Women’s History Month is still going strong, and it’s about time that the spotlight was put on the Black women who are showrunners on television. With a slate of diverse programming planned on several networks, we can finally count the number of Black women showrunners on more than two hands. But still, there could be more diversity in this subset of television writers and producers.
However, these women are indeed changing the game and opening doors — and leaving them open — so more like them can come through.
Here are 12 Black women showrunners who are killing the game right now:
Karin Gist, Star (Fox)
With the last year departure of Shonda Rhimes from running her programs on ABC and Monica Owusu Breen leaving Midnight, Texas after its first season (it was canceled after the second), Gist now holds the distinction of being the only Black woman showrunner on broadcast television. A former co-executive producer on the long-running ABC nighttime drama Grey’s Anatomy, a producer on House of Lies and writer on sudser Revenge, Gist began writing for television on the comedy classic Girlfriends. Now, Gist is running the show, overseeing the writing and overall production responsibilities at Star, the drama series about a girl group’s takeover of the Atlanta music scene. Gist has in the past described Star as “Dreamgirls with politics.” A graduate of Spelman College and Georgetown Law School, Gist has said that the one thing she loves most about what she does is having a platform to use her, “Big, Black, gay voice” to tell stories that make people think. Gist has been tapped to write the third sequel to Sister Act along with Insecure writer Regina Hicks.
Shonda Rhimes, Untitled Shonda Rhimes Project (Netflix)
Not only was she born with a name that seems to fit her choice of profession perfectly, but Shonda Rhimes also continues to outdo herself in said profession. Rhimes’ first foray into television, Grey’s Anatomy, was originally a midseason replacement at ABC and not expected to do very well. That show defied all odds and became a cultural phenomenon doing much to increase the confidence of Hollywood that yes, Black women can make sprawling dramas with gripping storylines and characters that are universally relatable. Grey’s Anatomy has since become the longest-running medical drama in television history! Now, Hollywood, as well as television fans, wait in great anticipation to see what Rhimes will offer in at her new home on Netflix where she has eight new projects on her slate! Of the eight projects, one, which is currently known as the Untitled Shonda Rhimes Project (centering on the Anna Delvey scandal), is the first series at Shondaland that she has created since Scandal. As Rhimes was the showrunner of Scandal, it is expected that she will take the reins for the Delvey series, and if not that, at least one of the Netflix projects.
Janine Sherman Barrois, Claws (TNT) and Untitled Madam C.J. Walker Project (Netflix)
Janine Sherman Barrois has been a television writer and producer for highly acclaimed television classics such as ER, The Jamie Foxx Show and Criminal Minds. Barrios, who came out of the Warner Bros. Writing Workshop and continues to have an overall production deal with that studio, is now gearing up for the third season of the Niecy Nash-starring, iconoclastic dark comedy Claws, which airs on TNT. It’s a woman-centered show that is as entertaining, sexy and fun as it is feminist. Claws is also one of the few shows out there that attempts not just to exploit the problems and circumstances of the working class, but also chart the lives of working-class women as they actively work to improve their stations in life; somehow, they are all heroes. Barrios is also co-showrunning with Elle Johnson on the LeBron James-produced Netflix series on Madam C.J. Walker, which will star Octavia Spencer.
Courtney A. Kemp, Power (Starz)
Brown University graduate Courtney Kemp got her start as a staff writer for The Bernie Mac Show. She also went on to write for Eli Stone and the award-winning drama The Good Wife. The highly sought after showrunner has been quoted as saying she is obsessed with the “intersection of violence, power, sex, and romance.” Well, she certainly has all three in the nighttime drama Power, which came out of a chance meeting with rapper 50 Cent. The show, which is about the journey of a drug dealer who tries to go legit as a businessman, has been keeping viewers on the edge of their seats for the past six years. Kemp has recently inked a deal with Lionsgate that would keep her running Power as well as developing new projects for the studio which could include a spinoff of that series.
Yvette Lee Bowser, Dear White People (Netflix)
In addition to offering us maddening but lovable characters, Dear White People gets the intellectual juices flowing as much as it makes the audience laugh. That’s probably to be expected from a show run by Yvette Lee Bowser, a Stanford graduate who cut her teeth in television as part of the writing staff on the iconic series A Different World. Set to return for Season 3 on Netflix in late 2019, Dear White People is an unapologetically Black series set on a college campus that fearlessly tackles social issues even as it weaves complex character portrayals. Just as importantly, Bowser is also the brain behind Living Single. Running from 1993 to 1998, it was one of the first comedy series whose primary focus was the lives of successful Black women navigating friendship and the urban dating scene. Living Single became the blueprint for other subsequent cultural touchstones such as Girlfriends and Friends.
Nkechi Okoro Carroll, All American (The CW)
Nkechi Okoro Carroll was first the executive producer of one of the newest programs in the vast catalog of television shows produced by Greg Berlanti, All American. The fish-out-of-water series (based on the life of former NFL star Spencer Paysinger) chronicles the life of working-class high school football star Spencer James (British actor Daniel Ezra). Things get complicated when Spencer is forced to switch to a high school in Beverly Hills and live with his coach’s family. Spencer deals with not just a new school itself but all the class issues that arise as a result and his anxiety over “leaving” his working-class life and family behind. April Blair, the show’s original showrunner stepped down early in the season, and Okoro Carroll was promoted to the position. Okoro Carroll comes to Hollywood by way of Nigeria, Côte D’Ivoire and Britain and interestingly, she worked as an economist for the Federal Reserve before deciding to go into television. Okoro Carroll holds a bachelor’s in economics and French from the University of Pennsylvania and a master’s in international economics from New York University. The short films she made on the side while working at the Federal Reserve caught the eye of several Hollywood executives thus paving a path for her entrance into the industry. Before working on All American, she served as writer and producer for several Fox network series including Bones, Rosewood and The Resident.
Ayanna Floyd Davis, The Chi (Showtime)
Not everyone who goes into television writing goes the route of studying film in college, but Ohio native Ayanna Floyd Davis is one of those who did. Floyd Davis, who has written on Empire, Hit the Floor, Falling Skies, Gideon’s Crossing, Private Practice and Bones, got her MFA degree in film production/screenwriting at Columbia College in Chicago (also Lena Waithe’s alma mater). Floyd Davis also participated in both the Bill Cosby Writing Program and the Walt Disney/ABC Writing Fellowship. She will be the showrunner on the upcoming season of the critically acclaimed Waithe drama The Chi on Showtime. The series, set in South Side Chicago, maps the lives of several individuals and families in one neighborhood. Starring Jason Mitchell (Detroit), Tiffany Boone (The Following) and Jacob Latimore (Detroit), it is notable for its nuanced portrayal of Black working-class lives.
Tanya Hamilton, Cherish the Day (OWN)
Maryland-raised Tanya Hamilton will be the showrunner for Cherish the Day, Ava DuVernay’s newly announced anthology series on OWN. Scheduled to premiere in winter 2020, Cherish the Day will trace a day in the life of a different couple each episode. Hamilton, a graduate of the Duke Ellington School of the Arts, Cooper Union and Columbia University, has previously worked on DuVernay’s Queen Sugar as a director. She has also directed episodes of Black Lightning on The CW and Seven Seconds, the Netflix series for which Regina King received a Best Actress Emmy Award. Hamilton received four Image Award and Reel Award nominations for her first feature film Night Catches Us. Starring Kerry Washington and Anthony Mackie, Night Catches Us chronicled the reunion of a group of former Black Panthers. The film also received Independent Spirit Award and Sundance Jury Prize nominations.
Dee Harris-Lawrence, David Makes Man (OWN)
The writer of the critically lauded and Academy Award-winning film Moonlight, Tarell Alvin McCraney, makes his first foray into TV as the creator of the upcoming David Makes Man, which will air in the summer of 2019 on OWN. Chosen as showrunner for the coming of age drama is Dee Harris-Lawrence, who has previously worked on Chicago P.D., the groundbreaking Any Day Now and, more recently, the Sanaa Lathan-starring series Shots Fired and the USA Network hit miniseries Unsolved: The Murders of Tupac and Notorious B.I.G. David Makes Man will also star Phylicia Rashad and Ruben Santiago-Hudson.
Aïda Mashaka Croal, Y (FX)
Aïda Mashaka Croal with ‘Luke Cage’ showrunner Cheo Hodari Coker in 2017 | Photo @tracyaleigh on Instagram
Aïda Mashaka Croal will share showrunner duties with Michael Green on the long-awaited sci-fi drama Y on FX. Based on the DC comic book series Y: The Last Man, it features a world inhabited by virtually all-women; only one man exists. This series isn’t Croal’s first time dealing with comic book derived vehicles. She was formerly a writer on both Luke Cage and Jessica Jones. The Stanford graduate hails from Vancouver and worked with revered actress and playwright Anna Deavere-Smith while she was a student at Stanford University. After graduating, she launched her television writing career by going through the ABC Daytime Writers Program.
Elle Johnson, Untitled Madam C.J. Walker Project (Netflix)
Co-showrunning the Madam C.J. Walker series at Netflix with Janine Sherman Barrois, Elle Johnson has a lengthy and storied career in television. She’s worked as either a producer or co-producer on shows like CSI: Miami, and Law & Order and has been a supervising producer of executive producer on shows such as Ghost Whisperer, Saving Grace, The Glades and Bosch. Born and raised in Queens, Johnson is a graduate of Harvard University and lives in Los Angeles. Fun facts: She’s lived in Cairo and rowed on the Nile River, she helped start the Rugby team at England’s University of East Anglia and she’s biked from San Francisco to Boston! Get you a showrunner who can do everything!
Tracy Oliver, First Wives Club (BET)
In the summer of 2017, the first film written by an African American woman to gross over $100 million premiered to overwhelmingly positive critical reception. That film, Girls Trip, thrust the comedic actresses Tiffany Haddish and Regina Hall into the mainstream consciousness and renewed industry confidence in the ability of cinema with predominantly Black casts to have broad audience appeal. Girls Trip made Time magazine’s list of the top films of 2017. Longtime Hollywood screenwriter Tracy Oliver co-wrote Girls Trip along with Black-ish showrunner Kenya Barris. Now, Oliver is set to run her first TV series. A television reboot of the 1996 comedy hit First Wives Club starring Jill Scott, Ryan Michelle Bathe and Michelle Buteau will premiere on BET in late 2019 with Oliver overseeing. The Stanford University and USC Film School graduate acted in, co-wrote and co-produced the web series Awkward Black Girl with Issa Rae while they both attended Stanford, and she also wrote for Starz’s Survivor’s Remorse.