In the world of TV and film, there are the creators and writers who imagine the stories, the characters, and the worlds that didn’t before exist. They create screenplays that become series’ and films people love. There is an enormous importance and duty that lies with the Black creators in American entertainment.
Black writers, directors, and producers redefine the image and portrayal of Black people in media. They forge a path where Black people are no longer confined to stereotypical tropes such as maids, criminals, and sassy sidekicks.
This is the beauty that comes from Black writers telling Black stories. These creators have illuminated African Americans through complex characters and conflicts, diversity of thought, and accurately depicting the dreams that exist within the Black community. They’ve highlighted how we are human, just like everyone else, but also, how we are a unique and beautiful people.
The average person knows the names of the actresses and actors they see on screen, but they don’t always know the talented crew and minds behind the production. Felicia D. Henderson is a name you should know.
Felicia D. Henderson is an award-winning writer, content creator, director, and producer, with over 20 years in the television and film industry. Henderson’s creative genius is imprinted on the very fabric of entertainment today, but she didn’t always know she’d be in TV and film.
Before she began her career in Hollywood, she graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psycho-Biology, and an MBA from the University of Georgia. Later, she returned to UCLA to obtain an MFA in screenwriting from UCLA’s School of Theater, Film and Television.
Henderson says she thought she would go into medical research until an executive at NBC suggested she apply to the Warner Bros. Television Writers’ Workshop. It was that workshop that helped her land her first writing job writing on the hit TV comedy, Family Matters.
She went on to work for more popular 90s shows Sister Sister, Moesha, and The Fresh Prince of Bel Air.
Henderson is the creator of the Emmy-nominated Showtime drama Soul Food: The Series. The first hit drama to feature an African American cast and Showtime’s longest-running African-American-themed drama series. Her ground-breaking work on this series showed Hollywood that there was a large audience for a drama about a Black family and laid the ground-work for many of the Black-themed dramas on television today.
So how did this entertainment superstar end up in Austin?
Having taught for 10 years at UCLA in their Theatre, Film, and TV Department, Henderson was the perfect fit for an opening at the University of Texas at Austin (UT). She was hired two years ago as an Assistant Professor in UT’s Department of Radio-Television-Film.
She commutes between Austin and Los Angeles while working on various projects. BET’s The Quad, was one such project, which she co-created and executive produced. Henderson calls it one of the works she’s proudest of because “we put the HBCU experience on television.”
Additionally, Henderson just completed two seasons as the co-executive producer of Netflix’s The Punisher and has written and co-executive produced shows such as Gossip Girl, Fringe, and Everybody Hates Chris. That’s just to name a few. You can see more of her impressive resume of work here.
When asked who has been her favorite creators to work with, Henderson replied that it was Sara Finney-Johnson and Vida Spears, the co-creators of Moesha and The Parkers. “They were my first mentors. Now, they’re two of my best friends. But twenty-plus years later, they still have advice I listen to,” said Henderson.
Henderson shared that when she was a young writer, she thought she knew everything. Spears and Finney-Johnson saw something in her even when she was too ambitious or too dogged about a story’s direction.
Writers have to write. Don’t get stuck on what you’ve written, that you think is brilliant. Move on.
Today, Henderson enjoys mentoring young writers through her teaching at UT and in Hollywood. She offers this advice:
“Writers have to write. Don’t get stuck on what you’ve written, that you think is brilliant. Move on. Keep writing. Schedule your writing time every single day and protect that time with your life. Let nothing or anyone encroach upon that time. And read, at least once a week, an outstanding example of the kind of writing you want to do.”
When she’s not teaching at UT, Henderson runs her own production company, WaterWalk Entertainment, Inc. She is also a consulting producer on Fox’s Empire. She has a development deal with 20th Century Fox that allows her to write and direct TV comedies and dramas and is currently adapting a sci-fi series of novels called the “The Game.”
She’s developing a 1-hour drama about the friendship between the executive women at the top of the food chain behind the scenes of a Def Jam-like company in the 90s. She’s also reuniting with the star of Soul Food, Nicole Ari Parker, to develop a new project in which Nicole would star.
She’s considering working on projects in Austin in the future, but she said with a serious smile, “But they won’t be shot during the summer.”
Austin is lucky to have such an esteemed professional in our community, and Henderson said she’s looking forward to “Jumping into Austin’s art and entertainment scene with both feet. This is a really cool city. I want to learn everything I can about it. I plan to be here for a very long time.”