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From Mailroom Employee to CEO: Charles D. King's Path to Success

In the midst of the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic, MACRO founder and film producer Charles D. King discovered he made history when his film Judas and the Black Messiah was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture in 2021. King joined forces with filmmakers Shaka King and Ryan Coogler to produce the film, which would become one of the first entirely Black-produced films to receive an Academy Award nomination. The film was also released on the streaming service HBO Max at the same time as its theatrical release, garnering over 1.4 million views within its first month of release, according to Samba TV.

King established MACRO as a multi-platform entertainment company and creative agency that represents content across film, television and digital to showcase voices that express the perspectives of people of color. "We finance, develop and produce content across every platform within our content verticals, and the creative agency interfaces with and extends the community of the content that we’re creating and producing. Then our representation vertical represents some of the biggest movie stars, filmmakers, as well as emerging incredible voices and multi-hyphenates," King said. The company is currently in its seventh year and focuses not just on a domestic outreach but also looks into how the content vertical can be expanded internationally. King is also the co-founder of MaC Venture Capital, which invests in technology startups.

Being a businessman and entrepreneur seemed to be in King's blood. King, who is the son of a physician, proudly recalled witnessing his father go from working in a private medical practice to launching his own pediatric medical practice in Decatur, Georgia when he was just eight years old. "I just remember him building... my mother was the receptionist. They went from no patients the first week to one patient the second... just watching him grow and build his practice into one of the most prominent in Decatur, Georgia, just outside of Atlanta." But it was not until King got to college that his own entrepreneurial journey would begin.

King first enrolled in Vanderbilt University, but as he moved along in his studies, he questioned what direction he should head in, knowing he wanted to be involved in business. "I didn’t really know a lot about all the various different avenues within the business sector. But I thought, perhaps a stockbroker, but then my father is a physician," he shared. However, he realized being a stockbroker wasn't his calling after taking biology and economics courses. He eventually gravitated toward political science and communications. "I think that it’s important, no matter what you want to do in life, whatever your profession is, to get a strong foundation in terms of your educational background. So for me, a strong liberal arts background with a political science degree became just the sort of foundation that I was focused on obtaining in my first couple of years there." While in college, King interned at a bank for two summers and worked in retail sales and network marketing. "It was during my junior and senior year that I started dabbling in some things in the entertainment industry more from in front of the camera perspective. I was doing commercials and cheesy print ads and things like that. I was making good money on the side as a college student and it was fun. But then one of the photographers said, ‘Look, you’re at Vanderbilt, you’re studying political science. Have you ever thought about entertainment law?’” King said. From that point on, his focus and mindset began to shift towards entertainment law, after also being inspired by Blair Underwood's character in the television series LA Law.

After graduating from Vanderbilt, he furthered his education at Howard University School of Law. While a student at Howard, King participated in clerkships, where he gained legal experience as well as started his own management company with two of his law school classmates. King was then forced to question his career direction once again after a chat with one lawyer in particular. "’Charles, you’d be a really good lawyer, but I think you’d make a great agent,’” King shares about the new career coaching advice he received. "I initially got offended. Then I actually did research about what agents do and what do they go on to do. That’s when I learned about David Geffen and Barry Diller and all these media moguls, who at one point started out as agents. This led to the idea that I could run a business in an area that was exciting and interesting to me," King added. He also read about Reginald F. Lewis, a powerful and wealthy African American Wall Street titan, in the book Why Should White Guys Have All the Fun. Lewis was also one of King’s Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity brothers.

The next stop for King was Los Angeles. He landed a job in the mailroom at the acclaimed William Morris Talent Agency in Los Angeles, known for representing some of Hollywood's most powerful figures. "I was intentional in going into that space, and knowing that all of these industry titans started in the mailroom, that very few people skip that step," King explained. "Very few start out as executives or working in marketing, a few start out as assistants, but it was actually a badge of honor to start in the mailroom. I also knew that for an African American, for one of us to go into one of these institutions where we have historically not been, it was important for everyone to see you do all of the work that they did and then some, and then do it better than them. And so I knew that in order to do it, I needed to go to the very bottom. Not start as an assistant, but in the mailroom, just like these other legendary people, then go on to be an assistant and then be an agent and a senior agent, etc. That was one of the reasons why I chose to do it and it was very hard to actually get into the mailroom.” He quickly rose through the ranks, becoming the agency’s first African American partner as well as the first African American partner at any major Hollywood talent agency.

When King launched MACRO in 2015, it was self-funded for the first six months with his wife Stacey serving as chief brand officer. Just six months after launching MACRO, the company put up financing for Creed II director Steven Caple Jr.’s’ first film, The Land, which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival. By 2016, the company co-financed their first big studio feature, the Academy Award-nominated movie adaptation of Fences, which starred Denzel Washington and Viola Davis. King had been tracking the development of the project, an adaptation from the Broadway stage play of the same name, for months after having seen Washington and Davis in the play and having previously worked with the play’s director Kenny Leon. MACRO and BRON Studios, a Canadian motion picture company, collectively financed 75% of the film, while Paramount Pictures financed 25%. It was the first time the production company put up financing for a major studio.

Davis would ultimately go on to win the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role in the film, while the film also received three additional nominations. Fences also grossed over $64 million on a $24 million budget, according to Box Office Mojo. King explained that despite the involvement of Washington and Davis, two Hollywood heavyweights being on board, the film still needed to secure financing for it to be greenlighted. "If a movie like that couldn’t have gotten made without MACRO and Bron Studios, then that shows you the issues and the need for a company like MACRO," King said. Actor Anthony Mackie once spoke about the hardships Black filmmakers have in getting films produced in an interview with Hot 97, stating, “If you’re just a B-level actor who’s really enthralled with a project and want to get it made, your passion is your passion. The problem is, we let so many people get in the way of us creating our content that it’s almost impossible to get a movie made. It just becomes a melting pot of ridiculousness that makes it damn near impossible for your passion to be everyone’s passion.”

A big key to MACRO’s success and growth is discernment. King has had to filter through numerous opportunities for investment partners, especially in the early days of the company. But if it doesn't feel right, as he shared, you have to move on until you connect with what does. "I encourage anyone to take this experience that I had to heart when you think about your path in life. And when you think about businesses and opportunities you’re going to embark upon, make sure that the vision of those parties that you’re going to do them with are in alignment with yours, because it’s not going to be possible without that," King stressed.

King and MACRO followed up Fences with co-producing the Dee Rees film Mudbound, which garnered Mary J. Blige an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress, as well as nominations for Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography and Best Original Song. MACRO also teamed with Academy Award winner Forest Whitaker to bring Boots Riley’s Sorry to Bother You to the big screen as well as helping to adapt social justice advocate and lawyer Bryan Stevenson’s memoir into the acclaimed film Just Mercy. MACRO has also found success with television projects such as the series Raising Dion, a tale about a single mother raising a Black son who possesses superpowers.

Shortly after MACRO was established and as they planned to co-finance Fences, the "Oscars So White" controversy arose when Black actors and filmmakers were shut out of all major award categories at the 2016 Academy Awards ceremony. King addressed the issue as bigger than the Academy and instead called out the issue as a larger problem in Hollywood, specifically the lack of resources for Black filmmakers. “It’s like telling someone to go create an Academy caliber movie, but you give them chicken scraps to go do that with or the material isn’t developed at that level,” King said. Since 2016, films created by Black filmmakers for Black audiences such as Fences, Mudbound, Moonlight and Judas and the Black Messiah have garnered Academy Award recognition, and King acknowledged that progress has been made since then. “But the ultimate progress is when there are more MACROs, MACRO is capitalized as a billion-dollar player instead of a $100 something million-dollar player and when there are 10 MACROs the way that there are five big streamers and six or seven traditional studios, all of whom are led by people that do not look like us," he added. “So until we are having some superiority in those ways, this is still going to be an issue. There is progress but we have quite a way to go.” King himself is a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

As for the future of MACRO, King is hopeful, praising the young generation for being able to use new platforms like TikTok to share their content. “We as a people are incredibly resourceful and entrepreneurial,” King stated. “That's the thing that I get excited about for this next generation. They’re not going to wait for 40 years to be given the opportunity. They’re going to find the opportunity themselves and they’re going to use their savvy and understanding of social media to show their talent, perfect their craft of storytelling and the cream will rise. The talented artists have something really unique to say and how they say it and the artistry around it whether it’s a two-minute video or ongoing series, they will get recognized,” he added. “So MACRO, of course, we’re going to work with A-level movie stars and filmmakers. But it was important for us to have a partnership to do something like TikTok for Black Creators’ partnership and the same thing we’re doing for the Latin X community with TikTok. Do you know why we have a digital studio while we’re developing podcasts, in addition to our television shows and our features? Because that’s where you’re going to also cultivate new voices. It’s important for us to continue to finance movies independently. It's important for us to be able to do those things independently, as well as make the studio films and films with streamers because that’s where our new voices are going to come from. Then we will gravitate towards doing larger event type movies together with them as well,” he added. King also respects that the younger generation is more collaborative and doesn’t seem to have a "crabs in the barrel" mentality, which he feels is another reason for why the younger generation will thrive.

MACRO recently worked on the Netflix series Gentefied, which concluded its second season last November. Gentefied garnered buzz as MACRO’s first digital series that started as six short 8–10-minute episodes and was ultimately sold to Netflix as a 30-minute episode series. It was also recently announced that King’s MACRO has teamed with John Legend’s production company, Get Lifted Film Co., to produce Pretty Big for HBO Max, which is based on the life of dancer Akira Armstrong. Netflix will also be releasing Macro's film, They Cloned Tyrone, starring Academy Award winner Jamie Foxx and John Boyega later this year.

Having provided numerous jobs and opportunities in Hollywood, King shows no signs of slowing down. His influence in the industry continues to impact the culture, and one of the reasons he is recognized as the most powerful man in Hollywood.

Check out the full interview below.

Photographer: kwaku alston FOR

Stylist: Doug Hickman

Magazine Designer: Monroe Media

1 Comment

Aaron Spancer
Aaron Spancer
Jan 31, 2023


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