Keisha Senter is all about inclusion. As the VP of Culture & Impact for Jordan Peele’s Monkeypaw Productions, she leads the social impact strategies and campaigns that reinforces its film and television catalog, along with developing partnerships with organizations that touch upon the themes addressed throughout the company’s content slate.
As one of the few women of color to hold her position, Senter fully realizes the importance of affording other minorities the opportunity to showcase their work and share the experience in promoting diversity in various industries.
Senter previously built initiatives for several brands in government, fashion, entertainment, and philanthropy, so her landing at Peele’s production company was serendipitous, so to speak. “It really is a dream come true,” she told ESSENCE. “I’ve always been a fan of what Monkeypaw has done – and Jordan as well – so, to come on board and really build out the Culture & Impact team was in step with the vision and DNA of the company. It’s really been a pleasure over these past two years to work with such a dynamic brand.”
“Jordan Peele really has his finger on the pulse of culture; and not only what’s happening in culture, but trends that will happen,” she continued. “He also has the foresight to understand our culture and what resonates with us, along with how we’re impacted.”
The Kentucky native joined Monkeypaw Productions in February 2021, just a few months prior to the release of the Nia DaCosta-directed Candyman, starring Yahya Abdul-Mateen II and Teyonah Parris. She was instrumental in the creation of the film’s social campaign, which included a roundtable discussion, an artist showcase, as well as screenings of the film nationwide.
“Candyman really did touch on a number of issues that were happening – from Black trauma, but also Black excellence, Black joy, and Black artistry,” the Florida A&M graduate stated. “What our department did was build culture and impact campaigns all throughout the lifecycle of the film. It started with working with our development team to identify touchpoints that we can hit in order to make sure that our audience feels engaged and has a piece of our content even before the credits go up.”
“Whether it’s stories behind the scenes or in front of the camera, we also work with black and brown-owned companies to really look at how we’re creating these activation campaigns, and how we highlight artistry that resonates with our focus demographic,” Senter added.
Prior to the release of Peele’s new film Nope – which hits theaters today – Monkeypaw’s Culture & Impact Team searched for a way to promote the project, and how they can partner with talent, or even community-based creators to craft something that resonates culturally. “Our films are so big, so every collaboration takes a different lens,” said Senter. “Each story is unique, so each project that comes from these films are unique as well.”
Daniel Kaluuya, the current ESSENCE cover star and one of the leads in Nope, partnered with fashion designer Jide Osifeso to create a merch line that coincided with the themes, messaging, and style of the film. Senter, who is also the former VP of the Will & Jada Smith Family Foundation, spoke to this monumental collaboration, and how it came about.
“We looked at the film and we knew that it would have great iconography that would strike a chord with many of our viewers,” Senter said to ESSENCE. “So, we worked with Daniel, and it was his idea to build out a merch line, so we launched a collaboration with Jide Osifeso. We do things like that – we look at our films and look at our content and how we can work with Black artists and Black creators to bring their visions to life.”
Senter has wealth of experience across the board, and has consulted for global companies such as Gucci, Social Capital Markets and Aritzia. She also held leadership positions at the The Rockefeller Foundation, Clinton Global Initiative, The Center for American Progress and in the Office of Senator Charles E. Schumer, along with earning a M.A. in International Relations from Dublin City University in Ireland. This growing list of achievements can be attributed to her Kentucky roots, and the educational foundation that she received in Tallahassee, Florida.
As a graduate of FAMU, this 2016 Presidential Leadership Scholar knew that she would end up at an HBCU from an early age. Her mother went to Tennessee State University, and her sister is a fellow Rattler, so their influence alone was enough to push Senter towards a similar path.
“When you’re in middle school and you’re spending your spring break at FAMU, and you’re going to homecoming every single year, you really think that’s the next step,” she said of her decision to attend an HBCU. “I had scholarships and other opportunities to go to PWIs, but I just knew that an HBCU was the right place for me.”
“I’m from Kentucky, and I spent a lot of time in my classes where I was the only young Black girl there,” she continued. “What I knew I would get from an HBCU was what I needed. It was the only choice for me, and I think it was one of the best choices that I’ve ever made.”
During our discussion, Senter also stressed how critical it was to go to abroad for her Masters degree, saying that “it was a completely different experience. I think that no matter where you go to school, you can make lifelong connections, and I will say that going to Ireland was just as unique and invaluable for my growth and my trajectory as it was going to an HBCU.” It was these lifelong experiences and lessons that she learned at FAMU and DCU that has allowed her to excel in her career today.
Being a Black woman in a position of leadership, Senter faces many moments of discrimination. However, its not what happens to us that is important, but it’s how we respond to it. The things she experienced and the skills she obtained while living in different locations throughout her life has allowed her to have a beautiful and necessary perspective – that she has the right to be here. In fact, we all do. That’s something that she takes with her wherever she goes.
“One of the key things for me is understanding that we have the right to be in these rooms. But when we’re in that room, what are we doing, what are we saying, and how are we continuing to speak for those who are not in the room?”
“If I get an opportunity or a seat at the table, I’m going to make room for others to come along,” she added. “To be able to hire other Black women that can see you, and you can be a model for them – we can all learn from that. Making sure that you’re attempting to diversify and create opportunities for more of us is essential. That is the true goal.”