Robert Johnson Gets the Green Light
Cable pioneer ventures into filmmaking
By Joyce Jones
July 19, 2006 -- Robert L. Johnson, the pioneering founder of Black Entertainment Television, is partnering with veteran filmmakers Bob and Harvey Weinstein and moving to the big screen.
Johnson and the Weinsteins are forming Our Stories Films, a Los Angeles-based studio that will produce comedic, family-friendly feature films for African American and urban audiences. The Weinstein Co.’s Dimension Films division will distribute Our Stories theatrical releases. The Weinsteins have a proven track record with successes such as the Scary Movie and Spy Kids franchises.
Johnson, who sold BET to Viacom Inc. for $3 billion in 2000, will have at least a 51% ownership stake in the venture and, perhaps more important, the green light, which in Hollywood means total control. The Weinsteins have a minority equity stake in the venture. JP Morgan Chase is providing $175 million in debt financing for the venture.
Johnson says the move is in response to a persistent outcry from the black film community for more control in Hollywood.
“Every time I’ve gone to a black film festival or a conference on blacks in the movies, the cry is ‘Why can’t we tell our own stories?’ I always kept in the back of my mind that I’m going to adjust this issue,” says Johnson, who also owns the NBA Charlotte Bobcats and is founder of Bethesda, Maryland-based RLJ Cos.
“The reason no black can green-light a film is because no black is putting up their own money to make the movies and [distribute them]. It isn’t a question of talent and audience; it’s a question of economics and structure,” says Johnson, adding that blacks are responsible for 26% of box office revenue.