It wasn't long ago when content produced by black filmmakers was limited to those created by movie mogul Tyler Perry and his Madea character. Despite success, there were constant complaints about shucking, jiving, and coonin on camera, because of the lack of meaty roles for African Americans in Hollywood. But diversity is breaking through, with the rise in black film executives at major motion picture studios, empowered to green light cinema portraying people of color in a plethora of progressive mindsets.
Fox Searchlight's Senior Vice President and Director of Production, Zola Mashariki, is integral to this power move. A graduate of Dartmouth and Harvard Law, she began at Fox Searchlight as a production intern, and has consistently elevated through the ranks from Creative Executive to Director of Production, VP, and now Senior VP. "I have had some wonderful mentors who nurtured, believed in me, and made it so much easier for me to do than it would have been without them," says the Brooklyn born beauty. "I'm so grateful because they saw something in me. They allowed me to tell stories that I wanted to tell and allowed me to green light movies that I wanted to see."
During her 13 years with Fox Searchlight, Zola has worked on a multitude of multicultural projects including Notorious, Just Wright, Martha Marcy May Marlene, Another Earth, The Secret life of Bees, Antwone Fisher, and the recent Black Nativity. "These films made me believe, they made me dream and I was so proud of them," she says. "I think these stories transcend race and transcend gender."
Opening doors to African American filmmakers, she's been instrumental in bringing financially viable, artistic works to the big screen. And now, recognition is pouring in. Zola recently won the African American Women in Cinema International Film Festival's Trailblazer Award. And in January, she'll be honored by the African American Film Critics Association with the Ashley Boone Award for her achievements in the movie business.
"I wouldn't have been able to do these things without my mentors. They gave me the wings to fly," says Zola, who in 2004, created the American Black Film Festival (ABFF) Filmmaker Workshop 101, sponsored by Fox Searchlight Pictures. "It hasn't always been easy, but I'm glad to have a voice and a seat at the table."