‘Blackish’ Star Yara Shahidi Says “Black And Brown Characters Have Plenty Of Story” As She Launches First Audio Project With SiriusXM — Cannes Lions

Blackish star Yara Shahidi and her mother Keri Shahidi have made the move into audio production, calling a collaboration between their production company and SiriusXM “something we were waiting for.”

The mother-daughter duo – co-founders of 7th Sun Productions – told the Cannes Lions festival why they had teamed up with SiriusXM for their first audio offering, The Optimist Project.

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“I feel if people knew how little TV we watch and how many podcasts we listen to, the question would be, why TV?” said Yara Shahidi. “We watched TV for an hour on Saturdays growing up. Blackish was the first time I watched TV during the week.

“Audio has been a big part of our family. We needed to find the right entry point. After so many years of tinkering with podcast ideas, there was a natural alignment and inspiration with The Optimist Project. It’s why we took this foray, it’s one we were waiting for.”

Keri Shahidi explained the project would involve “talking to people, hearing what gets them up in the morning, what drives them, what gives them hope.”

Her daughter added: “We don’t shy away from the realities of real life, but we take so much excitement from sharing those moments of inspiration in everything we do.”

The Optimist Project will be co-produced by 7th Sun and SiriusXM’s Stitcher Studios. It is the newest show from SiriusXM’s Listen Next initiative to develop diverse audio talent and promote inclusivity in podcasting.

Yara Shahidi said her company would continue to be purposeful about inclusion in its decision-making, as it had endeavored with its video roster: “We’re looking at every step we make. What can we control behind the scenes, what can we leverage our presence for?

“In the rider, you can demand the set looks a certain way. One thing creatives of color are familiar with is [the] surface level it all looks great and beautifully inclusive, but you get to set and no one in any of the departments looks like you. No one behind the camera looks like you. We had a list of creatives we wanted to work with, regardless of their resume, to introduce them.

“One thing we worked into every brand deal was a philanthropic component, and it’s not always forward facing, but it means we’ve been able to give away lots of money and bring creatives into brand spaces.”

Referencing their narrative choices in their projects, Yara Shahidi said they strove to create characterful content, where the stakes didn’t have to be high for audiences to care. She added: “So many times, when you’ve seen Black and Brown folks on screen, the stakes have to be so high for people to care. The media we’ve been drawn towards and excited to make is in which all you have to do is exist. Within that, there’s plenty of story worth following.”

7th Sun Productions has exec produced the forthcoming documentary Paint Me a Road Out of Here about the artist Faith Ringgold, uncovering the whitewashed history of Ringgold’s masterpiece “The Women’s House.”

She and Keri Shahidi will both serve as executive producers on The Optimist Project. SiriusXM’s Colin Anderson and Kameel Stanley will also serve as executive producers, and Judith Kargbo will serve as senior producer.

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