

Luenell

Luenell is a force of nature. This talented comedienne, actress and singer, was born in Tollette, Arkansas, a town whose population barely registers with the U.S. census. At the tender age of 10, she caught the acting bug after seeing the plays South Pacific and Ain’t S’posed to Die a Natural Death. She enrolled in theatre classes at the grade school level and continued to study through college and cut her teeth at the Oakland Ensemble Theatre.

In March of 1995, Luenell’s mom passed away and one month later  she discovered she was pregnant. Some months later, a beautiful daughter Da’Nelle was born and she is the joy of her life, her “miracle child” as Luenell puts it.

Not long after this however, Luenell got a rude awakening. Luenell was sentenced to 365 days in jail for a series of indiscretions taken while working at a bank months earlier. It played out like an episode of Lil’ Kim on Court TV. She eventually served just over 4 months.

These days, Luenell’s life is on track. Her star continues to rise due to her appearances in television, film and music videos.  Best know for her breakthrough role as the “hooker with the heart of gold” in the blockbuster comedy of 2006 “Borat” – Luenell is recognized by both mainstream AND urban sectors of the population. Her two-year tour and DVD appearances in “Katt Williams American Hustle” have created an almost cult-like following.

Luenell had an amazing 2012 with appearances in three #1 feature films – “Think Like A Man” with Arielle Kebell and Meagan Good, 3D animated hit “Hotel Transylvania” with Adam Sandler, and “Taken 2″ with Liam Neeson. She also starred in the hilarious comedy “That’s My Boy” with Adam Sandler and Leighton Meester.

Luenell hasn’t been short on television appearances either with recent episodes of “The Middle” and “Always Sunny In Philadelphia,” as well as stand-up appearances on “Snoop Dog’s Bad Girls of Comedy” on SHOWTIME and “Stand-up In Stilettos” on the TV Guide Network.

Luenell is living her dream.  With such an intriguing past, one would wonder how can she be so funny, but it’s just that…life.  Her reputation as a comic superstar continues to flourish, “…comedy demolition machine” (EURweb report) “a sidesplitting high wired act without a net…” (Scoop LA), “…comedy to die for.” (Metro LA)  “…one of the top 25 funniest people in LA (Los Angeles Magazine) and the accolades continue to roll.

 

 

 

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Feature: Denise Boutte

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While growing up in the small town of Maurice, Louisiana, Denise Boutté dreamed a more practical dream of becoming a doctor, while conquering the “mystical” place called Hollywood and becoming a film and TV star never really crossed her mind. After obtaining a degree in Mass Communications from Louisiana State University, Denise’s creative intuition led her to the world of advertising where she quickly climbed the ranks as a respected account executive, then manager at leading Dallas, Texas-based advertising agencies, tending to the clients of various brands including Pampers, Fossil, Mary Kay Cosmetics, among others. While overseeing commercial and photo shoots for her clients’ campaigns, Denise was introduced to life “on-set” and became fascinated by the endless possibilities this new world offered.

After being approached by a local talent agent, Denise found herself in front of the lens for a variety of print and commercial campaigns. A chance introduction landed her a talent manager in Hollywood, and Denise decided to take a leap of faith, packed her bags and headed West.

Before long, Denise emerged as one of Hollywood’s busiest new faces, highlighted with guest and recurring roles on numerous popular TV shows, including Boston Legal, Everybody Hates Chris, Days of Our Lives and Girlfriends to name a few.

On the big screen, Denise teamed up with entertainment pioneer, Tyler Perry, as “Trina” alongside Janet Jackson, Jill Scott, Richard T. Jones and the star studded cast of Lionsgate’s     Why Did I Get Married. Impressed with her chops and on-camera presence, Perry created the character of Sasha Brown, the fun-loving yet convicted voice of reason on the highly rated and now syndicated TV series, Meet the Browns. 2014 started out with a Bang as Boutté starred in UpTv’s highest trending premiere of Where’s the Love, also in the can are films, The Bounce Back, starring alongside Criminal Minds & Young & The Restless heartthrob, Shemar Moore and The Choir Director, a screenplay based on the best selling novel, written by New York Times Best Selling Author, Carl Weber.

Also be on the watch for her starring role as Ketren Hargrove in comedy In Full Bloom, which she co-produces alongside creator, and former producer/writer of The Parkers and Martin, Stacey Evans Morgan, Reality Series Swamp Kings and cooking show “Denise’s Dish” currently in development under her Imagine That Productions, Inc. banner!

In the words of critic Joseph Feinstein after seeing one of Denise’s theatrical performances, “She is captivating, truly radiant and creates characters with whom the audience associates and sympathizes…” 

 

 

 

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Feature: Shonda Rhimes

Shonda Rhimes

Shonda Rhimes, born January 13, 1970, in University Park, Illinois, is the first African-American woman to create and executive-produce a Top 10 network series—the medical drama Grey’s Anatomy. She is also the creator of its spin-off, Private Practice, and the political thriller Scandal. Before these series, Rhimes penned such film screenplays as Crossroads and HBO’sIntroducing Dorothy Dandridge.
On January 13, 1970, Shonda Rhimes was born in the suburban University Park area of Illinois. She is the youngest of six siblings. Her father is a university administrator, and her mother is a college professor who earned two doctorates after her children were grown. (Rhimes’ mom is supposedly the role model for Grey’s Anatomy character Miranda Bailey.) An academic overachiever growing up, Rhimes received her BA from Dartmouth College in English literature and creative writing. After a short stint in advertising, she enrolled in the Writing for Screen & Television program at the University of Southern California’s School of Cinematic Arts, earning her MFA. She excelled there too, earning a writing fellowship.
Soon after grad school, Rhimes sold her first screenplay, Human Seeking Same, about an older black woman looking for love in the personals. The film never got made. But it did lead to her writing the 2002 feature film Crossroadswith Britney Spears and The Princess Diaries 2 with Anne Hathaway. Completing the teleplay for HBO’s Introducing Dorothy Dandridge, which was made into a film starring Halle Berry, elevated Rhimes’ status in the business.
After 9/11, Rhimes found herself thinking more about motherhood than movies and within a year adopted baby girl Harper Lee. The new mom took in a lot of TV while staying home with her infant, prompting her to take a crack at writing a pilot. The result was Grey’s Anatomy, a drama about a bunch of sexy young doctors in a Seattle hospital. Some of her inspiration for writing a medical show came from her enjoyment of watching real-life surgeries on TV and nostalgia for her time working as a candy striper in adolescence. Premiering in 2005, the show is going into its 10th season in 2013–2014 and won a Golden Globe for Rhimes for Best Television Series—Drama. It also led in 2007 to Rhimes creating the spin-off Private Practice, which lasted for six seasons.

2012 was a big year for Rhimes, as she adopted a second baby girl, Emerson Pearl, and launched another hit show, Scandal, on April 5, 2012. The show stars Kerry Washington as a fixer in a Washington, D.C., crisis management firm and has plenty of political twists and turns. It has been a ratings hit that creates much social-media buzz weekly.

 

All of her efforts have garnered Rhimes much recognition, including several GLAAD Media and NAACP Image Awards for her tackling important issues in race and sexuality. After the success of Scandal, Rhimes and her production company, ShondaLand, worked on developing the series Lawless for ABC. It revolves around an attorney who returns to her hometown. It’s based on the story of trucker-turned-lawyer Wynona Ward, who provides free services to domestic-violence victims in rural areas. While that show has yet to make to the small screen, Rhimes had better luck with How to Get Away with Murder. This new mystery drama stars Viola Davis as Professor Annalise Keating and will be part of ABC’s Thursday night line-up for fall 2014.

 

TV audiences can expect many more programs from Rhimes in the future. “I really try to make a show that I would want to watch,” said Rhimes to shemadeit.org. “If I don’t want to watch it…it doesn’t go in the show.”

 

 

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Feature: Gina Prince-Bythewood

Gina Prince-ByTheWood

Gina Prince-Bythewood wrote and directed the widely acclaimed feature film LOVE & BASKETBALL, which premiered at the 2000 Sundance Film Festival. Prince-Bythewood won an Independent Spirit Award for Best First Feature and a Humanitas Prize for her work on the film. Her other feature directing credits include the HBO film Disappearing Acts. The most recent film she directed is BEYOND THE LIGHTS, a love story staring Gugu Mbatha-Raw, which was released in 2014.

Prince-Bythewood obtained her first feature film producer credit in 2003 on BIKER BOYZ, a Dreamworks film which was co-written and directed by her husband, Reggie Rock Bythewood.

Prince-Bythewood studied at UCLA Film School, where she received the Gene Reynolds Scholarship for Directing and the Ray Stark Memorial Scholarship for Outstanding Undergraduate. Upon her graduation, she was immediately hired as a writer on the television series A Different World. She continued to write and produce for network television on series such as Felicity, South Central, Courthouse and Sweet Justice before making the transition to directing.

Her television directorial debut was the CBS Schoolbreak Special What About Your Friends, which won Prince-Bythewood an NACCP Image Award for Best Children’s Special and two Emmy nominations for writing and directing. She has also directed episodes of the hit television comedies Everybody Hates Chris and Girlfriends.

Prince-Bythewood currently resides in Southern California with her husband Reggie and their sons Cassius and Toussaint.

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