with the development of movies for African American audiences. Backed by a $175 million pledge from JP Morgan Chase, the new studio gives African Americans the rare opportunity to green-light motion pictures. In September, Johnson tapped Edmonds to run the company. As a result, she achieved a milestone that was more than 110 years in the making: first black studio head. Asserts Edmonds: “Our goal is to build Our Stories Films into a brand as ubiquitous as MTV, as recognizable as Disney, and as productive as studios such as Lions Gate and Screen Gems.”
The company plans to release six movies in the next two years and 25 comedies over the next five, according to Edmonds. “We’d like to be the go-to studio for urban comedies,” she says. Its first film, Who’s Your Caddy?, starring Big Boi of Outkast, Tamala Jones, and Terry Crews, is already in postproduction.
Johnson recruited Edmonds because of her successful track record over the past decade. A multiple NAACP Image Award winner for the Showtime drama Soul Food, she has served as executive producer of two of BET’s highest-rated series, College Hill and Lil’ Kim: Countdown to Lockdown, which reached 2 million viewers in its debut and became the No. 1 original cable series among black households. “Because I’m very passionate about all of our projects, I’m in the trenches,” she says. “I’m very focused, and I pay attention to the details.”
— George Alexander & Anthony S. Calypso
Martin Lawrence Actor-Producer Age: 41 Why he’s powerful: This comic genius has become one of Hollywood’s most bankable performers: his 19 films have earned close to $1 billion in gross box office receipts. In fact, Lawrence’s franchise, Big Momma’s House and Big Momma’s House 2, for which he served as executive producer — grossed $312 million worldwide, while his other popular series, the two Bad Boys films, collectively grossed $414 million worldwide. He’s been able to get his vehicles distributed at Twentieth Century Fox and Warner Bros. Reportedly commanding as much as $20 million per film, Lawrence will appear next in the all-star comedy Wild Hogs, with John Travolta and Tim Allen.
Alfred C. Liggins III/Johnathan Rodgers Chairman/President & CEO, TV One Ages: 41/60 Why they’re powerful: Liggins and Rodgers have turned TV One into one of the fastest-growing cable networks. Liggins is the deal maker who brought together Radio One (No. 12 on the BE INDUSTRIAL/SERVICES 100 list with $371 million in sales) and cable giant Comcast to form an alternative cable network for African American viewers. In 2003, he brought broadcasting veteran Rodgers into the fold to oversee programming, marketing, distribution, and ad sales. Launched in January 2004, the network features a broad range of original and syndicated content, including reality programs, dramas, sitcoms, music shows, movies, and news. The two increased its subscriber base by 42% in 2006, adding 10.3 million households. As a result, TV One has the largest percentage growth of any cable network.
Debra Martin Chase CEO & President, Martin Chase Productions Age: 50 Why she’s