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A headshot of Deniese Davis. Her curly hair is framing her face, she is smiling, and her head is tilted slightly to the left. She is wearing a pins-striped blouse.

Season 2: Episode 6

Deniese Davis

Maori chats with powerhouse producer Deniese Davis (Insecure, A Black Lady Sketch Show), founder of two media companies — Color Creative and Reform Media Group — that seek to uplift and champion Black and brown voices. In their conversation, Deniese shares her journey from being a rising basketball star to helping to shepherd the cultural phenomenon that was Issa Rae’s Insecure. They also discuss finding work-life balance and their shared passion for musicals.

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A headshot of Deniese Davis. Her curly hair is framing her face, she is smiling, and her head is tilted slightly to the left. She is wearing a pins-striped blouse.

Deniese Davis is Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Reform Media Group, a media company focused on changing how marginalized stories are told. She began her career producing music videos, short films and digital content including Issa Rae’s award-winning web series The Mis-Adventures of Awkward Black Girl. She is a Co-Executive Producer on the HBO Emmy-nominated comedy series Insecure and a Producer on HBO’s Emmy-nominated A Black Lady Sketch Show. She is also Co-Founder of ColorCreative, a management company focused on changing the landscape of media by creating a direct-to-industry pipeline for women and minority writers and championing diverse voices by building creative business brands. An alum of CUNY Brooklyn College and The American Film Institute, Deniese sits on the board of Black Public Media and is a founding member of AFI’s Alumni Council for the Lawrence Herbert Alumni Center (LHAC).


Season 2 of Many Lumens is brought to you by Open Society Foundations. 

Produced by BlackStar Projects, in partnership with RowHome Productions.

Host and Executive Producer: Maori Karmael Holmes

Producers: Imani Leonard and Dallas Taylor

Associate Producers: Irit Reinheimer and Farrah Rahaman

Managing Producer: Alex Lewis

Executive Editor: John Myers

Music supervisor: David ‘DJ Lil Dave’ Adams, BlackStar’s Music in Cinema Fellow supported by the Pop Culture Collaborative


  • Theme song composed by Vijay Mohan and remixed by David ‘DJ Lil Dave’ Adams.
  • AprilFoolChild x TrigoFare – “Find A Way”
Show Notes

Note: In her interview with Deniese, Maori mentions six seasons of Insecure, there were only five.

So You Want to be a Producer (written by Lawrence Turman, Crown Publishing, 2005)

Ava Berkofsky 

Insecure (created by Issa Rae; Larry Wilmore, HBO, 2016-2021) 

Issa Rae

Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl (created by Issa Rae, YouTube, 2011-2013)


Reform Media Group 

Talitha Watkins

Rap Sh*t (created by Issa Rae, HBO, 2022)

Syreeta Singleton

Chicago (directed by Rob Marshall, Miramax, 2002)

Singin’ in the Rain (directed by Gene Kelly and Stanley Donen, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, 1952)

The Wiz (directed by Sidney Lumet, Universal Pictures, 1978)

Sparkle (directed by Sam O’Steen, Warner Bros.,1976)

The Alchemist (written by Paulo Coelho, 1988)

Melina Matsoukas


[00:00:00] Maori Karmael Holmes: As part of their enduring commitment to justice, equity, and expression, the Open Society Foundations are proud to sponsor Many Lumens.

You’re listening to Many Lumens, where we talk about and find meaning in the intersections of art, social change, and popular culture. I’m your host, Maori Karmael Holmes.

For this episode, I’m joined by powerhouse producer, Deniese Davis. She began her career producing indie music videos, web series, and short films, including Issa Rae’s The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl. From there, she went on to become Insecure’s co-executive producer and a producer of A Black Lady Sketch show. Deniese is also a mission-driven entrepreneur. She’s recently founded two media companies that seek to uplift and champion Black and Brown voices.

Our conversation is a masterclass on what it means to work as a producer. Deniese shares her journey from rising Las Vegas basketball star to helping to shepherd the cultural phenomenon that became Insecure. We talk about her ambitions with her new venture, Reform Media Group, finding work life balance, and we connect over a shared passion for musicals. Here’s my conversation with Deniese.

[00:01:24] Maori Karmael Holmes: So I want to start a little bit with your origins. I read that you were born and raised in Las Vegas, and so I was curious how long your family has been in Nevada.

[00:01:34] Deniese Davis: That’s one of my favorite questions because it’s always my fun fact because I found as I’ve lived out in the world, a lot of people, their first response is, “I’ve never met someone from Vegas,” and it makes me realize how few people get out of that town. So I’m born and raised, my mother is born and raised, and my grandmother, my mom’s mom, is actually from a small mining town called Tonopah, Nevada, about an hour outside of Vegas. So I’m very much a generational Vegas baby, which is even more rare in itself because it’s a very famous commuter city that I think a lot of people don’t normally grow up there. Then honestly, the people who do never leave. So it’s usually why people never meet someone from there. So yeah, so it’s in my blood and I rep it pretty hard. I never lived anywhere as a child, and that’s to this day where the majority of my family still resides.

[00:02:28] Maori Karmael Holmes: I was curious because I have a lot of family that lives in Henderson in Vegas, but they moved from Los Angeles in the last 20, 25 years. So I don’t know anybody. I think you might be the first person I’ve met who’s from from the area.

[00:02:43] Deniese Davis: It always happens that way, which is so funny, but it’s also, obviously, a city that a lot of people have been to, right? So it’s just so ironic that people realize, “Oh, I don’t think I’ve ever met someone from there.” Everyone knows the city. Everyone’s heard of it, obviously, but it’s interesting to see the reaction when people realize they’d never met someone who actually grew up there, which yeah, I didn’t realize how rare it was until I left. I was like, “Wait. What do you mean? Everyone I know is from Vegas.”

[00:03:08] Maori Karmael Holmes: That’s so interesting. So also in doing research about you, I read that you were a serious basketball player in high school before you decided to switch direction and pursue film producing. I was curious if your family had anything to do with either of these interests. Do you come from an athletic family or is your family working in the entertainment industry, on the strip, perhaps or-

[00:03:35] Deniese Davis: Yeah, so none of the above. I mean, my mom definitely worked for primarily 25, 30 years plus on the strip in different casinos and different capacities. It is our one major workforce in Vegas, but with sports, sports for me was I was playing organized basketball I think as early as seven, eight years old in these summer camps they used to do. So that was really what I grew up doing and loved to do it. What ended up happening is I chose to go to this public high school called Centennial in Vegas that at the time had brought down the women state championship for basketball to Southern Nevada. There’s only Northern Nevada, which is really Reno and Southern Nevada, which is really Vegas, but for the first time in 20 years, this high school, the women’s basketball team won back-to-back state championships. So it was a huge deal just in terms of the competitive nature, and they were A1 ranked nationally. So I chose to go to this high school for that reason and started JV freshman. Sophomore year was getting prime for varsity, but I think when you’re coming of age, especially as a teenager, I had a moment where I was working, getting a job, helping my mom out. I come from a single mother household. So I was having a normal teenage life, but the more I saw the varsity team and how much time and energy and effort they were putting into the sport, which I loved, right? I just knew I was going to go to college and play ball and all of these things. There was a gnawing part of me that just wanted to be a kid and just wanted to enjoy being a teenager, and in some ways, I couldn’t really have both because of I think the level of competitiveness that I would’ve had to step into. There was a moment where I realized, “Oh, this is also going to continue on to college and whatever I decided to do next.” I love basketball for the sport of playing it, for the collaboration, for the team environment, all of the things, but I didn’t really love it as a job. So I had a moment where I said, “You know what? Maybe I should get out before it’s too late because I also didn’t want to continue to commit and lose my passion for that because of knowing what, I think, what would be asked of me. So after my sophomore year, I didn’t go back out for the team and surprised everyone, family included, but the family was very supportive, but I think the team itself was very surprised because they were like, “What do you mean you’re not coming back out for trials?” I just stopped playing, but putting that aside opened me up with all this spare time. Funnily enough, I took a class that was a video production class in high school. It was one of the first classes they were doing and started doing the video announcements. So I was an observer one year, thought what they were doing was really cool, became really close with the teacher who started teaching me things, how to edit, let me take a camera home to play around with and shoot some stuff, and I bit a bug, and I knew nobody from the entertainment industry, didn’t realize that was a career path at all. There’s not really an industry of sorts in Vegas to be honest. Once I discovered that there was a path there that, I mean, honestly, I remember being shocked to find out I can go to college and get a degree in this thing. I was like, “What? That doesn’t even seem real. What do you do with a degree in film?” I guess I’m really curious. I really enjoyed playing around and decided that that’s what I was going to do. In a lot of ways, one replaced together for me, right? I think I found my passion and the thing that I felt like, “Oh, this could be an access point. This could be a career that I could enjoy and not feel like work.”

[00:07:19] Maori Karmael Holmes: Wow. That’s a lot of maturity at 15, 16.

[00:07:24] Deniese Davis: At 16. I know. Who was I? Who was I?

[00:07:28 Maori Karmael Holmes: When is your birthday? We have to talk about astrology on this show. I’m just curious.

[00:07:31] Deniese Davis: Aries all the way. I’m March 30th, Aries.

[00:07:35] Maori Karmael Holmes: Oh, wow.

[00:07:36] Deniese Davis: There’s a lot of April Aries, but there’s only a few March Aries. So I’m a March Aries. I rep it hard.

[00:07:42] Maori Karmael Holmes: What do you think you brought with you from the rigor of your basketball training to working in film and television?

[00:07:51] Deniese Davis: A lot, actually. I think as my career evolved and the more I got into all the factors of producing, I sometimes joke that I think I’m a really good producer because I was a point guard, I was a team captain. So I think the leadership nature of filmmaking came naturally for me because it was what I was doing for so long in my childhood. So it wasn’t unbeknownst to me to be able to collaborate to have to be in a team environment where one person is going to be the star but it’s still going to take the whole team to win games. I was a captain. So I ran cross country and track and was varsity and captain on those squads as well. So basketball, particularly, you have to sharpen your own skill set, but you also have to learn how to play with others, play with your team. That to me has carried through so much because I think a producer, in a lot of ways, is just that. You are a team captain, right? You are leading the ship. You are making sure that things are staying on track, but you’re also making sure that no person is left behind, and that this is a group effort at the end of the day around one singular vision, and every project’s like another game to win. So in some weird ways, go hand-in-hand even though, obviously, one is art and one is sports, but so much, I think, of who I am was influenced from those early years without a doubt.

[00:09:13] Maori Karmael Holmes: I’ve played at playing sports. So I only serve-

[00:09:18] Deniese Davis: You dabbled.

[00:09:21] Maori Karmael Holmes: Definitely. That is the perfect word, but I definitely can imagine what you’re saying, and I appreciate the comparison of the team captain to producing. I want to go slightly off topic and then come back to producing, but I have a lot of Denises in my life like very close family and friends and coworkers. I was curious if you know how your parents came to your name and what it means for them and for you.

[00:09:44] Deniese Davis: That is a great question because now I’m going to have to call my mom when this podcast ends. I never knew where Deniese came from, but as you can see, it’s spelled differently. There’s an extra E in there that I for one have never seen, and normally, no one else has seen it either. So I have asked where that came from in terms of the intentionality to spell it differently, and the short end of it was that she felt like the D-E-N-I-S-E, the normal way that I think Denise is usually spelled, just felt like it was missing something, and she actually wanted to have something more unique for me. So she felt like that extra E which is I-E-S-E was just a natural placement. I always thank her for that because I think, at least Deniese Davis, Davis is a very broad last name, but I feel like if you see my name spelled this way, most people know who I am because it’s the only person they’ve met spelled that way, but in terms of the meaning behind naming me, I don’t know. So I’m going to have to do some homework on that.

[00:10:51] Maori Karmael Holmes: Did you ever go by a nickname? Have you ever wanted to change your name?

[00:010:55] Deniese Davis: No. I’ve always loved it, but dear God, everyone else has made up nicknames for me my entire life.

[00:11:00] Maori Karmael Holmes: Are you a Niese or no?

[00:11:02] Deniese Davis: No. I was going to say, my family, I am Niese to a lot of aunts and a lot of cousins. I am Niese, for sure. It’s funny, they all spell it differently, but they all call me Niese, and I think because I played sports and in sports, you always tend to have a backhand nickname. People would just call me D or, I hate to say it, Double D, because it’s just been there. So I’ve heard it all, but my young rapper name used to be D Nice because why not? That’s what you got.

[00:11:34] Maori Karmael Holmes: Yeah. I love that you’re old enough to have an old rapper name. I don’t know if younger folks continue to do that.

[00:11:39] Deniese Davis: I mean, it’s cool to have a rapper name in middle school and high school. We all knew we have a stage name that if we became famous this is what we were going to call ourselves.

[00:11:53] Maori Karmael Holmes: Absolutely. So to go back to producing a little bit, I was curious why producing. From thinking about your experience in high school and editing and being in front of the camera and shooting, I imagine, what made you choose producing as opposed to another aspect of the field?

[00:12:08] Deniese Davis: Yeah. So I mentioned I had dabbled myself in a little bit of areas of video production. I was taught how to edit on Adobe Premiere Pro. I was directing, I was kind of producing, I was writing, all of these things in high school through various outlets that were provided to me. So once I decided I was going to go to film school for undergrad, I had this level because I’m from Vegas because I didn’t know anyone and I didn’t feel like I had context about the industry itself. I love to read. I felt insecure to go into a program that I knew I didn’t know enough about, and I just assumed because when you’re a young Black girl going after a dream like this that I was going to show up in a classroom full of people who wanted to be the next Steven Spielbergs and had done this their whole life and knew what Rosebud was. So I was like, “Well, I better read a little bit more about the industry and at least what roles exist so that way when I’m orienting myself in film school, I have some baseline knowledge, so that way I can have the confidence to, even if I’m not sure, know what these roles entail. I don’t have to waste time discovering that.” So that’s what I did. I read a couple books. There is one book in particular that I got the summer I was graduating and it was called So You Want To Be A Producer by Lawrence Turman. One of the things that interested me about this book is that all the other roles, as I was researching, felt really easy to deduce, right? I was like, “Oh, a director, I see what they do,” and because I had done all these facets in high school, I had some baseline experience, right? I was like, “Oh, I can edit full time as a career. Well, I’ve tried that. That’s cool, but I don’t want to be stuck on a computer all the time. I’ve dabbled in writing.” I was like, “Oh, I can have that career. Well, I’ve tried that. That’s cool. I don’t know if that’s my strongest suit.” So a lot of these things became process of elimination because I had tried it, but this role of a producer that I don’t think I had true context of in high school stuck out because once I got to it, the description of what it entailed really struck me the most because it was a little bit of everything. I loved that there was not one part of the creative process. It wasn’t involved in to a degree levels of responsibility that came with it, but also not the artistic responsibility that, say, a director might have or even a DP. So it just felt like for someone to not have to choose one thing, a producer can be anything you want it to be. It can be a lot of things. I think I also was drawn towards the understanding that it was one part creative and also one part business, right? I’d like to say today that producing is so entrepreneurial because it is. An independent production company is a mini business. So this idea that I could pursue producing and do my own thing and not have to go work for someone else, whereas these other jobs are more for hire jobs, direct yourself to be hired, a writer still has to go be hired, an editor still has to be hired. I was like, “A producer creates their work.” So that struck me. So that’s where I followed my heart. I got this book, finished it that summer, showed up in undergrad day one. I remember introducing myself my freshman year to people as someone who wanted to be a producer. I just knew that early and mostly because of all of these reasons. To be honest, years later, I have no regrets. It’s always in some ways, weird ways sometimes what I think I was meant to do, but I think I embraced it early on because I was curious enough and interested enough, if that makes sense.

[00:15:48] Maori Karmael Holmes: Yeah, no, it does. I mean, I have produced and always feel like producers are born and not necessarily that it can be taught. I’m really curious since you actually studied it in undergrad and grad school. Well, how do you feel about that?

[00:16:04] Deniese Davis: I agree to an extent and the reason why is because there are skillsets of a producer that you can learn without a doubt, right? I think that’s just the hands-on, let’s say, craftsmanship of it, right? Can you learn how to read a budget? Can you learn how production works, the language there, those types of things, right? That’s all to me stuff that you can inherit educationally. However, there are parts about being a producer that in some way comes down to the person itself that I might not be able to teach you personality wise, right? I might not be able to teach you how to talk to people, a large group of people, various sets of personalities, all working towards the same goal, but may not be someone that you get along with, right? How do you navigate that? That’s something that is, I think, a personal journey that some people just have and some people might never have, right? So there’s certain, I’d say, let’s call it personality skill sets of a producer that, in some ways, you can probably learn to develop, but that’s the essence of if you have it, you have it, and if you don’t, it’s a little bit harder to gain because it’s a lot about who you are as a person. Can you let your ego down? Can you work with others? Can you steer the ship? Can you problem solve on the drop of a dime because if you’re one of those people who is afraid to speak up or who’s afraid to think outside the box and find the solutions no matter the cost, then you’re probably not a good producer and not everyone can navigate their lives in that way. I think there’s a lot of people who tend to defer to others, tend to walk in the background, tend to not speak up for themselves. In my opinion it’s like, “Well, you can’t be any of those things to be a good producer.” So again, it’s half and half. You can be taught a lot of the skillsets, and then there’s certain things that just come naturally to the individual.

[00:18:03] Maori Karmael Holmes: You got your start in low-budget indie film production. Some of us still live in that world. I was wondering if you could share a funny story from your music video producing days. Anything come to mind or an insane request or mishap?

[00:18:21] Deniese Davis: Gosh. Well, I do have a funny story, but it was from a short film I did, not necessarily a music video, and I still joke about it to this day because I met the DP, who ended up coming to Insecure, Ava Berkofsky on this short. So we tend to always talk about these early days, but we did this really wonderful short that was through an AFI program, the Director Workshop for Women this one summer. Those shorts are usually done for $30,000. It was a five-day shoot, but this particular short was challenging because it was one location, but it was all exterior nights. So you had already five overnight shoots. You have a really amazing cast. When this is all done, I might tell you what the project was because it actually is a notable project, actually, that became a TV show, but we were doing this short and we rented. We were portraying a bachelor like the reality show like scene. So we had all these glitz and glamor of these contestants and it was like the making of the show. We rented this mansion in Glendale for the five days. I somehow brokered this deal because those type of locations are not cheap. Somehow I got it cheaply and I’ll never forget the guy. The owner basically built this house himself. He was a construction architect designer person, and this beautiful house in the mountains of Glendale was his baby, and he did for some reason let us shoot there. I don’t know how I found him, but we got there. I had my little army of PAs. You know, when you’re doing low budget––you don’t have a 20-person production staff. It was me, my production manager, and my PAs, and that was about it. In my low-budget days, the only way you can do things cheaply is to wear a lot of hats. So again, I found the location, I pulled the permit like I was on my location team.: The short story is day one in the evening, I get pulled because they say, “Hey, the owner is really pissed because the Budget truck,” you’re renting Budget trucks for your equipment, “the truck parked in the driveway is leaking oil all over his driveway.” I was like, “Well, what do you mean?” I went over and he was furious because, sure enough, our little cheap trucks with our equipment and stuff had leaked oil, and because it sat, there was leaking oil all over his beautiful stoned, handcrafted driveway. And I calmed him down and he basically said because also, we’re still there three more nights, so I can’t … What are we going to do if he shuts us down? So we made an agreement which was that by the time we wrapped, the oil had to be gone. Otherwise, he was going to stick us with a crazy L&D bill. I rallied up my PAs. I sent them to Home Depot. I said, “You go get every stain remover that you can think of and every brush and toothbrush and whatever else we need, rags you can think of.” They came back and I spent the next two evenings on my hands and knees with my PAs scrubbing oil out of this driveway making it crystal clean.

[00:21:45] Maori Karmael Holmes: Wow.

[00:21:46] Deniese Davis: I’ll never forget, even, I think Ava, my DP, or the director, someone came over at one point because we’re shooting, by the way. I’m doing this during production hours, and someone came over and was like, “Deniese, why are you doing that? Just let your PAs handle it.” I was like, “No. I’m doing it with my PAs, unless you don’t want to have your short finished because I just feel like if I’m in here with them, I know we’ll get it done and you can go back and get your short concentrated and don’t worry about what I’m doing over in this driveway. You go make your short, girl, before they could even pull the plug.” It’s one of my favorite memories because we got the oil out and he still tried to stick us this with the bill, but he ended up dropping that. So anyways, fun times, fun times because indie days, you got to do what you got to do.

[00:22:33] Maori Karmael Holmes: Yeah. It’s always something. Well, I want to talk about Insecure not forever because I’m sure you’ve talked about it a lot, but it’s such an impactful show to a generation of makers, a generation of folks. I teach and I have a lot of staff that are a different generation than me, and nine out of 10, particularly if they’re Black film folks, they mention it as a show that inspired them to want to become a filmmaker or an artist in some way or something that was in the background of their life that propelled them forward. That must be incredible to be a part of making something that important. I’m just curious, how does it feel to have had a hand in a shifting culture?

[00:23:24] Deniese Davis: I’m going to be honest. Sometimes it’s still surreal because it had been such a wild ride and journey for all of us, including myself. The show undoubtedly helped launch my own career or at least leveled up my career, right? It’s not like I wasn’t producing prior, but it allowed me to just jump through a couple hoops to be able to be in a plane field for television and film in a way that when you’re in the indie space, you don’t always get those opportunities. So it’s surreal because when I think back about the whole time that we were making the show, I think the beauty of it is we didn’t make it for any of that, right? We didn’t make it for anyone’s validation other than what we thought we wanted to do and create the show we wanted to see and be as authentic as possible. Even if that meant fighting against the traditional norms of producing content, especially at that level, so be it. I think that’s what was so special about that time. I think the cherry on top is seeing the cultural impact, seeing that when it’s all said and done, the same passion and feeling that we had or what we were doing resonated I think is so fulfilling because the best part, I think, about making art sometimes is you hope that there’s an audience for it, but sometimes you make it for yourself. I feel like we all made that for ourselves to know that at the end of the day, even if no one ever watched it, this is something we’re proud of on an individual level. So it really is just sweetening the pot that it’s had the impact it’s had, it’s resonated the way it has, and it comes up even when I hear pitches. People will be like, “It’s like Insecure meets this.” It makes it so because you’re just like, “Who knew that this little show would become this juggernaut of sorts?” It’s just a special time. So yeah, that’s probably my first gut reaction to that is that we didn’t know. We hoped, but we had no idea what it was going to become other than a show that we would’ve watched.

[00:25:26] Maori Karmael Holmes: Yeah. Well, thank you for listening to your gut and pursuing that. One of the things that I’ve liked about the show, I sometimes felt too old to be watching it, but I really appreciated the look of it. It’s just so tonally gorgeous and it was amazing, of course, to have these two dark-skinned women being the center of it and to see South LA portrayed in this way. I was wondering, as a producer, are you involved in creative or do you stay in production management and business or there’s all kinds of producers, but do you find yourself involved in all aspects?

[00:26:07] Deniese Davis: My role, at least as far as television goes, is a little bit of an anomaly. I doesn’t always exist, and I’m what’s considered a non-writing producer in television, right? I think it’s because, as we know, television exists as a writer’s medium where they are the creator, the showrunners, they’re in charge, right? So when you’re coming into a TV project, creatively speaking, I give input where is needed, but I also help. I always make sure I defer to the creatives who are the ones in the writer’s room putting the show together and who are at the EP level, the EPs apprentices. My job is to, I consider myself a conduit. So I am a little bit of everywhere. I am in production. I’m in the creative meetings. I’m in the in-between conversations, whether it’s with departments or at the high level, and really trying to find a way to connect all the dots and make sure that there’s no holes being overlooked. Part of that is because everyone involved has their own respective responsibilities as the showrunner, as the star, as a writer, as a director, as a DP. You name it. They all have, “I have a day-to-day job while also having to look at these things.” Well, my job was to look at everything for everyone, which is such a joy because I was involved at every part of the conversation, and it was as small as we can be in a marketing meeting and someone mentions, “We want a Black photographer in this,” and I can chime in and help give suggestions for that, right? So it’s just finding ways to be useful while also making sure that I’m not stepping on the toes of the people whose vision this is at the end of the day. I’m helping to execute that vision.

[00:27:52] Maori Karmael Holmes: Just really quickly for anyone listening who doesn’t already know your origins of meeting Issa, could you talk a little bit about coming to work on the web version of Misadventures of an Awkward Black Girl, and then going with Issa to HBO? If you could just share a little bit about that.

[00:28:12] Deniese Davis: Yeah. I met Issa two weeks before I graduated from AFI where I went to grad school for producing. So so much of my origin story into my career started with her because she was doing the second season of her web series. She needed to find a producer. She had actually already started production. She was a couple episodes in when we met and then she hired me and I swear to god we met on a Saturday. She told me she wanted to hire me on a Sunday and then we’re shooting the next episode on Saturday. So when I say I just jumped in, it was just sink or swim, we’ll figure this out, and we’ve collaborated ever since. What was so great about those days was that we had some money, but so much of it was just the creative––how do we just make this for what we got kind of days, which is always such a joy because it’s so much about the creative at large. I was working with her on the web series while simultaneously building my career as a freelance producer and everything else, right? That’s when I did the other shorts and the music videos, all of the things, and I continued to do both, both working with her on one-off stuff and other things once Awkward Black Girl I did and also continuing to take other work until about three years later when she got Insecure green light, and it was picked up to a pilot. We had had talks about whether or not I can join because television has its own way of doing things, but she called me up one day and finally said, “Hey, so I spoke to my team and I spoke to the network and I told them I really want you on this,” and to expect a call from the line producer or whoever else to figure it out. So again, I credit her so much for opening that door because she didn’t have to. She could have easily said, “Hey, girl. I’m going to go do this HBO show. Hopefully, we can work again one day,” and she didn’t do that. She figured out a way to open that door enough, and I still had to prove myself. I had to go in and show people what it was that I could do, but she made sure that I was able to join her, which I always joke was our postgraduate school because doing Insecure as a pilot we’re like, “We know what we’re doing, but we’ve never done anything at this level.” So we just went with the flow and, I don’t know, it was just such a great time, I would say, because when we started discovering what you were supposed to do about television, we were like, “Oh, can we break the rules?” We always were trying to break the rules.

[00:30:45] Midroll: Seen is a journal of film and a visual culture focused on Black, Brown, and indigenous communities globally, subscribe today and receive two beautifully designed issues a year featuring essays, reviews, interviews, and more from critics, artists, and other luminaries of color. Learn more at

[00:31:08] Maori Karmael Holmes: You’re listening to Many Lumens. Now, back to my conversation with Deniese Davis. 

So with Issa, of course, we had six beautiful seasons of Insecure and you also founded, you launched initially Issa Rae Productions, but then Hoorae with her and then ColorCreative, the management company that’s dedicated to supporting diverse creators and producing inclusive content. Last year, you launched your own company, Reform Media Group, and I was curious for you, with all of these ventures, what’s driving you because you could just focus on making money, right? This is a commercial industry, but it feels to me that you’ve been mission-led, and I was just wondering what is driving you to make work?

[00:31:52] Deniese Davis: Yeah. Well, I think what’s important is I definitely stepped away from the Hoorae, Issa Rae Productions of it all, and that’s really Issa’s thing. Whereas with ColorCreative, once it morphed into the management company and we were able to hire the wonderful Talitha Watkins to become the president and run it for us, I also took a step back there because that’s my baby, too, but I was very honest with myself once we were evolving into representation that I didn’t want to run a management company. That’s not probably where my heart lies in terms of being a manager. So we found the right person to do that. Once those things were off the hook, Reform, for me, was so much about what I keep considering a new chapter in my producing career because I think of 2020 and the pandemic, and like so many people when everything just stopped and slowed down, I had a lot of time to reflect on my career to date because it just felt like, “God I’ve been going and going for so many years and I had all these different various levels of success that I’m proud of,” but for the first time, I’m taking it all in and then thinking about, “Well, what is next? What is the future? What does that look like?” One thing that really became very apparent or very clear to me was that there was more I wanted to do, and I might be at a point in my life where I could stay and continue to build side-by-side with Issa, which would be wonderful, and who’s to complain about that or maybe there’s a moment before it’s too late to discover who Deniese is as a producer on her own because I think so much of my career up until, recent was producing for everybody else, being that go-to person that would just step in and be able to execute, and that’s great and I’m very happy to have done that, but I do have a creative side. I do love to develop. I love to discover projects and have a different brand that I would probably consider outside of Issa’s brand, right? The only way to be able to build that and entertain it was to say, “Well, what is that?” So Reform, as I put together the pieces, is an amalgamation of Deniese figuring out that part of myself. I’m going to build my own producing brand on my own that’s not tethered to any one talent or anyone else, and I have to now find this discovery of voice of sorts that I don’t think I’ve ever gotten a chance to really do and figure out what are the projects and the stories that I’m personally just passionate about that I can help bring to life and do it from there. So it’s been an exciting first year. It was very scary at first because who does that? Who restarts your career when you’re like, “How can you get any higher than this?” but I have an amazing support and friendship with Issa, who was very much behind this and was like, “Do what you got to do.” Obviously, we’re continuing to run ColorCreative together and a bunch of projects together, but yeah, this was something I woke up and basically said, “If I don’t do this now, when?” I also don’t want to be 50 years old and wake up and wonder what it would ever been for me to build this for myself, too. So Reform is mission-driven. So much of it is splintered off from so much of the work I’ve done prior to that, but I think the key part and the difference of it is just that. It’s me figuring out my own identity through producing.

[00:35:19] Maori Karmael Holmes: Do you have a sense of what that identity is? I mean, is it informed by your own identities as a Black queer woman? Are the stories skewing in those directions or is it all over the place? You’ve also done a lot of comedy. So are you now going to bust out with a historical drama or-

[00:35:37] Deniese Davis: Yeah. All the right questions. I mean, look, you’ve never lied. That is exactly what’s happening. I started this company and said, “Okay. What are the projects? What are the stories? Where am I going to start?” The one thing that stuck out was like, “You know what’s hard is I love everything?” I love all good storytelling, whatever way and shape it comes to me. It’s just on a personal level. Does this excite me? Is this something I would want to see? I think the nugget of that is I’m biracial, queer, Black woman from Vegas of all places. So when you put all that in a box, that opens up every single door imaginable because I’m drawn towards different things. I lived in New York for many years. So it is very multicultural, I would say. It’s not focusing on only Black stories because I also think that’s sometimes too niche to a degree where I’m like, “No, I would love to do this thriller Puerto Rican female-led story,” or whatever it’s called to me. I think the bottom line is that are they stories that I feel like are underrepresented across the board, whatever way that looks like. Then I think from a genre perspective, what I’m most excited about is opening up. I actually don’t because I’ve come from comedy for so long. That’s not the only lane I want to stay in. So I opened it up and said, “I’m going to be doing dramas, some procedural dramas. I want to do some YA content, some family-led content, which I think is hugely underserved in the marketplace, especially for people of color. I want to do some thriller murder mysteries because I love that shit and who doesn’t, but I don’t think I see enough of Black and Brown folks as the protagonist in those stories. We’re always the victims. We’re always the lawyer or whoever else, the side characters. I’d want to do some genre fantasy things that I would love to do, whether that’s witches or vampires and just out of the ordinary. Then actually, I’m also leaning into the doc space. It’s something on a personal level I’m obsessed with, I watch a lot, and I think even in that space, in particular, I don’t think there’s enough producers of color who have the ability to just push projects through. Obviously, there’s a huge moment right now where our stories are being told, but not always with our help. Personally, I’m also like, “Okay. The doc space is so rich, but they don’t always have to be so traumatic, guys. There’s so many historical figures and moments and things that we could shine a light on that I realize it’s only going to take us producing that space to help showcase that, right? So that’s the gamut. It’s broad, but I also feel like I’ve built it to be specific enough. So as I’m building my slate, it’s very easy for me to navigate it without just saying, “Send me everything. I’ll read it all.” I’m like, “Well, actually, let’s back that. Let’s back that up. Let’s be targeted with what I build on this slate.”

[00:38:29] Maori Karmael Holmes: Yeah. Well, just as a process, how do you decide which projects you’re going to get behind? Is it a feeling or do you have a particular ritual or practice that you engage with to make a decision?

[00:38:45] Deniese Davis: It is feeling-based. It is. Sometimes it’s hard, but I will say what I realized recently because I had to control myself not long ago where I was like, “Deniese, you have to learn how to say no. You’re saying yes to too many things.” I’m loving it all, but I also had to regroup the things I read and ask myself why I loved them. A lot of it is the way it made me feel, but the ones that stood out the most are the ones that I couldn’t shake, if that makes sense, right? So you read it, you resonate with it, you think it’s a great piece of work, you’re interested in it, but I’ll go to sleep at night and wake up and I’m still thinking about that story or I’m still thinking about it, and it could be a comedy even, but there’s certain projects that I’ve taken on that I’m so moved by, whether emotionally, whether it’s the way it’s made me think or the way I think it can resonate with others that stays with me enough where I’m just like, “Oh, there’s no way. I know there’s too much on my plate, but how can I say no to this? How can I say no to being a part of something that I think can start a conversation in whatever way that is?” So that’s probably, say, the tie breaker to a degree. I try not to make decisions based off of talent or the package or if such and such wants to do this. It’s tantalizing. It’s really easy to just want to take the ticket and ride with something, but sometimes I think what I’m most careful about with building a new company, building a brand from scratch is that everything I do in these next few years are going to count towards that. So I have to be a little bit more protected. I have to be a little bit more snobbish as you will just in terms of what truly excites me because these are the projects I need to stand behind that if nothing else will showcase who I am as a producer and what type of brand I’m building. So for all of those reasons, yeah, it has to resonate with me. The last thing I’ll say is because as a producer, once you say yes to a project, these things can take two, three, five, seven years before they become a reality. So I obviously think about the longevity of it, and in order for me to put that much time and energy into something for that length of time, I have to love it. I have to be passionate. I have to be looking forward to every conversation I’m going to have about it because it’s going to be around and on my plate for much longer than I might have liked, but I don’t want to lose interest in something. So that to me is huge.

[00:41:17] Maori Karmael Holmes: Well, this is a nice segue. I was curious how you balance all of your different projects, but really, this is coming from someone asked me the other day if I had any hobbies, and I couldn’t think of any besides shopping, which feels functional also, but I was curious for you, do you have any hobbies? Do you have a practice of self-care? Where are you finding balance?

[00:41:44] Deniese Davis: This has been a work in progress for me. I think a few years ago, I became very adamant about making sure I carve out time in my life, in my work life or just personal time, right? So I’ll get to hobbies in a second because I might have some, maybe, but just in general, I think when you grow up in the independent world, and I’m sure you can agree with this, too, you tend to work around the clock, right? There are no work hours. There’s no 9:00 to 5:00 when you’re independent hustling for that check because those projects you take on, they take so much of you. In some ways, they’re able to. It’s how they take advantage of you because you’re a freelance independent contractor. So there’s no clock in, clock out. I often think about so much of my 20s and all of those early days. I was working on the weekends, I was sending emails that night. There was no cutoff time. So a lot of those habits evolved with me to a degree, and a few years ago, I was feeling burnt out and I realized, “Oh, God! I’m carrying my work into all hours of the day,” and that’s not okay because if I’m not carving out time just for myself, for my personal life, I’ll probably start to lose my own identity and not know how to separate the two, and it’s not what I wanted for myself, especially still being so young. So basically, I have a rule of thumb, which is if I get an email after hours during the week or during the weekend, I tend to look at the context and ask myself if I respond. Is there a difference between responding right away, right this moment, in the middle of whatever I’m doing that’s not work or could I wait until first thing in the morning or Monday morning if it’s the weekend and will there be any negative impact? Usually, there’s not. So that’s how I discerned whether or not I open myself up to the work side of me during my personal time. I think over the last few years of doing that, I discovered, yeah, chances are, I’m very discretionary. Obviously, if it’s something that I know is super important and urgent, I’m on it immediately, but everything else I’m always like, “It could wait because I deserve to have a life.” So I’ve never seen it come back to me in a bad way. So I can continue to do that, and that’s the way I found to separate the two, which I very much enjoy.

[00:44:08] Maori Karmael Holmes: Well, I have a quick question before you answer about hobbies. I think I read that your partner is also a producer. So is that true?

[00:44:13] Deniese Davis: She is, but you know what’s fun? She’s a producer in unscripted. So it’s such a wonderful balance because sometimes I’ll hear her in her jobs and I’m always like, “I don’t get it. I don’t understand how you do what you do,” and then she’s always like, “Well, I feel the same about you,” because we have the same role, but our fields of interest are so different. So I find it fascinating, but it’s also great because, creatively, we can watch movies and talk about them or she’ll read a script and I’ll talk to her about what she thinks, and she’s able to understand my job and what it requires of me as an insider, but also not someone who is too close to it.

[00:44:57] Maori Karmael Holmes: I was wondering if there was any bad behavior in terms of working those late … You know what I mean? About working those late hours or on the weekends or do you all keep each other balanced?

[00:45:09] Deniese Davis: No, no. You know what’s funny? She’s much worse than me. She’s been trying to find her boundaries. Meanwhile, I’m the one who gets upset. I’ll sit there on the couch, wait and watch a movie and I’m like, “For real? You’re going to get on that call? It’s 9:00. Tell them it’s 9:00. You don’t need to be on a conference call. It’s 9:00,” but no. It’s funny. She’s always very impressed with how clear I’m able to just cut it out. Look, I think it’s just maybe because I’ve started so young in a lot of ways. I feel like I’ve always just worked, right? So there was just a moment where I know I have such a long journey still ahead of me, but I don’t want to, again, I don’t want to wake up in 30 years and be like, “God, I never had a life. That’s no fun. What do we do all of this for if we can’t enjoy it?”

[00:45:52] Maori Karmael Holmes: That’s real, and speaking of enjoyment, what are the hobbies? What hobbies do you like?

[00:46:00] Deniese Davis: Oh, girl. I was like, “I can’t think of any.” I’m with you. I’m with you. I was like, “Well, what would you constitute as a hobby?” I mean, I love to walk my dog. Honestly, I love watching docs. That is my brainless … Some people watch reality shows and they like to watch a sitcom and that’s what they like, turn on late at night or do. I will watch a docu series or documentary and geek out. My fiance thinks it’s so cute because I’ll be like, “Did you know? This is this,” because I’ll learn so much. I’ll wake up the next morning wanting to talk all about the Kennedys because I just finished the Kennedy mini series on CNN, and I’m like, “Yo, we got to talk about this.” So it’s a weird hobby, but I enjoy it. I do love reading, especially when it’s not for work. I was an avid reader so much––my whole life. So I love to get lost in a good book and a good story, but I feel like lately it’s been harder to bring that into my life because I do so much of it for work, too. So the last thing I want to do is read another book, even if it’s for personal fulfillment.

[00:47:00] Maori Karmael Holmes: Yeah. Well, I want to pivot a little bit to talk about what you have coming up and, of course, there’s Rap Sh*t, which is the new comedy you’re producing with Issa for HBO Max, and was wondering if you could talk just a little bit about where the idea for this series came from.

[00:47:15] Deniese Davis: It’s all Issa’s brainchild. This is her next show that she created after Insecure, and Syreeta Singleton is our showrunner, who was a writer who came up with us on Insecure as well. It’s just fun. It’s going to be very different than I think people would expect, at least if you know about Insecure, but it’s also one and the same in terms of keeping the authenticity of this world, of the characters, and leaning into, I think, real life, which is sometimes still missing in our television landscape. So yeah, I think this is Issa in a lot of ways telling a version of us always wanted to tell within the music industry side of thing. So I’m just excited for that to finally come out, hopefully this year, and we’ll see how it does, but it’s unlike anything I’ve ever even been involved in. So that’s what I think is I’m really anticipating in terms of seeing people’s response and how they receive it.

[00:48:14] Maori Karmael Holmes: Can you tell us what will be different or do we have to wait?

[00:48:17] Deniese Davis: You might have to wait. I mean, I think you’ll see a little bit of it whenever the trailer drops, but it’s just there’s so many unique things about the show that, yeah, that are just challenging, whether it’s creative, whether it’s the execution of it, but then there’s also a lot of similar things from what we pulled from Insecure, right? There’s a lot of fresh faces that you’ve never seen before on screen. We’re showing Miami in such a way that I don’t think you’ve ever seen on screen, but also very similar to what we did with Inglewood and South LA. So it’s like there’s similarities in that, but also it’s its own original, unique spin on that story. So yeah, and then on the other side as far as I’m concerned and Reform is concerns, since I’ve been back from Rap Sh”t, which ended at the end of last year, I’ve really just prioritized and focused my slate. I’ve been very busy setting up a handful of projects in the television space and the feature space and just lining up things in development while also keeping an eye towards hopefully making a film this year. That is the goal is to go produce a feature and just have a mini break from television because it’s all I’ve been doing for the last six years. So I was like, “This would be nice. Let’s just switch up a bit.” So that’s the hope, that’s the plan is and what’s on the horizon for me.

[00:49:40] Maori Karmael Holmes: I read that Chicago is one of your favorite musicals, which it is for me, too. I was wondering if musicals are in? Is that part of the future Reform or Deniese Davis’ slate generally?

[00:49:52] Deniese Davis: Oh, my God! I’m obsessed. Absolutely. There is a musical that Issa and I developed together that we’re still producing that’s at Universal. It’s called Love in America, Amy Aniobi, and this writing duo with Dirty Nomad is a co-writing, but it’s been in studio development languish for quite a few years now. So, still actively working on that, and that’s a full-on original concept that I helped stir up, but 1000% as far as Reform goes and this new chapter. It has actually been high on the list, but I’ll tell you what. Not everyone who loves musicals. It’s always hard to find just a spec script laying around that happens to be a musical. So I’ve been very aware that it may be something I have to help creatively conceit with the writer or find a piece of IP or something but I’m obsessed, and Chicago, for so many reasons. The funny part is I was only familiar with that through the movie. I think I thought the movie came first and then realized it was on a play and was like, “What?” Then I started playing in college and was like, “Oh, no, no, no. Have they seen the movie? It’s so much better.” So it’s one of those high bars in my life because of all the other things I loved about that film in terms of what it can be. One of my all time favorite movies, too, is Singing in the Rain, which I don’t think many people have seen it, but I think it’s a movie I saw in sixth grade. That was the first time I saw anything about making movies and thought it was fascinating. So yeah, it is the lifetime achievement goal for myself is to bring a musical to life.

[00:51:34] Maori Karmael Holmes: Yeah. It’s funny. Before you mentioned Singing in the Rain, I was thinking about, for me, it’s always the ones that are the behind the scenes. So there was that show in NBC a couple of years ago. I think it was called Smash, and then I was thinking about the Bob––the Fosse mini series that came out right in 2020. So you got to see a little bit of the making of Chicago, but I feel like it gives you that rest because I think musicals that are all song are definitely obnoxious, but the thing about Chicago and other ones that give you a little bit of space before you go to the next song, I think those are great, for me.

[00:52:08] Deniese Davis: No, completely. I mean, look, I will be honest. One of my goals is actually to make a musical that doesn’t feel like a Broadway musical, and that’s because there’s something about where hip hop and R&B and music has gone today in terms of pop culture and everything about it and its ability to cross over in such a huge way that I’m always so surprised that when people want to do musicals, it tends to be tick, tick…BOOM! or Hamilton or things that feel Broadwayesque, even Chicago to a degree, where I sit there and ponder, “Okay. Well, why can’t we find,” this is my bad pitch, but I’ve brought it up before but, “why can’t we find that Drake-esque-led musical?” Almost like, do you remember a Hip Hopera with Beyonce?

[00:52:52] Maori Karmael Holmes: I was just about to say that, but make a joke of it.

[00:52:53] Deniese Davis: That example, that example, but the only example that I can never point to because that was also a spoken word edge, but I’m just like, “No, no. I mean, a musical of today using popular music, not necessarily popular songs, but the way it feels and the way it moves and the people we see in it, why can’t we find an authentic, grounded musical that is like that?” Because if you could figure out how to do a Travis Scott-esque musical, people would show up. Are you kidding me? People would be like, “It’s lit in the movie theater,” but for whatever reason, I see that vision and I was like, “Oh,” but again, as a producer, I was like, “Let me go crack a story first and then figure that part out,” because you have to do it right to really land it. That to me is what excites me about the musical space is I’m like, “Oh, how do I do something different that it doesn’t feel like you wouldn’t have thought about this as a musical, but it is,” right? The same reason why Hamilton was huge, but to me, in a lot of ways, Hamilton’s still Broadway-esque in the way it’s written and performed. So I just want to find the, yeah, let me go find my Drake-led musical project.

[00:54:57] Maori Karmael Holmes: I mean, I think Drake would actually be the one. He’s such a good actor. Him on SNL, I love him on SNL almost more than his music career.

[00:54:06] Deniese Davis: I know. Well, that’s the best part. I could just be like, “Drake, but you don’t have to be in it. Just help take me off. Just help me come up with the music that people would really vibe with and I’ll figure out the best story for it and find the best writer for it,” but just something that’s authentic and that feels very much geared towards maybe our generation in a big way because I think people tend to think that, “Oh, there’s not enough.” Musicals tend to lean for an older audience. They’re like, “Younger kids don’t want to see musicals,” and you go, “But that’s because you guys don’t make them for them. So what are you talking about?”

[00:54:37] Maori Karmael Holmes: Right, like what the Whiz must have been for the ’70s.

[00:54:41] Deniese Davis: Completely, completely or Sparkle or any of those things. They all had their heydays. Yeah. You look at TikTok and you’re like, “What do you mean people don’t want to see a musical?” If I see they don’t care about Bruno clips one more time, it’s like people love things that they could then emulate on social media too to that degree. So I don’t know, it’s my pie in the sky wishlist.

[00:55:03] Maori Karmael Holmes: Yeah. Well, can you share some of your creative or even spiritual north stars or mentors in your head? They don’t have to be in real life.

[00:55:16] Deniese Davis: I’ll talk about a book that changed my life that I tend to refer to all the time, but I had a mentor who, when I was in college and she was an advertising agency, told me about The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. It’s such a simple book, but I just remember being at an age where I was questioning how or why so many things were happening, so many good things, by the way, were happening and how random they always were just in terms of how I go to New York in grad school, even meeting Issa. Sometimes you look back at your journey you’re just like, “Huh. I don’t know. I just kept going after the goal of the dream and things just kept falling into place.” This book changed my life because it figured out meaning just in terms of following your heart and knowing that in a lot of ways the universe, I think, aligns itself to those who stay true to themselves. I think that’s something that really stuck to me, especially, I think in this town, where it’s so easy to become someone you’re not because of whatever else comes your way, whether it’s opportunities, whether it’s riches, whether it’s notoriety, fame, you name it. I think what’s been important to me is to always stay grounded. So there’s a lot of people I look to in this industry that are that, that are themselves. It includes people like Melina Matsoukas, who I consider like a big sister after working with her for many years or even someone like Issa, right? I think the reason why there’s people in my life that I truly go to for advice is because they’re human. I feel like they’re just like me, right? We’re just people at the end of the day. That means a lot because I think, again, so much of this industry cannot be that, and it’s hard to navigate because of all these other things, but yeah, there are just people who are just themselves that I think I respect and work with a lot more in that degree.

[00:57:11] Maori Karmael Holmes: Well, I have one last question for you and I was just curious. You’re so young. I think you might be the youngest guest we have this season.

[00:57:18] Deniese Davis: What? Oh, my God! Just how old you think I am? No, I’m kidding.

[00:57:23] Maori Karmael Holmes: Well, I calculated from an article. So I think you’re 34, 35?

[00:57:29] Deniese Davis: Uh-oh. Am I? I’ll say you’re 20. Oh, yeah. I just turned 34. Thank you. Well, I just had a birthday so I was like, “Am I 35? No, no, no, I’m not there yet.” I’m 34.

[00:57:37] Maori Karmael Holmes: Okay. Happy belated birthday.

[00:57:39] Deniese Davis: Thank you.

[00:57:40] Maori Karmael Holmes: I mean, you’re 10 years younger than me. So I mean, I’m saying young, I’m not saying it like you’re a child, but significantly young to have accomplished so much. I was just curious if you have any interest in other career paths once you produce your musical and you produce some feature films. You know what I mean? In 10 more years, do you think you’ll want to do this forever or do you imagine you want to try your hand, and I don’t know what else? Are there other things that you’re interested in?

[00:58:07] Deniese Davis: Man, you were just speaking my life. So I think so much of the last couple of years of me going through this moment of coming out of my own shell and launching Reform and doing all of that. That question actually came up to myself just in terms of thinking about longevity and thinking about … It’s almost like I go back to my basketball days where there’s a part of me now, I’ve gotten to a point where I know I’m not near the top, I know I’m not exactly where I want to be just yet, but I know it’s going to come at some point, right? I do think and believe that there’s going to be a point in time where I know I’m going to want to do less and less, at least in terms of the nature of what I do, and that’s just because of how much it takes a toll on you. I also tend to joke but very seriously say, “I also don’t want to be that six-year-old executive or producer who’s still trying to be relevant and still trying to tell the people half my age what the audience wants to watch.” I just want to enjoy being old, and hopefully, I have grandkids and not trying to hold onto power because, again, if you work your whole life, when do you get to enjoy it? So what I’ve decided on is there will come a point where I do step away from this active producing. I’m sure I’ll be involved to a degree, but this level of it and shift gears to probably one of two things or both, which is I want to teach one day. I get asked a lot even to this day, but I feel like I still have more to learn. I’m too young. I don’t have the time to commit, but I do want to teach one day, the reason why I also was excited to go to grad school and get a master’s degree. So I definitely see that in my purview at some point. Maybe that’ll be my retirement plan. Then the other side is something that I forgot about myself from my childhood days, but I used to love to write and not be a screenwriter. Dear God, to this day, I promise you I don’t want to be a scriptwriter, but I used to write my own made up stories, my own books as a kid. I would write chapters of characters and all these things. I found a journal from the fifth grade when it asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” What struck me was that it didn’t say a basketball player, didn’t say like anything that I would’ve thought it might’ve said. It said I wanted to be a writer. I was like, “Whoa! I forgot about this. I forgot about this side of me,” that, yes, that’s always been creative, but you know what? In some ways, that’s right. I mean, sure you can hear it now how much I love to sit here and brainstorm, coming up with stories and what to see on the screen, but then obviously, then work in tandem with the writer to bring that to life and execute, but from a novelist standpoint, I was like, “Why not? Why can’t I go and be a young Terry McMillan and just go write some Black family love novels or have a whole second career and telling other types of stories that I can just sit down and write on a beach one day?” So that’s probably one idea. Whether I’ll get there, who knows? I think it’s something that I’ve come around to saying, “Ah, all right. When I retire from producing, I’m going to go teach and I’m going to live on a beach and write novels.” I think that sounds amazing.

[01:01:18] Maori Karmael Holmes: I love that for you.

[01:01:20] Deniese Davis: Yeah. I mean, why not? Because I also I think as much as I’m not producing, part of me is like, “Oh, that’s where all this the most I feel creatively.” I can still continue to be creative just in a different way, and maybe in a challenging way. Obviously, you can tell I tend to like putting myself in challenging positions. So yeah, maybe that’s what’s next. So girl, I don’t know. We got 30 more years. So we’ll see. That could change. That could change.

[01:01:47] Maori Karmael Holmes: Word. Well, thank you so much. I mean, this has been so illuminating and instructive even to me. I really appreciate you taking the time.

[01:01:55] Deniese Davis: No, thank you. I mean, look, I appreciate you doing your homework, your research, and asking such wonderful questions. This has been really fun. Sounds like an old catch up with old friends. So thank you.

[01:02:25] Maori Karmael Holmes: The follow Deniese’s work, check out her production company at You can follow Deniese on Instagram, @msdeniese. 

This season of Many Lumens is brought to you by Open Society Foundations. It is produced by BlackStar Projects in partnership with Row Home Productions. The host and executive producer of Many Lumens is me, Maori Karmael Holmes. This episode was produced by Imani Leonard and Dallas Taylor. Associate producers are Irit Reinheimer and Farrah Rahaman. Managing producer is Alex Lewis. Executive editor is John Meyers. Our music supervisor is David “Lil’ Dave” Adams. BlackStar’s music and cinema fellow is supported by the Pop Culture Collaborative. Our theme song was composed by Vijay Mohan and remixed by Lil’ Dave. This episode features music by AprilFoolChild and Trigo Fair. Sending you light and see you next time.