The 6-year-old bilateral amputee, who has been motivating people to “do great things” with his daily Instagram videos and children’s books, got a huge surprise on Monday (Oct. 15) thanks to Jussie Smollett.
Smollett bought Kayden a brand new van complete with a wheelchair lift so that he can get to school without delay. The Empire star stepped in to help Kayden after the Englewood Public School District (where he attends school) failed to provide a proper bus to pick him up on the first day of school.
“He’s the only double amputee in Bergen County [New Jersey] where we live,” Kayden’s mom, Nicole Sessoms, told VIBE on Tuesday (Oct. 16). “They had a bus the prior two years and this year they forgot about him, [after] he switched to a new school.”
Before the van, Sessoms had been putting Kayden’s wheelchair in her small Nissan sedan to drive her son to another school where he was forced to wait for a standard school bus to pick him, once all the other students were dropped off. An aide was on hand to carry him on and off the bus, according to CBS New York. The school district blamed the mishap on a paperwork mix-up and promised to provide Kayden with a proper lift bus.
Smollett, who learned about Kayden’s story through social media, has become a family friend. He tries to spend time with Kayden whenever his schedule permits, Sessoms said.
When Smollett found out about the transportation issue, he reached out to Sessoms with a solution. “He saw what was happening with the bus and he called me and said ‘Kayden needs his own van!’”
The 35-year-old actor arranged to have the van delivered while Kayden and his family were hanging out with him in New York City.
RichardParsons, former chairman and CEO of Time Warner, has been named interim chairman of the CBS board of directors.
The newly configured CBS board had its first formal meeting via teleconference on Tuesday after the shakeup that began Sept. 9 with the forced resignation of longtime CEO Leslie Moonves amid sexual misconduct allegations.
Parsons was appointed to the CBS board earlier this month along with four other new members. He’ll be tasked with leading the board at a time of great transition for CBS.
Also on Tuesday, two more long-serving CBS board members, Bruce Gordon and William Cohen, confirmed that they have resigned from the board. Their departures leave the panel at 11 members. It’s not immediately clear if their seats will be replaced.
Gordon, former head of the NAACP and a former top Verizon executive, was credited with stepping up and leading the negotiations that led to Moonves’ resignation and the settlement of the lawsuit CBS filed against its controlling shareholder, National Amusements Inc.
LeBron James and John Legend are two men in the entertainment space who are continuously working on major new endeavors. The I Promise School founder and newly-minted EGOT, respectively, are putting their talents together to bring a fan favorite to the TV screen. According to Deadline, James and Legend will be working with writer Wendy Calhoun for a women-led CW adaptation of the biographical film, Lean on Me.
The potential series—which will bear the same name as 1989 original—follows Amarie Baldwin, a young black principal in Akron, Ohio, with hopes of resuscitating a struggling urban school. Naturally, as she overcomes daily hurdles within the walls of her workplace, she is also facing challenges at home on the love life and family front. Baldwin is subbing in for beloved lead Lean on Me character Mr. Clark, who was famously played by Morgan Freeman.
According to Variety.com, all four winners in the guest actor categories were black for the first time in Television Academy Awards history.
Presented tonight at the Creative Arts Emmy Awards ceremony, Tiffany Haddish won best guest actress in a comedy for hosting “Saturday Night Live,”Samira Wiley won best guest actress in a drama for “The Handmaid’s Tale,”Ron Cephas Jones won best guest actor in a drama for “This Is Us,” and Katt Williams won best guest actor in a comedy for “Atlanta.”
Comedians Williams and Haddish won in their first year being nominated, while both Jones and Wiley had been nominated previously.
As Variety noted when this year’s Emmy nominees were announced, 36 actors of color were nominated this for the 70th Primetime Emmy Awards, up 20% from the year before, amid a larger push in the entertainment industry for diversity and inclusion in television, in front of and behind the camera.
WarnerMedia, the parent company of Hollywood studio Warner Bros., announced Wednesday a company-wide policy aimed at increasing diversity and inclusion in front of and behind the camera. The initiative, established in partnership with actor Michael B. Jordan, is to apply to all productions going forward, beginning with Jordan’s “Just Mercy.”
“The WarnerMedia family has introduced an approach that accomplishes our shared objectives, and I applaud them for taking this enormous step forward,” Jordan said in a statement. “I’m proud that our film, ‘Just Mercy,’ will be the first to formally represent the future we have been working toward, together. This is a legacy-bearing moment.”
Since April Reign and #OscarsSoWhite took over headlines beginning in 2014, the entertainment industry has openly grappled with calls for more accurate and representative portrayals of more communities.
But it was, for many, Frances McDormand’s fiery speech at the 2018 Academy Awards ceremony (she won an Oscar for her lead role in “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”) highlighting the concept of inclusion riders that drove some people to action.
(First coined by Stacy Smith, director of USC’s Annenberg Inclusion Initiative, an inclusion rider is a provision that can be placed in stars’ contracts to mandate equity in casting and beyond.)
“Inclusivity has always been a no-brainer for me, especially as a black man in this business,” Jordan said. “[But] it wasn’t until Frances McDormand spoke the two words that set the industry on fire — inclusion rider — that I realized we could standardize this practice. It allowed me to formally pledge my production company, Outlier Society, to a way of doing business.”
WarnerMedia’s policy, which will also apply to HBO and Turner, focuses on having women, people of color, members of LGBTQ communities, folks with disabilities and other underrepresented groups in greater numbers in front of and behind the camera.
Along with the help of his agent, Phillip Sun at WME, Jordan worked with WarnerMedia to launch the policy with “Just Mercy.” Jordan is also an executive producer on the film, which is set to begin production in Atlanta this week.
“I’m proud that Warner Bros., and our sister companies HBO and Turner, are willing to state unequivocally that this is where we stand on diversity and inclusion,” Kevin Tsujihara, Warner Bros.’ chairman and CEO, said in a statement.
“Our policy commits us to taking concrete action to further our goals, to measure the outcomes and to share the results publicly,” he added. “I’m also thrilled that we were able to work with Michael B. Jordan to craft a meaningful policy and framework that will apply to all of our productions, across all of our divisions, going forward.”
Though the policy as written does not include specifics, the company does commit to “in the early stages of the production process, [engaging] with our writers, producers and directors to create a plan for implementing this commitment to diversity and inclusion on our projects, with the goal of providing opportunities for individuals from under-represented groups at all levels.”
“And, we will issue an annual report on our progress,” it said.
“Just Mercy” is a legal drama about a gifted young lawyer’s defense of the most vulnerable in this country and his fight for equal justice in a flawed legal system. It’s based on the book “Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption” by Bryan Stevenson.
HBO has renewed “Insecure” for a fourth season and fellow comedy series “Ballers” for a fifth season.
The renewals come nearly a month after the two series returned for new seasons Aug. 12 on HBO and its digital platforms.
Created by Issa Rae and Larry Wilmore, “Insecure” follows the friendship of two women dealing with their own real-life flaws while attempting to navigate different worlds and cope with an endless series of uncomfortable everyday experiences. Issa Rae, Yvonne Orji, Lisa Joyce, Natasha Rothwell, Amanda Seales and Y’lan Noel star. Executive producers are Rae, Prentice Penny, Melina Matsoukas, Michael Rotenberg, Dave Becky, Jonathan Berry, Jim Kleverweis and Dayna Lynne North.
Starring Dwayne Johnson and created by Stephen Levinson, “Ballers” explores the world of pro football through a group of past and present players striving to stay in the game. Johnson plays ex-superstar Spencer Strasmore, who has reinvented himself as a financial manager for today’s players. Other cast members include John David Washington, Rob Corddry, Omar Benson Miller, Donovan Carter, Troy Garity, London Brown and Brittany S. Hall. Levinson, Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson, Dany Garcia, Peter Berg, Rob Weiss, Denis Biggs, Karyn McCarthy and Julian Farino serve as executive producers for the series.
According to Variety.com, actor, producer and Academy Award-winning musician Common has signed an overall deal with Lionsgate Television. Under the new agreement, Common’s Freedom Road Productions will develop new series projects for the studio.
“We’re thrilled to have the talented multi-hyphenate Common join our television team along with his longtime manager and producing partner Derek Dudley, president of production Shelby Stone, and creative executive Melisa Resch,” said Lionsgate executive vice president and head of worldwide scripted television Chris Selak. “Common’s expertise from working across all different artistic platforms offers a rich and exciting creative vision to our group. We look forward to the bold, premium content Freedom Road Productions will bring to our deep and diverse television slate.”
Common has starred in installments of Lionsgate’s “John Wick” and “Now You See Me” film franchises, and the Chicago native also currently stars in and executive produces “The Chi” on Showtime.
“I’m proud to expand my relationship with the innovative content creator Lionsgate,” said Common. “The studio offers a collaborative, creative freedom that is unique in the entertainment industry, which makes them a perfect partner for Freedom Road Productions. I’m looking forward to teaming up with Kevin, Chris and the Lionsgate collective on exciting and fresh television programming.”
Academy Award and Emmy Award-nominated actress Taraji P. Henson launched The Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation (BLHF) in honor of her late father in order to help eradicate the stigma around mental health issues in the African-American community and provide support for and bring awareness to mental health issues that plague this community.
“I named the organization after my father because of his complete and unconditional love for me; his unabashed, unashamed ability to tell the truth, even if it hurt; and his strength to push through his own battles with mental health issues,” said Henson. “My dad fought in the Vietnam War for our country, returned broken, and received little to no physical and emotional support. I stand now in his absence, committed to offering support to African Americans who face trauma daily, simply because they are Black.”
To celebrate the foundation’s launch, the star will host a special fundraising event in Beverly Hills, CA on Saturday, September 22. Taraji’s Boutique of Hope will introduce BLHF to the world and will raise funds to support one of the foundation’s pillar goals of advocating for and providing resources to increase mental health support in urban schools. With partnering school districts, BLHF will help to provide more culturally competent mental health therapists, social workers, and counselors to African-American children in need.
“BLHF is breaking the silence by speaking out and encouraging others to share their challenges with mental illness and get the help they need,” said BLHF Executive Director Tracie Jenkins. “African-Americans have regarded such communication as a sign of weakness and our vision is to change that perception.”
BLHF will partner with other nonprofit organizations who offer programs that educate, celebrate, and make visible the positive impact of mental health wellness. Through these partnerships, the foundation will ensure cultural competency in caring for African Americans who struggle with mental illness by providing scholarships to African-American students who seek a career in the mental health field; offer mental health services and programs to young people in urban schools; and combat recidivism within the prison system.
Kenya Barris has become the newest big-ticket addition to Netflix’s lineup of television producers.
The “Black-ish” creator has signed a three-year overall deal with the streaming service that will see him produce series exclusively for Netflix. According to a source with knowledge of the negotiations, the deal, which carries an option for an additional two years, is valued at roughly $100 million — putting Barris in the same ballpark as recent Netflix recruits Shonda Rhimes and Ryan Murphy.
Barris’ departure from ABC Studios, where he was under an overall deal, became official last month. But according to insiders, his release from his ABC deal had been secured several months ago, and the basics of his new Netflix agreement had also been in place for some time.
Barris’ relationship with ABC began to show signs of strain in March when Variety reported that the network had indefinitely shelved an episode of “Black-ish” that he wrote and directed, titled “Please, Baby, Please,” which touched on current events, including controversy over athletes kneeling during performances of the national anthem. Barris told Variety at the time, “Given our creative differences, neither ABC nor I were happy with the direction of the episode and mutually agreed not to air it.”
According to a source with knowledge of the situation, Disney-owned ABC’s concerns were related to comments that characters made in the episode about President Donald Trump, not to the football storyline.
A month later, reports surfaced that Barris was being courted by Netflix for an overall deal. But his ability to pursue a Netflix deal was complicated by the renewal of his ABC agreement that he signed last year, and which ran through 2021. Barris had to secure an exit from ABC before moving to Netflix.
With his departure from ABC Studios last month, Barris stepped away from his post as co-showrunner of “Black-ish,” but will continue to serve as executive producer. Barris also has “Black-ish” spinoff “Grown-ish” at Disney cable channel Freeform, where he will continue to be an EP.
“Black-ish” has been a rarity among broadcast comedies in recent years — drawing solid ratings and robust critical praise, particularly for episodes addressing complex social issues. It also, when it premiered in 2014, was the first broadcast comedy in years to feature an African-American family. It has been nominated for 12 Primetime Emmy Awards over its run, and this year received its third Emmy nomination for outstanding comedy series. It received a Peabody Award in 2016, and a Golden Globe Award in 2017 for actress Tracee Ellis Ross.
“Kenya Barris is one of our great modern storytellers,” said Cindy Holland, vice president, original content at Netflix. “Kenya uses his voice to make audiences more aware of the world around them, while simultaneously making them laugh. His honesty, comedic brilliance and singular point of view, combined with the creative freedom he will enjoy at Netflix, promises to create powerful new stories for all our members around the world.”
Barris added, “When my agents reached out to me about this little garage start-up called Netflix, I wasn’t sure what to think. But after I talked to Ted and Cindy, I started to believe that maybe this mom-and-pop shop with only 130 million subscribers might just be something… so I decided to take a swing… a leap of faith if you will, and take a chance with the new kids on the block.”
With his new agreement, Barris joins the ranks of television’s highest paid creators. In the last year, Netflix has signed Rhimes and Murphy to nine-figure deals as it continues to grow its original-programming volume in an increasingly robust challenge to the traditional pay-TV business. The streaming service last month revealed an initial programming slate from Rhimes that includes eight new series projects.
As GBN’s resident biracial, millennial nerd, I place a lot of importance on diversity at Comic Con and in the entertainment industry.
Pop culture has the power to influence how people see the world around them, and, thankfully, there are people in the entertainment industry who understand this and work to make content that showcases the positive aspects of diversity and uniqueness.
A prime example of this content is Steven Universe, an out-of-this-world show that isn’t afraid to show just how diverse this planet really is.
On the surface, Steven Universe is a cartoon about a boy trying to save the world. But on a deeper level it’s a show about love and friendship, and a show that teaches kids lessons about healthy relationships, anxiety, and how important it is to be true to yourself. Estelle, who plays Garnet (the fierce leader of the Crystal gems and fusion of LGBTQ+ couple Ruby and Sapphire), killed it at the Superheroes of Body PositivityPanel this Comic Con.
Estelle, along with the rest of the Crewniverse (people who work on Steven Universe) recently participated in Dove’s Self Esteem Project. Rebecca Sugar, the creator of Steven Universe and Estelle joined Dove on the Panel to talk about body positivity and open up about their own experiences with body image. “My body works, it’s gorgeous. It gets me from point A to point B. If someone, doesn’t like my body, that’s too bad,” Estelle explained.
Another show featured at Comic-Con was Black Lightning, a badass superhero show that celebrates Black Americans. Series co-creator Mara Brock Akil took the stage to express that “celebrating our culture is important to remind us that we are also a part of the fabric of American culture. Tracking our history and our path is important.”
Then there are the women of the Women Who Kick Ass Panel. Amandla Stenberg, who I’ve been a fan of since their portrayal of Rue in The Hunger Games, said “The topic of ‘strong female roles’ is tricky. There’s an awareness I have. I create representation because of the accessibility I have. When it comes to roles there is a give and take time. We continue to sacrifice in order to see the representation we want.” I will definitely be purchasing a ticket for their new movie The Darkest Minds.
And of course, there’s Regina King, who will be starring in HBO’s new Watchmen series. “There weren’t many like me kicking ass. I was a Lynda Carter fan. Even though Wonder Woman was wearing a skimpy outfit, she had ownership and confidence that exuded female strength,” Regina King explained about her own experiences with superheroes.
For me, cartoons and superheroes have shaped core aspects of my personality and morality, so it means a lot to me to see so many badass women of color involved in so many amazing projects share their experiences.