May 10, 2021

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Jasmyn Lawson is working to bring popular black shows and movies back to your TV


To read about the rest of the Cultural Transformation Program members, including actor Da’Vine Joy Randolph and activist Emily Barker, refer to the full list here.

Jasmine Lawson on your dream career trip.

When she started on Netflix in 2018, Lawson immediately let her curiosity lead her to find the answer to a fundamental question for black-pop culture fans: Why aren’t all of our popular TV series and movies shown on the streaming services? Of course, the answer was complex, with licensing and ownership deals at the core of the problem. But a little bit of email espionage led her to some solutions: The team buying the movie rights recently secured all three parts of Stoner’s epic “Friday” series, and she wanted to know how the deal went together, and how to follow more popular black movies and films. Lawson said her conversations with this team were mostly about the increasing importance of serving black communities with their favorite content. The heightened urgency to maintain and grow Netflix’s black membership base and interest has led to the service’s acquisition of rebound favorites including “BAPS” and “Love & Basketball”.

Lawson’s work on the broadcast machine has resonated with black audiences, especially in the past two years. To put it simply, Lawson was the ultimate fan of amplifying black creators and their work – and making sure that black audiences benefit as much from TV and Internet culture as they put into it.

“There is no way to deny that blacks, minorities, women and Queer culture have dominated the shape of popular culture and how it is moving forward in the world,” she said. “I know people quote Jay Z all the time but we are a culture, nothing moves without us. I feel privileged and proud to be a part of archiving those stories.”

In November, Lawson, 29, moved to the team of the Netflix original series, managing the development of current series and productions such as “Never Have I Ever,” “Dear White People,” “Family Reunion” and other live comedies on the live-streaming service. Previously, she was the managing editor of Netflix’s Strong Black Lead initiative, overseeing and through editorial efforts for and by black television and films. She helped loan words to actress Cecily Tyson and former first lady Michelle Obama in the Strong Black Lead video series that always begins with “Hey, Queen!”

During the pandemic, Lawson’s effect became more pronounced as people cheered as the tape added a bunch of Popular black comedy series on her list: “Girlfriends”, “Moesha”, “Sister, Sister”, “Half & Half” and others. Lawson said her work on getting these TV series online began a long time ago.

“I was happy that she was able to provide so much joy to our members, specifically the black members,” she said. “It was a balsam. It was a great way to escape and relax.”

For Lawson, the path to this moment wasn’t always linear. But maybe if she asked her 10-year-old self, maybe her wildest dreams might be driving all of this. Lawson grew up in Jackson, Michigan with her mother, a social worker, “the always-on hustler.” So television was its window to the world. By the time Lawson was in sixth grade, she was spending all of her time watching television. She watched the shows her mother watched, such as the rematch of “Martin” and “Singles Live” and Mara Brooke Akil’s episodes of “The Girlfriends”. I listened to Jay-Z and DMX without filtering.

“Black pop culture has been a direct part of my life as far as I can remember,” she said. “I don’t remember that I’m not part of this world.”

Lawson graduated from Spelman College at Black University, where she majored in theater. She thought she would go into production and one day work in television and cinema, working with actors and screenplays. But after working late, exhausting hours on a training period, she decided to change course. Lawson took an internship with Cartoon Network, where she worked on the digital team. Lawson, a kid in the early days of social media, was always obsessed with the Internet. She had a blog on Xanga, and she was on MySpace, BlackPlanet, and of course, Facebook.

“I loved the combination of entertainment and technology,” she said. “I remember watching House of Cards on my iPhone and I was really obsessed with Orange Is the New Black and how diverse the cast is.”

When she was 21, Lawson wrote a blog post titled “Oh Netflix! You’re the Amazing Genius You Are!” Showing her desire to one day incorporate her love of entertainment and technology. At the time, she was living in New York, working for NBC as part of her Page program. “So I say this now,” I wrote In the post. “After my year in New York, I hope to live in California working at Netflix.”

But this timeline was not entirely correct. Lawson got a gig at Giphy in 2016, as a cultural editor, to make sure there was a strong representation of black in his GIF library. Once again, its influence here has been decisive for black audiences, especially on social media, as the perfect GIF response can only be crafted with the right resources. Two years later, Netflix recruited her to help run her newly launched Strong Black Lead initiative.

For Lawson, Strong Black Lead’s mission is perfectly in line with her personal desires to see complete, accurate – and fun – representations of black people on screen.

She said, “The way people responded to” Moesha “and” Girlfriends “and” Sister, Sister “: A lot of people said this was the first time they saw themselves on TV and the effect that had on them.

“For me, the effect of” Girlfriends “was that Mara Brooke Aqeel was a black woman who created this show.” “And I was like, ‘This is what I want to do – not be Tracee Ellis Ross or be an actor. I want to be Mara Brooke Aqil, and I want to create these shows, and I want other black women to be able to do it too. I’m on Netflix, and I’m working with Mara Brock Akil. These things come complete. And they matter. “