The group was getting antsy. After more than an hour in the sun, director Lacey Duke asked Stranger Things star Caleb McLaughlin to run his lines one more time. He’d said them perfectly before, but Duke wanted to get the powerful moment just right. Sensing the restlessness, Alfre Woodard, who earlier led the group in a rousing rendition of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” reminded the crowd they’ll never have this moment again.
Of course, she was right.
In early June, Netflix brought together 47 of its Black creators, actors, and directors from over 20 series, films, and documentaries to announce a new day in Hollywood. “A Day for our generation to see untold experiences of our Blackness,” McLaughlin declared. “A day when Black women are boldly the lead character, whether inmates or scholars. We’re not a genre because there’s no one way to be Black.”
Pictured in the photo are Spike Lee, Alfre Woodard, Lena Waithe, Danielle Brooks, Derek Luke, Marlon Wayans, Laverne Cox, and lots more. Folks flew in from every corner of the world just for the day. Vaneza Oliveira, star of 3%, Netflix’s first Portuguese-language original series came from Brazil. Kane Robinson, the British rapper, and star of Top Boy, popped over from London. And even though she was starring in an off-Broadway play, Luke Cage’s Simone Missick dashed to Los Angeles just to be part of the event, which felt more like a family reunion than a production.
Coordinating such a massive shoot while keeping the whole thing a secret was a feat until itself, but according to Bukky Osifeso, a Director of Human Resources at Netflix, despite their busy schedules, people couldn’t wait to be down.
“This has never been done before,” she told ESSENCE. “So when we said we were going to do this, people were like sign me up. I just had goosebumps.”
The ambitious campaign was the result of months of work by Netflix’s Strong Black Lead team, a group of executives who focus on engaging Black audiences. Last year, the company rolled out #FirstTimeISawMe, which highlighted the power of on-screen representation.
This year’s shoot was inspired by Art Kane’s iconic 1958 photo,”A Great Day In Harlem”, which featured jazz legends like Sonny Rollins, Dizzy Gillespie, Count Basie, and Thelonious Monk. Netflix’s take, dubbed “A Great Day in Hollywood,” hoped to capture the same magic of Kane’s legendary portrait.
The original photo “had this combination of famous jazz musicians and names you ended up getting to know later, but it was like this beautiful spectrum. So we were trying to create the same thing,” says Maya Watson Banks, Netflix’s Director of Brand & Editorial for the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand.
“We have talent on the service that you know really well, but we also have people that you might not know yet, but you’re going to get to know them,” Watson Banks continues. “So showing the spectrum and the tapestry of all the different types of Black people and Black stories that we have is what we wanted to do.”
While diversity in Hollywood has been a hot topic since April Reign declared #OscarsSoWhite in 2015, Netflix has been at the forefront of telling nuanced Black stories. From its original hit, Orange is the New Black, to recent breakouts like Dear White People, Marvel’s Luke Cage, On My Block, and She’s Gotta Have It, Netflix says its committed to supporting Black creators across multiple genres, from sitcoms to documentaries.
“We want to be part of the conversation as a destination for Black creators and talent,” says Watson Banks. “We care about it and we’re investing in it.”
Despite the fact that inclusive stories are good for business (just look at box office numbers for Black Panther and the Fast and Furious franchise for proof), some studios still do not seem to see the value in telling authentic Black stories. For Luke Cage creator and writer, Cheo Hodari Coker, that’s what makes Netflix and it’s “Great Day In Hollywood” shoot special.
“Even thinking about doing something like this [photo shoot], just goes to show you they care about it,” Coker says. “The fact that three-quarters of the people here were either shooting something or working, and without hesitation, they flew them back here, specifically for this moment and this day. A lot of companies would pinch pennies and wouldn’t do something like this because they wouldn’t see the significance. But Netflix doesn’t see things that way. “
Dawn Porter, director of the recent documentary series Bobby Kennedy For President, said being among so many Black creators felt like a necessary reprieve from the spaces she’s normally in Hollywood.
“You don’t realize what you don’t have until you see it. It was such a joyful experience,” Porter says over lunch after filming wrapped.
“Everyone standing on that stoop understood the struggle that everybody else has had. We don’t have to explain that,” she continued. “Everybody knows the sacrifices you make and how hard it is to get meaningful work. So to be there gives me a chill.”
“It’s more than a moment of pride, it’s a moment of resilience,” Porter adds. “It’s taking a stand. It sures you up for the next challenge.”