April 1, 2021
Lionsgate has tapped filmmaker Roger Ross Williams to produce and oversee a documentary series based on materials drawn from The New York Times Magazine and Nikole Hannah-Jones’ article “The 1619 Project,” slated to debut in the U.S. on Hulu as part of a distribution agreement between Lionsgate and Disney General Entertainment Content’s BIPOC Creator Initiative led by Tara Duncan.
The 1619 Project, the accuracy of which was subsequently disputed by a number of historians, claimed slavery was such a central aspect of U.S. history that it carries over into racism that endures today. It was launched in August 2019 on the 400th anniversary of the arrival of the first enslaved Africans in the English colonies that would become the United States. It examines the legacy of slavery in America and argues it shaped nearly all aspects of society, from music and law to education and the arts, and the principles of our democracy itself.
Williams will direct the first episode and produce the series with co-executive producer Geoff Martz in collaboration with Lionsgate Television, The New York Times and Oprah Winfrey’s Harpo Films. Williams is the first African-American director to win an Academy Award, for his short film Music by Prudence. Other projects include the Emmy Award-winning documentaries Life, Animated and The Apollo; God Loves Uganda; American Jail; and the Emmy-nominated, Webby Award-winning virtual reality experience Traveling While Black.
“Our most cherished ideals and achievements cannot be understood without acknowledging both systemic racism and the contributions of Black Americans,” Williams said. “And this isn’t just about the past — Black people are still fighting against both the legacy of this racism and its current incarnation.”
Emmy-nominated and Peabody Award-winning journalist Shoshana Guy will serve as showrunner. Guy most recently was showrunner for Vice TV’s late-night series “Cari and Jemele: Won’t Stick to Sports.” She spent more than a decade as an anchor producer for Tom Brokaw and Brian Williams at NBC News. Her work at NBC focused on issues of race and justice, including coverage of the defunding of the Camden Police Department, which earned her a Peabody Award. Her work has also been recognized with two Emmy nominations for her coverage of President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign and her in-depth reporting on a year in the life of black high school students in Jackson, Miss.
Kathleen Lingo, editorial director for film and TV at The New York Times, will also executive produce for The Times.
Oprah Winfrey, Lionsgate and The New York Times announced the wide-ranging partnership to develop “The 1619 Project” into an expansive portfolio of feature films, television series and other content for a global audience in July 2020.
“It takes content as special as The 1619 Project to bring singular talents like Roger Ross Williams, Nikole Hannah-Jones and Oprah Winfrey together, and we’re delighted to partner with our friends at Disney and Hulu to share this compelling story with a global audience,” said Alice Dickens-Koblin, SVP and head of alternative programming at Lionsgate.
“[The story] has helped frame our understanding of U.S. history and contemporary society, elevating an under-reported, systemic story of vital importance,” added Kelly Campbell, president of Hulu. “We’re honored to be the exclusive streaming home to this transformative documentary series along with our partners at The New York Times, Lionsgate Television and Harpo Films.”