Yara and Keri Shahidi impart cycle of success for Black creatives with 7th Sun Production and educational endeavors at NYU talk

Yara and Keri Shahidi spoke with Lisa Coleman about how their desire to help create space for disenfranchised communities is rooted in their family values.

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Actress Yara Shahidi and her mother Keri Shahidi discuss their efforts to support disenfranchised communities. (Image courtesy of NYU)

Alina Hollister and Sara Jordan Ruttert

In celebration of NYU’s 17th annual MLK Week, actress, activist, Harvard student and producer Yara Shahidi participated in a conversation with her mother, Keri Shahidi, and NYU’s Dr. Lisa Coleman on Thursday, Feb. 10. 

Yara and Keri Shahidi recently launched 7th Sun Productions, a company working in conjunction with ABC Studios to center Black and brown voices and to share knowledge with those looking for careers in the entertainment industry. 

“When we had the opportunity to create a strong foundation for our production company, it was under the tenet that abundance must flow,” Yara Shahidi said. “This is not a big machine to create more projects for me, and if anything, it’s quite the opposite. It’s under the idea that we are so passionate about this work of knowing how talented our brown and Black community is.”

Keri Shahidi highlighted the need to share the knowledge she and her daughter acquired through years of experience in order to give creators the tools to succeed in a biased industry. 

“There’s so much information on the world of entertainment that one could assume everybody knows, but we know that because the space has not historically been made for us, we have had to create that space,” Keri Shahidi said.

Shahidi and her daughter strive to do this by uplifting and crediting Black and brown writers, directors and cinematographers who lack undergraduate degrees. Typically, lacking a degree makes it more difficult to enter an industry — young adults with a bachelor’s degree are more likely to be employed than their counterparts without one.

In spite of the societal obstacles faced by historically underprivileged groups, Yara Shahidi believes that her generation is passionate about inclusivity.

“There’s no lack of concern in wanting to shape our world,” Yara Shahidi said. “It’s just a matter of whether you have access, and so people who have been privileged with access, it was often just intellectual access. I think that’s why production work resonates because that’s a way of sharing intellect.”

The Shahidis said that 7th Sun seeks to tell stories about Black and brown joy rather than trauma and sorrow, emphasizing that the everyday human experiences of the Black community are worth sharing.

Keri Shahidi added that as a mother to two Black sons, she wished to see more films about Black boyhood and the coming-of-age of Black men — nothing especially high-stakes. These ordinary narratives challenge the distressing stories regularly depicted on big screens, and hopes to kickstart a pattern of success for the Black and brown community.

“History is meant to serve as a reminder for where we as a community have been and present goals for what society can look like in the future,” Keri Shadidi said. “Suppose people of disenfranchised communities continue to share their experiences and provide guidance to the next generation.”

“Abundance must flow,” Yara Shahidi said. “When you’re given an opportunity, it’s not for you to hold onto — it’s for you to pass on.”

Contact Alina Hollister and Sara Jordan Ruttert at [email protected]