Lena Waithe’s Hillman Grad Productions continues its expansion with Audible podcasts deal

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Lena Waithe appears during the 2021 Billboard Music Awards at the Microsoft Theater on May 23, 2021. [Photo by Emma McIntyre/NBC]

Audible Inc., a leading creator and provider of premium audio storytelling, recently announced a multi-project development deal with Hillman Grad Productions, the production company founded by Emmy-award winning writer and creator Lena Waithe and Rishi Rajani.

The first original project under the deal has already been greenlit and is underway, according to a news release.

“Lena is a supremely gifted storyteller with a proven ability to capture the human experience in all its complexity through her work. Along with her company, Hillman Grad Productions, she elevates diverse voices and creates art that challenges convention,” said Zola Mashariki, head of Audible Studios, in a statement. “I’ve had the privilege of working with Lena in both TV and film and am absolutely ecstatic to collaborate with her again as she makes her mark on the audio industry. Lena’s creative voice is authentic, accessible, and powerfully potent, and we at Audible are thrilled to help bring her audio stories to life.”

Currently in active development, “Kym” is an original, scripted comedy series inspired by the life of Emmy-nominated actress/comedian Kym Whitley. The series follows Whitley as she navigates single motherhood and Hollywood. Whitley is set to executive produce under her Kwick Whit Productions banner and star, with Mark Brown directing.

The series is also produced by Andrew Coles of The Mission, Debra Martin Chase of Martin Chase, and Skydance, alongside Hillman Grad Productions with Hillman Grad Creative Executive Sylvia Carrasco overseeing the project for the company.

“We’re so excited to be expanding into the podcast space in collaboration with Audible and continuing our mission to tell human stories,” said Waithe and Rajani in a joint statement on behalf of Hillman Grad Productions. “We are really grateful to Kym, for sharing not only her story but her signature voice with us. Kym Whitley has always been one of the funniest women in the business, and we’re so glad she’s finally going to take center stage!”

The Hillman Grad projects will join a robust roster of Audible Originals, including the recently released unscripted podcast “My Body, My Podcast: from Elizabeth Banks, which explores the female experience, “Force of Beauty,” the story of three generations of Black women, one extraordinary friendship, and the rich history of the city that made them; “Billie Was a Black Woman,” a four-part podcast series that refracts Black womanhood through the prism of legendary jazz singer Billie Holiday; and “Beginner’s Mind,: a musical journey with virtuoso Yo-Yo Ma that encourages self-discovery and reflects our deeply interwoven humanity.

This deal follows Audible’s recently announced production and development deals with leading creatives such as Queen Latifah’s Flavor Unit, Laura Dern’s Jaywalker Pictures, Kenya Barris’ Khalabo Ink Society, Topic Studios, Treefort Media, Team Coco, Steph Curry’s Unanimous Media, Kevin Hart’s HartBeat Productions, Charlamagne tha God’s CTHAGOD World Productions and LeBron James and Maverick Carter’s The SpringHill Company.

The Audible deal is the latest expansion of Waithe’s growing entertainment empire: Hillman Grad Productions’ output also includes ”The Chi” for Showtime, the hit series ”Twenties” for BET and “Them” for Amazon Studios. The company is in development on the BET+ series “Birth of Cool” and BET’s “Twenties the After Show” hosted by B. Scott.

Waithe and Rajani founded Hillman Grad Productions to create art that redefines the status quo by amplifying and celebrating the stories and voices of diverse, historically marginalized communities across all industries.

Their development and production arm is home to the producers behind award-winning films like “The Forty-Year-Old Version” and “Queen & Slim,” with upcoming projects set at Netflix, BET, Disney, Amazon, Universal, Focus and MGM, including A.V. Rockwell’s feature debut “A Thousand And One” starring Teyana Taylor, the Disney Studios’ high school basketball movie “Chang Can Dunk” for Disney+, a Sammy Davis, Jr. biopic, based on his daughter Tracey Davis’ book, “Sammy Davis Jr.: My Father,” and “Being Mary: The Mary Tyler Moore Documentary,” directed by James Adolphus and set to premiere in 2022.

The company has expanded to include the recently formed Hillman Grad Records with Def Jam Recordings, and partnered with independent book publishing company Zando. As one of Zando’s first founding publishing partners, Hillman Grad will acquire and publish four to six books over a three-year period, including memoirs, young adult titles and literary fiction.

Hillman Grad also has launched three groundbreaking, inclusivity-focused initiatives over the past year: The Hillman Grad Mentorship Lab, offering opportunities for marginalized storytellers to connect, grow and accelerate their careers in television and film through personalized instruction from industry professionals in writing, screen acting and executive development; the Rising Voices Initiative in partnership with Indeed, which allowed 10 BIPOC filmmakers to create short films with a production budget of $100,000 each; and the Defining Moments initiative in partnership with ID, a paid apprenticeship led by ID’s team of experts, designed for candidates interested in a career in publicity who previously may not have had the industry connections or access to college classes usually required for entry-level programs.



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