In the shadow of the challenging landscape of 2020, art has become a means of escape. But for filmmaker Trey Haley, whose art is surely entertaining, the mission is bigger. As president and partner of Tri Destined Studios, Haley views his art as a means to send a clear message: empowering images of Black people are more important than ever.
Haley took time out of a busy filming schedule to connect with ESSENCE about his upcoming projects, his mission and his love for his people.
He recalls coming to Los Angeles with nothing but his talent and dreams and finding his way into the business. For Haley, none of that would have been possible without help from friends and contacts he met along the way, along with his own personal determination. While working odd jobs as a courier or in retail, he continued to network consistently, eventually landing an internship at Morgan Freeman’s Revelations Entertainment.
“They allowed me to do a fall semester internship two to three days a week with them,” Haley says. “It was the best. I learned everything behind the scenes, working in our office, reading scripts. They broke it down for us. They gave so much back to me during that internship.”
From there his life and career began to truly take shape. He was not only building his skills, but also fostering a deeper belief in himself and his commitment to his plan.
“Things were aligning,” he said. “But ultimately, it really comes down to the determination, consistency, and then the belief that there’s no backup plan. This is it.”
Since then, he has gone on to produce and direct films like the Yvette Nicole Brown-penned romcom Always A Bridesmaid, which earned an NAACP Image Award nomination, as well as several films on BET+ like Throwback Holiday, the legal drama Influence, as well as his hugely successful show The Family Business starring Ernie Hudson, Valarie Pettiford and Tami Roman, to name a few.
But no matter the fun onscreen drama, whether it’s in television or film, the common thread of the projects he chooses is simple: images of Black people winning.
“The number one thing I come back to is winning,” he tells ESSENCE. “You learn the lessons, but you come out winning. We come out on top, no matter the journey. Because we need more empowering images. It doesn’t always have to be us falling short.”
But it’s more than a simple theory for Haley, it’s one he puts into practice with his own commitment to paying it forward, especially on HBCU campuses and organizations dedicated to uplifting Black people.
To that end, he currently serves on the advisory board of Bethune-Cookman University’s School of Performing Arts and Communication. In addition, he creates master classes and workshops with organizations like the Hollywood Diversity Association, the Black Professionals Summit, Black Writer’s Weekend, the Pan African Film Festival.
“It’s important to teach our kids, our future generations, about the legacy we come from,” he says. “ That’s what makes us strong. That’s what makes us powerful.”
True to form, Haley pauses our interview briefly to ask me to make sure to highlight his business partner, N.D. Brown, who is CEO and co-partner of Tri Destined, as well as the multitude of other diverse creatives with whom he works to uplift our communities through art. It’s a small reminder that he views his work about more than just himself.
“You know, no matter what, you can keep going higher and higher,” he says. “We should always be living, doing something to leave a legacy for our people. It’s not just about us, it’s about for tomorrow. That’s what Tri Destined studios is about. Ultimately, we want to build that legacy to leave something for tomorrow.”