*LOS ANGELES – Stephen A. Smith’s new production venture Mr. SAS Productions, which currently produces Stephen A’s World and co-produces Why Not Us? for ESPN+, has struck a deal for its next big project — a premium documentary series celebrating and highlighting the importance of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) in American Society. The series will be produced in partnership with Propagate, the production company behind Hulu’s Hillary, and Confluential Films, the production company behind Black Love on OWN.
HBCUs’ rich history and the spirit of Black excellence have quietly uplifted America in all facets of life. Their stories are a crucial part of American history that is rarely told. These institutions served as vessels for advancement and played a critical role in producing the growth of the American economy from Reconstruction to the turn of the century as they organized around educating and training a newly freed slave population. For many students, HBCUs were the only option as predominantly white institutions would not let them in. However, despite this legacy of 150 years, HBCUs are only just becoming a mainstay in the national conversation. Black Excellence will uncover the untold story of HBCUs’ undeniable impact across American politics, business, culture, sports and entertainment. With a mix of original interviews, archival footage and media, the series will look at the prominent figures such as Vice President Kamala Harris, Senator Raphael Warnock, Stacey Abrams, Oprah, Spike Lee, Taraji P. Henson and many more who attended HBCUs. Depicting how their experiences at HBCUs shaped their careers, the series will spotlight moments in culture where these colleges set the tone from Beyonce’s Homecoming to Ohio State Football Marching Band presentations, and will highlight HBCUs representation in 2020’s historic elections. In addition, the series will examine the recent uptick in donations and attention on HBCUs from celebrities such as Michael B. Jordan, Deion Sanders, Chris Paul and MacKenzie Scott. Episodes will seek to explain why an increasing number of public figures have been compelled to make such powerful commitments and how their donations will impact these institutions.
For years, Historically Black Colleges and Universities have suffered from the misperception as inferior institutions. The lasting effects of systemic oppression have left the colleges under-resourced. Yet the students educated at these schools have consistently found a way to persevere. Not only do they excel, they break barriers. The collective experience in an environment where students, teachers, faculty and administrators are all Black equips this often marginalized community with the feeling that nothing can keep them from achievement. As a result, these institutions serve as a source of pride to every person who has graced their halls, and even to Black people who did not attend HBCUs.
The series will explore why America does not value education, and in particular Black education, when it is vital to her life’s blood, and it will examine the legacy of Black excellence borne from these institutions even in the face of violence, adversity and disparity.
Stephen A. Smith is a proud HBCU alumnus who graduated from Winston Salem State University in North Carolina with a Bachelor’s Degree in mass communication. For the past two years, Smith has served as Brand Ambassador for the HBCU Week Foundation and has promoted HBCUs on his ESPN show “First Take.” He has also hosted HBCU Week collegiate conferences that generated on-the-spot HBCU college registration for over 2000 students, who have been awarded more than 11 million dollars in scholarships.
“Black Excellence is not just some statement that’s thrown out and about. It has meaning. It has substance. Because it’s existed forever, yet has been denied or minimized time and time again. Under no circumstances is this more evident than when it pertains to HBCUs. Everywhere you turn — Athletics, Entertainment, Politics, Culture, Corporate America — there’s excellence oozing from the African-American community, despite the odds. And more often than not, there’s a connection to HBCUs along the way. Yet, somehow, we don’t hear enough about it. Quite Frankly, that needs to change,” said Smith in a statement to Deadline.
Smith continues, “It’s time to learn more intimately about HBCUs’ greatness. Their contribution to American greatness. The challenges and obstacles. The barriers HBCUs have knocked down, spanning more than a century. It is time the true, complete, story of HBCUs is told once and for all. As a proud HBCU graduate from Winston-Salem State University, I can’t wait to tell this story. And I’m honored to have both Propagate and Confluential Films partnering with me to tell the COMPLETE story of HBCUs once and for all. It’s about damn time!
Stephen A. Smith is Founder of Mr. SAS Productions, serving as President and CEO. He launches the venture with the intention of becoming “a major player in the production space.” Rushion McDonald fills the office of Chief Operating Officer for the production company. The Black Excellence project marks Smith’s first original work outside of ESPN Networks.
Codie Elaine Oliver, who is a 3rd generation Howard University alumna, the co-creator and director of Black Love on OWN (currently in its 5th season) will helm Black Excellence in her first directorial effort beyond the critically acclaimed series. “Without HBCUs, I would not be who I am – which is a person whose grandmother attended Wiley College and grandfather attended Howard University, whose mother and father met at Howard University and became a lawyer and a doctor, respectively,” said Oliver in a statement. “I grew up with infinite opportunities thanks to my parents’ and grandparents’ HBCU education and there is nothing more deeply ingrained in me than the responsibility to celebrate and uplift the Black community. I am a 4th generation HBCU graduate and It’s an honor to be able to tell this story and put into perspective HBCUs’ contributions to all of American life.” She will also produce alongside her husband, filmmaker Tommy Oliver, via their company Confluential Films.
Propagate Founder and Co-CEO Howard T. Owens adds, “The story of HBCUs and the impact they’ve had on American society has never been told on a large scale. These institutions have played and continue to play a significant role in the economic health of American society. We are pleased to partner with Mr SAS Productions and Confluential Films to shine the proper spotlight on their legacy of Black excellence. It’s time we tell these important and compelling stories, and Stephen A and Codie, both prominent HBCU grads who exemplify Black excellence and influence culture, are the right voices to represent HBCUs. We can’t wait for the world to fall in love with this project and HBCUs the way we all have.”
In the first documentary series of its kind, Black Excellence will offer a compelling look at HBCUs through the eyes of their remarkable alumni that is at once entertaining, topical, complicated, informative, heartbreaking and inspiring.
Stephen A. Smith and Rushion McDonald are Executive Producers for Mr. SAS Productions. Codie Elaine Oliver and Tommy Oliver are Executive Producers for Confluential Films. Brian Dobbins is Executive Producer for Artists First. Ben Silverman and Howard T. Owens are Executive Producers with Valerie Idehen serving as Co-Executive Producer and development lead on the project for Propagate.
About Mr. SAS Productions
Founded by Stephen A. Smith, Mr. SAS Inc is a production company focused on developing various formats for film and tv, including game shows, talk shows, sitcoms, unscripted, scripted movies, and documentaries. Currently, Mr. SAS Productions. produces ESPN+’s “Stephen A’s World,” a topical studio based talk show and “Why Not Us,” a docuseries about North Carolina Central University, co-produced with Chris Paul and airing on The Undefeated on ESPN+.
About Confluential Films
Founded by Tommy Oliver, Confluential Films is a film & TV production company devoted to championing projects that are inclusive and celebrate our shared human experience with projects including the critically acclaimed HBO documentary “40 Years A Prisoner”, “Black Love” on OWN, and the upcoming films “The Perfect Find” starring Gabrielle Union and “Untitled NFL Story” starring Joel Kinneman. The company currently has projects set up at Netflix, Sony, CBS, HBO, Lionsgate, Peacock, and more, and is deeply committed to authentic storytelling.
About Propagate Content
Founded in 2015 by Ben Silverman and Howard Owens, who pioneered the global format business in the late 1990s, Propagate has offices in Los Angeles, New York and Paris. Its recent credits include the Emmy-nominated “Hillary” that premiered at Sundance and Berlin and now streams on Hulu, the recently aired “Notre Dame: Our Lady of Paris” on ABC and “Go-Big Show” on TBS, and the upcoming American adaptation of The Eurovision Song Contest, as well as the unscripted “November 13: Attack on Paris” “Haunted” and “Prank Encounters” for Netflix, and “In Search Of” and “Kings of Pain” for the History Channel. In scripted, “Blood and Treasure” and “Broke” for CBS, “Charmed” for The CW, the recently aired election-themed puppet special on Fox, “Let’s Be Real” and the upcoming “Zorro” television series for NBC. Propagate also created and produced the podcast, “An Oral History of The Office” for Spotify, and “The Office Deep Dive with Brian Baumgartner” for iHeartMedia. Propagate’s expanding portfolio of companies includes Electus (“You vs. Wild”, “Running Wild With Bear Grylls,” “Jane the Virgin,” “Fashion Star”), Big Breakfast (“Adam Ruins Everything”, “Hot Date”), Notional (“Chopped” franchise), and talent management firms Artists First, Authentic Talent & Literary Management and Select Management.
source: Kerri Tarmey – [email protected]