Debra Martin Chase Opens Up About Supporting Women Of Color In Hollywood

Photo by LAURI LYONS
The trailblazing Hollywood exec understands how important it is for women to lift each other up.

Debra Martin Chase is a Hollywood exec who's mentored and inspired a number of women in the industry. And, for Chase, the reason for doing so is simple. 

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"If we don't support each other, we're not going to advance," she tells ESSENCE for our April issue. "The generation of women ahead of me was of the 'I got mine, you get yours' mentality. But that doesn't create real advancement."

Chase, who became the head of Denzel Washington's Mundy Lane Entertainment production company after a chance encounter with the actor, is committed to sisterhood.

Kimberly Steward, the Oscar-nominated producer behind Manchester by the Sea, has the Hollywood producer on speed dial and calls Chase "a glass ceiling breaker." And, Sanaa Hamri, who Chase hired for the 2010 rom-com Just Wright, says Chase is always "empowering women and people of color."

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But, there's one mentee who credits Chase with really pushing her. Shonda Rhimes was just an intern at Mundy Lane Entertainment when she met Chase and the queen of Thursday night recalls the producer being an incredible influence. 

"I was this bookish kid fresh out of New Hampshire. I thought women like Debra only existed in the pages of ESSENCE," Rhimes says. "She got me my first job as an assistant. She got me my second job as a research director on the Oscar-nominated documentary Hank Aaron. She brought me in to write The Princess Diaries 2, my first big studio film."

Rhimes adds that Chase is also always there to bring her back down to earth. "She was also willing to dive into difficult conversations. When I was screwing up or acting like a hot mess, Debra flat out told me that I was ruining my opportunities."

For Chase, moving up the ladder isn't just about creating a path for other women, it's about carving a path and giving other women a hand so that everyone has a seat at the table. 

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