Producer Stephanie Allain on Being a Black Woman in Hollywood: ‘I Couldn’t Help but Be an Activist’ (Exclusive)

Allain produced films such as ‘Boyz n the Hood,’ 'Hustle & Flow’ and ‘Exhibiting Forgiveness,’ which premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival

<p>Film Independent </p>

Film Independent

For film producer Stephanie Allain, it all started with a love of stories.

“From a very young age, I used to just follow the New York Times bestseller list,” she tells PEOPLE. “And I remember The Godfather and The Exorcist were two movies that were on the list [where] I read the books. And then, of course the movies came out, right after that...I literally had to sneak into the theaters because I was too young.”

Doing so proved to be monumental in showing her “different ways to tell stories,” and would lead her to an extensive career in the entertainment industry. Her producing credits includes films like 1991’s Boyz n the Hood, 2014’s Dear White People, 2017’s Burning Sands and 2023’s The Exorcist: Believer, and television like the 2017 Netflix adaptation of Dear White People. She currently serves as the president of the Producers Guild of America, where she is the first woman of color to hold the role, and was previously the director of the LA Film Festival.

“Movies are like children to me," Allain says. "They're unformed when you get them, whether it's an idea or a book or a script or article, and you help it become its best self."

<p>Kevin Mazur/Getty</p> Stephanie Allain

Kevin Mazur/Getty

Stephanie Allain

Reading at home helped spark her career

Allain, who grew up between Los Angeles and New Orleans, says that she didn’t come from an “arty family.” Her father was a biochemist and her mother an educator, but the family read at home. Allain graduated from the University of California, Santa Cruz with a degree in poetry, and took a job as a script reader after graduation. It was in this role that she met a young John Singleton, who came to her with the initial idea for his film Boyz n the Hood while interviewing for her job.

“As soon as he got in the room, he just started telling me about the script that he'd written,” Allain says. “He had no interest in the job, but he interested me in the script. So, I pursued that script until I got it in my hands, and then I read it and thought, 'This is why I am here.’”

Related: John Singleton's Accomplished Life and Career in Photos

Another film she was passionate about was 2005’s Hustle & Flow, which starred Taraji P. Henson and Terrence Howard. Allain says that she sold her house to get the money to fund the project, which helped launch director Craig Brewer’s career.

<p>Stefanie Keenan/Getty </p> Stephanie Allain

Stefanie Keenan/Getty

Stephanie Allain

“When you read something where it's authentic, and you feel the vulnerability of the writer, when you feel the truth, it's kind of undeniable,” she says. “And it gives me this confidence to go out and get people to spend millions of dollars, because I believe so strongly that the value is there, and passion is the one thing that really rules Hollywood.”

She was the first Black female Academy Awards producer, among other accolades

Allain also made history as the first Black female producer of the Academy Awards, working on the show in 2019, and has her own film and television company, Homegrown Pictures.

“If you are a woman, if you're [a] Brown woman, you're in mostly White spaces,” she says. “You either see it as a burden or you see it as a blessing. And for me, I felt like, even though it was difficult at times, and almost everything I've made has been a struggle, the satisfaction of helping launch new voices…it's been so, so satisfying.”

Allain’s newest film, Exhibiting Forgiveness, proves just that. The movie is directed by Titus Kaphar, and follows a Black artist who reconnects with his estranged father, who is a recovering addict, per IMDb. Allain says the project, which recently premiered at the 2024 Sundance Film Festival, is “the best movie I’ve ever done.”

<p>Kevin Winter/WireImage</p> Stephanie Allain

Kevin Winter/WireImage

Stephanie Allain

Related: Kristen Stewart, Pedro Pascal, Steven Yeun and More Stars to Debut New Films at 2024 Sundance Film Festival

“It's a beautiful film, beautifully rendered,” Allain says. “And it really is a tough film because it asks really interesting, provocative questions about the nature of forgiveness and the aspects of generational healing that can be diluted through art.”

Allain has a number of new projects in the works, including her first documentary, which will cover ‘70s singer Billy Preston. She works on music-based projects in part due to her husband, Stephen Bray, who was a member of the band The Breakfast Club and the composer and lyricist for the Broadway production of The Color Purple. But Allain has musical inclinations of her own, too.

<p>Stephen Bray</p> Stephanie Allain with her book 'Who's in Charge?'

Stephen Bray

Stephanie Allain with her book 'Who's in Charge?'

“We got through the pandemic by having date night, me on drums, him on the piano,” she says. Allain is also making her authorial debut later this year with the picture book Who’s in Charge?, co-written with her friend Jenny Klion and illustrated by Marissa Valdez. The book details the importance of boundaries for children.

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Uplifting others, regardless of their age, has long been part of the job.

“Being a Black woman in Hollywood for 40 years, I couldn't help but be an activist,” she says. “You are, by virtue of being in the room, because nobody's going to speak up for what you want to see, except for you…and being able to advocate for others, for underrepresented voices, is a burden that I call a blessing.”

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