J.J. Abrams P ’22 is a writer, director and producer, and the founder of Bad Robot Productions. Abrams wrote or co-wrote films such as Regarding Henry, Forever Young, Joy Ride and Armageddon before co-creating the Golden Globe-nominated television show Felicity with Matt Reeves. He followed that with Alias and the Emmy Award-winning series Lost (which he created with Damon Lindelof). In 2006, Abrams directed his first feature film, Mission: Impossible III, and followed that with the critically-praised hit films Star Trek, Super 8 and Star Trek Into Darkness. In 2015, Abrams directed Star Wars: The Force Awakens, which he also produced and co-wrote with Lawrence Kasdan. His latest film Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, the last in the trilogy premiered in December 2019. Abrams and his wife, Katie McGrath, co-CEO of Bad Robot, live in Los Angeles and have three children.
Amma Asante, MBE is a multi-award-winning writer and director who won a BAFTA for her first film, A Way of Life. This made Asante the first Black female director to win a BAFTA Film Award for writing and directing a film. Her next film, Belle, drew widespread critical acclaim, and saw Asante named one of CNN’s Leading Women of 2014, as well as being named by Variety as one of their 10 Directors to watch. In 2016, her film A United Kingdom was released and its Premiere saw Asante celebrated as the first Black female director to open the BFI London Film Festival in its 60-year history. Asante was named an MBE by Queen Elizabeth on the 2017 Birthday Honour’s list, for services to film as a writer and director. Asante’s other projects include Where Hands Touch, and the upcoming The Billion Dollar Spy.
Julie Parker Benello ’92 is the Founder of Secret Sauce Media, her latest venture to produce and invest in surprising and timeless film projects. Julie co- founded Chicken & Egg Pictures, in 2005 with a shared belief that diverse women nonfiction storytellers have the power to catalyze change at home and around the globe. She is a producer on Steve Bognar and Julia Reichert’s American Factory 美国工厂which won the directing award at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival. She is currently producing longtime collaborator Judith Helfand’s feature documentary, Love & Stuff. She was an Executive Producer of United Skates (Tribeca 2018, HBO) and The Tale for Gamechanger Films (Sundance 2018, HBO). Earlier in her career, she co-produced Blue Vinyl, served as a Production Executive for the company, Non Fiction Films, and as an archival researcher for Discovery Channel series Cronkite Remembers. Julie lives in San Francisco and serves on the Board of SFFILM and is a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences Documentary Branch.
Debra Martin Chase is an Emmy-nominated and Peabody Award-winning television and motion picture producer whose company, Martin Chase Productions, is affiliated with Universal Television, a division of NBCUniversal Television Group. Her producing credits include The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, The Princess Diaries, The Cheetah Girls, The American Girl movie franchises and many others. The first African-American woman to have her own producing deal at a major studio and a Harvard-trained lawyer, Chase ran Denzel Washington’s Mundy Lane Entertainment from 1992 to 1995 and Whitney Houston’s Brown House Productions from 1995 to 2000. Her latest film Harriet, based on the life of Harriet Tubman was directed by Kasi Lemmons and stars Cynthia Erivo. The film premiered at the 2019 Toronto Film Festival
Geralyn Dreyfous is the Founder and Board Chair of the Utah Film Center. In 2007, she co-founded Impact Partners with Dan Cogan and, in 2013, she co-founded Gamechanger Films, which invested in narrative features directed by women. Geralyn’s independent executive producing and producing credits include the Academy Award-winning Born Into Brothels; the Emmy nominated The Day My God Died; Academy Award-nominated films, The Square and The Invisible War, and such film festival winners as Miss Representation, Connected, Anita, The Crash Reel, The Hunting Ground, Dreamcatcher and The Kingmaker.
Paul Feig is a director, producer, screenwriter, and actor. Best known for directing the 2011 film Bridesmaids, Feig has been supportive of women in the industry throughout his career, casting female leads in his successful directorial efforts, including Spy, The Heat, Ghostbusters, and A Simple Favor. A three-time Emmy nominated writer/director and DGA Award winner, Feig is the creator of the television series Freaks and Geeks and a director and co-executive producer of The Office. Feig was the recipient of Athena’s inaugural Leading Man Award in 2016.
Sherry Lansing is a philanthropist, former Chair and CEO of Paramount Pictures and former President of 20th Century Fox, where she was the first woman to head a major film studio. During almost 30 years in the motion picture business, Lansing was involved in the production, marketing, and distribution of more than 200 films, including Academy Award-winners Forrest Gump, Braveheart, and Titanic.
Kasi Lemmons is an award-winning director, writer, actress and professor who has been a staple in Hollywood for nearly three decades. Her acclaimed 1997 feature directorial debut, Eve’s Bayou, was recently inducted into the National Film Registry and is considered among the first to showcase the beauty of African American Southern culture. The film received the Independent Spirit Award for Best First Feature, and the National Board of Review bestowed her with a special first-time director award. Lemmons’ sophomore feature, The Caveman’s Valentine, opened the 2002 Sundance Film Festival, while her third film, Talk to Me, earned the 2008 NAACP Image Award for outstanding directing. Her latest opus is Harriet, a deeply resonant and powerful drama based on the life of American icon Harriet Tubman. Lemmons has worked extensively as a mentor and educator and currently serves as an Associate Arts Professor in the Graduate Film Department at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. Lemmons was a recipient of a 2014 Athena Award.
Jon Levin P ’13 runs the film/TV production and literary department at Fourward. He was previously a motion picture literary agent at Creative Artists Agency (CAA). Levin has worked on behalf of agency clients such as actors Brad Pitt, Will Smith, Robert Downey, Jr., Tom Hanks, Cate Blanchett, and Natalie Portman; and directors Ron Howard, Robert Zemeckis, and Spike Jonze. Levin also represents Neil Gaiman, Eric Roth, Overbrook, Playtone, James Ellroy, Russell Banks, Imagine Films, DreamWorks, Digital Domain, and Plan B. He sits on the Board of the City of Hope Film Division and is a member of the Tufts Alumni Council and the Tufts Media Studies Board.
Katie McGrath P ’22 is co-CEO of Bad Robot Productions. She oversees the company’s corporate culture, philanthropy, communications and ancillary businesses. Prior to joining Bad Robot, Katie was a founding partner at First Tuesday Media, a political media firm based in Los Angeles. Earlier, she served as Director of Communications at MTV Networks and Vice President at the strategic communications consulting firm Robinson Lerer Sawyer Miller. Katie began her professional career in Washington, D.C. as a legislative assistant to Senator Edward M. Kennedy and currently serves on the boards of Pro Publica and Time’s Up. Katie and her husband, JJ Abrams, and their three children live in Los Angeles.
Pat Mitchell is the editorial director of TEDWomen. Throughout her career as a journalist, Emmy-winning producer and pioneering executive, she has focused on sharing women’s stories. Among other positions Mitchell was President of Turner Original Productions, CNN Productions and President and CEO of PBS. She is chair of the Sundance and the Women’s Media Center boards and a trustee of the VDAY movement, the Skoll Foundation and the Acumen Fund. She is an advisor to Participant Media and served as a congressional appointment to The American Museum of Women’s History Advisory Council. She is the author of Becoming a Dangerous Woman: Embracing Risk to Change the World.
Vernā Myers ’82 is an inclusion strategist, cultural innovator, thought leader, and social commentator. A Harvard-trained lawyer and founder of The Vernā Myers Company, Vernā was recently made VP, Inclusion Strategy at Netflix. In this newly created role, she will help devise and implement strategies that integrate cultural diversity, inclusion and equity into all aspects of Netflix’s operations worldwide. Vernā is the author of Moving Diversity Forward: How to Go From Well-Meaning to Well-Doing and What If I Say the Wrong Thing? 25 Habits for Culturally Effective People. Her inspiring TED talk, “How to Overcome Our Biases? Walk Boldly Toward Them,” has been viewed almost 3 million times.
Sheila Nevins ‘60 is an Academy Award, Emmy, and Peabody award winner and the current head of MTV Documentary Films division of MTV Studios. Previously, Nevins was the President of HBO Documentary Films. As an executive producer or producer, she has received 32 Primetime Emmy Awards, 34 News and Documentary Emmys, and 42 George Foster Peabody Awards. During her tenure, HBO’s critically acclaimed documentaries have gone on to win 26 Academy Awards, the most recent of which was A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness in 2016. Nevins has been honored with several prestigious career achievement awards including, most recently, the 2009 Governors Award from the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. She has supervised the production of more than 1,000 documentary programs for HBO and is one of the most influential people in documentary filmmaking. Nevins is the bestselling author of You Don’t Look Your Age… and Other Fairy Tales, published by Flatiron Books.
Gina Prince-Bythewood wrote and directed the feature film Love & Basketball, which won an Independent Spirit Award and a Humanitas Prize, as well as the HBO film Disappearing Acts. In 2008, she wrote and directed the award-winning adaptation of The Secret Life of Bees. Her third feature, Beyond the Lights, was released in 2014 to critical acclaim. Her television directorial debut was the CBS Schoolbreak Special What About Your Friends, which won an NAACP Image Award and two Emmy nominations. Her television series Shots Fired premiered in 2017. She is currently directing The Old Guard for Skydance, which stars Charlize Theron and Chiwetel Ejofor.
Susan Rovner ’91 was named President of Warner Bros. Television (WBTV) — the division of the Warner Bros. Television Group (WBTVG) which produces scripted dramatic primetime television programming for the five broadcast networks, premium/pay cable channels and on-demand/streaming platforms — in May 2019. Additionally, Rovner and fellow WBTV President Brett A. Paul serve as Presidents of Warner Horizon Scripted Television (WHSTV), WBTVG’s division for original scripted programming for the cable marketplace. In this capacity, they jointly have day-to-day management of all scripted television programming developed and produced by the Studio, with Rovner overseeing all creative affairs (including development and current programming), and Paul supervising business, operations and production matters. As of September 2019, WBTV and WHSTV are producing more than 60 original scripted series.
Regina K. Scully has executive produced over 100 social justice films and is the Emmy Award-winning and Academy Award-nominated executive producer of The Invisible War. She has also executive produced films including The Eagle Huntress, Anita Hill: Speaking Truth to Power, The Hunting Ground, Newtown, Fed Up, Miss Representation and Dreamcatcher among many others. She is the Founder and CEO of Artemis Rising Foundation, a philanthropic organization dedicated to developing and promoting media, education and the arts that transform our culture. Scully is the Founding Sponsor of the Athena Film Festival.
Rachel Weisz is an Academy Award-winning actress best known for portraying women of spirit and intelligence. The winner of an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress, Screen Actors Guild Award, and Golden Globe for her performance in Fernando Meirelles’ The Constant Gardener, Weisz has also received a Golden Globe for Best Actress for her performance in The Deep Blue Sea. Other recent credits include The Lobster, Denial, The Bourne Legacy, The Whistleblower, The Favourite, and the upcoming Black Widow among others.