Charles D. King knows the power of diverse images. Without them, it’s doubtful he’d be starring in his own Hollywood tycoon story, which includes helping bring “Fences” to the big screen. Google his name and the January 2015 Variety headline “Charles King Leaves WME to Launch Content Company Macro” still pops up.
“Charles King is leaving WME to launch a company focused on content and brands designed to appeal to multicultural audiences,” it begins. “King is one of showbiz’s most prominent African-American talent reps and the only black partner in the 100-year plus history of WME,” it notes.
That WME is William Morris Endeavor, with William Morris being one of the entertainment industry’s most venerable and consistent talent agencies. King’s journey at William Morris began in 1997, in the mailroom, the traditional route. Two years later, he became an agent. Now, at 47, he’s the captain.
But the Southwest DeKalb High grad’s Hollywood aspirations started very modestly with him out front modeling for some extra cash in both Nashville and Atlanta during his college years at Vanderbilt. Instead of concentrating on his own success, he also noticed talent in others and brought them along, too. When someone suggested he try entertainment law, his only connection came from television.
“I had no idea what an entertainment lawyer did,” he says with a laugh, “but the one thing I remember was the show ‘L.A. Law’ and the Blair Underwood character, the charismatic brother, the one African-American in the firm, and I just grabbed that image and thought that, perhaps, that could be a path for me.”
That path led him to Howard University Law School in Washington, D.C., where current Mayor Kasim Reed, whom he notes “was always a visionary and ahead of his time,” had just a year on him. Although King very much wanted to live out his Hollywood dreams in Atlanta, where his dad, Dr. Winton King, mother, Frances King, and sister Dr. Michelle Lyn all reside, that was impossible at the time. His other dream of creating a more diverse Hollywood through his own company was not.
“There was a lot of very fulfilling and exciting work all of those years as an agent, but the one thing that I did know when I set out to go to L.A., to go into the agency world, is that long term the goal was to be at the helm of a diversified entertainment and media company,” he says.
Working as an agent left him even more convinced that his vision was doable. “It was clear and apparent that there was a void and that there was an audience that was underserved,” he explains. “I saw the success and the impact and the amazing business that was generated from so many of the artists that I worked with, including right there in Atlanta. You look at the empire that Tyler (Perry) has built. There’s an audience he cultivated for years that was hungry to see themselves on the screen and to reflect their experiences.
“And you look at all of the independent filmmakers I have worked with, whether it was Ryan Coogler (whose ‘Black Panther’ for Marvel is filming in Atlanta) coming out with ‘Fruitvale Station’ or Craig Brewer with ‘Hustle & Flow’ or a young auteur like Justin Simien (‘Dear White People’), who were telling stories that had universal appeal but that also spoke to an audience and a community that wanted to see themselves and see some of their experiences reflected on the big screen,” he continues.
Two years into Macro, the success of the Oscar-nominated “Fences,” which his company produced and co-financed with Paramount and Bron Studios, starring Denzel Washington and Viola Davis, has proved that his instincts are as sharp as ever. “Fences” just earned several Oscar nominations: best picture, best actor for Washington, best supporting actress for Davis and best adapted screenplay for the late August Wilson, who also wrote the play.
Thanks to King’s major insider status, he was acquainted with the project that had been in Hollywood purgatory for over 30 years. When he saw an opportunity to come aboard, especially with Davis and Washington attached, he didn’t hesitate.
“It was a no-brainer for us,” he explains. “It checked so many boxes for us. One to work with two of the industry’s titans and the generation’s best actors in Denzel and Viola Davis and also, too, the work of August Wilson and the profound words he put on the page that are still so relevant today.”
As “Fences,” which scored a Golden Globe win as best supporting actress for Davis, continues its awards round, Macro has other fires burning.
“Mudbound,” the film adaptation of Hillary Jordan’s racially charged 2008 novel set in rural Mississippi during the World War II era starring Carey Mulligan, Garrett Hedlund, Jason Clarke, Jason Mitchell and Mary J. Blige, landed the same coveted Sundance Film Festival slot as current awards darling “Manchester by the Sea.” Plus their digital series “Gente-fied,” a Latino dramedy backed by America Ferrera, also made the influential festival’s cut.
And, to top it off, Macro is set to start filming the legal drama “Inner City,” written and directed by Dan Gilroy of “Nightcrawler” and starring Denzel Washington, in April and is attached to produce and help finance the Harriet Tubman biopic “Harriet,” with Morehouse alum Seith Mann directing.
But King, supported by his wife, Stacey, and his sons, Noah, 10, and Julian, 8, whom he calls “my two biggest fans,” has even grander dreams that Hollywood accolades can never satisfy. His desire to ensure that his own children and their friends will no longer see themselves underrepresented on a film poster or in a TV series is a strong motivator. In his office of nine full-time employees and two part-time ones, interns from all over the country find their Hollywood break precisely because King is so dedicated to “creating the next generation of leaders and producers and executives,” especially with an eye for diversity.
And, equally important, he strives to show his sons that “we can build media empires just like anybody else.”