It’s almost unthinkable to fathom that exactly a century ago that women were only allowed to vote in this country. Fast forwarding fifty years, the chances of any female serving in an executive role across any industry was extremely slim, and for a person of color, virtually non-existent. Today, as a culture, we are peacock proud to witness the burgeoning of black female executives who are standing on the shoulders of ancestors who only reserved such distant dreams for the sweet by and by.
Scripting A Different Story
We recently sat down in Atlanta with Michelle Sneed, who serves as the first female president of Tyler Perry Studios overseeing all of productions and development in film and television, to discuss her role, impact, and contributions to contemporary history. Since 2009, she has watched the studio evolve as there were no current females in leadership. When she took the reins in 2018, not only was it an honor to accept a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but “it was a sign that the company was embracing the times with growth and diversity and my appointment represents that.” After leaving TPS in 2015 and returning three years later, Sneed addresses in the Hollywood Reporter, “It’s not about me—it’s for the culture.” A position allowing someone who looked like her—a woman, an African American woman, and a decision maker to reside in rooms and have a voice that matters representing stories that are culturally relevant. “I’m taking everybody with me. I didn’t get here without a million people helping me, pulling me up, and showing me the way. I’m going to pay that forward and give that back.”
Breaking Invisible Barriers
When asked what career advice for women who feel like they’re stuck or incapable to shatter the glass ceiling, Michelle emphasized that it really does takes believing in everything you have to offer knowing that you deserve it because of your value. Being completely confident that you are just as capable as your male counterparts, and not allowing the constant chatter such as unequal pay and other inequalities to cause us to retreat. If you exude your best energy, align with like-minded individuals and maintain healthy, mutual relationships, you’ll be amazed of where a robust skillset, rock-solid work ethic and great relationships can take you—anywhere your male counterparts can go!
Making The Dream—Work
A strong work ethic is paramount for Sneed, which was strongly modeled by her grandparents and particularly her grandfather who retired two years early because he accumulated so much vacation time. Advice to her PA’s (production assistants) is that you want to be that person they call first and they’re going to call the person who they know is going to make them look good, and who they know is going to work hard. Executing the vision of Tyler Perry Studios is no small feat. According to Sneed, leadership isn’t just about being the boss but inspiring people to move to action and finding creative and supportive ways for them to buy into a shared vision. Mr. Perry exemplifies this not by shoving off orders but actually doing the work, which empowers her to want to work just as hard as he does. This alignment creates an atmosphere to attract and work with emerging talent, provide greater opportunities and see people excel.
Disrupting Cultural Boundaries
TPS will continue to evolve as a cultural icon, inspiring the hopes and dreams that span trans-generations, young and old alike. Echoing their slogan, “Even Where Dreams Believe,” it’s their Walt Disney from Sneed’s perspective. Although the studio campus is housed on 330 acres, the dreams and visions realized here will be unlimited from emerging talent to supporting writing incubators to philanthropic initiatives. The place in Atlanta was built for creatives to come and explore the possibilities, this is one reason why 12 soundstages have been dedicated to others who made it possible for us to follow. Hence, if you build it, they will come. As others witness what has transpired, it’s not only inspiring but empowering knowing that in Hollywood there’s not a single person of color represented on any of those soundstages.
Legacy In The Making
Michelle leaves with the framework of her legacy not merely with the acquisition of tangibles but rather the quality of her life’s work, relationships, good deeds and the testament to her character. With a desire to strengthen her flaws, sharpen her career skills, but it reduces to how she stewarded her time and her treatment of others—particularly the ones she loved and cared about the most. Will someone be able to witness that she helped somebody, taught somebody or opened the door for somebody. One thing is for sure, she’s setting the bar high in Black excellence and making a mark that cannot be erased.
Featured Image courtesy of Tyler Perry Studios