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The Empire of Ebony


The story of John H. and Eunice Johnson’s Johnson Publishing Company is one of vision, innovation and legacy. Started in 1942 in Chicago, the company grew into a publishing juggernaut that included not just its iconic magazines—Ebony and Jet —but also books, cosmetics, fashion, television and radio stations. 

Through groundbreaking reporting and revolutionary photography, Ebony and Jet chronicled over 75 years of African American history at a time when the mainstream press told Black stories in stereotypes. From the civil rights movement to the intimate personal lives of Black celebrities, Ebony was often the only place to see aspirational stories of Black success.

And yet, historians are only now beginning to fully examine this empire. Mr. Johnson - worth hundreds of millions of dollars by the 1980’s --built a company that advanced his race from within a segregated system. Contemporary scholars say he embodied a double consciousness as both a race man and a capitalist, and faced his share of critics along the way. To examine Johnson Publishing is to engage with both the myth and the reality of the American dream, and to discover an unparalleled legacy.  

The Filmmakers

Lisa Cortés Director

Lisa Cortés is an Academy Award® nominated and Emmy-winning producer and director. In 2020, Lisa co-directed All In: The Fight For Democracy, which appeared on the Oscar documentary short-list and was nominated for BAFTA, WGA, and NAACP awards. She was a producer on The Apollo with Roger Ross Williams. Previously, Lisa executive produced the film Precious (2009), which was nominated for six Academy Awards® and won two, and received the Sundance Audience Award and Grand Jury Prize for best drama. Her film productions have received over 80 international awards and nominations.

Alyse Shorland Producer

Alyse Shorland is a two-time Emmy and Peabody winning producer and director. She's produced documentaries for HBO, CNN, FX, Hulu, and the New York Times, as well as several forthcoming independent productions. Alyse was previously a producer for Vice News Tonight on HBO, which won 14 Emmys and received 51 nominations in its first three years. She’s produced longform projects for CBS This Morning and CBS's Sunday Morning, and was a founding producer on the CNN documentary series Black in America with Soledad O’Brien.

Geoff Martz Producer

Geoff Martz is a 4-time Emmy Award-winning producer.  He left ABC in 2018 to join Roger Ross Williams in starting One Story Up.   Since then, One Story Up has produced two limited series for Netflix (The Innocence Files and High on the Hog), as well as a feature for HBO (Between the World and Me, based on the book by Ta-Nehisi Coates) a series for Topic that features short films by under-represented filmmakers, a doc feature for Netflix (Civil: Ben Crump), as well as Master of Light, a doc feature that just won SXSW, the San Francisco Film Festival, and Sheffield.   In production right now is a limited series for Hulu/Disney (The 1619 Project), an unannounced limited series for Apple +, the second season of High on the Hog for Netflix, a hybrid doc feature for Netflix (Stamped from the Beginning), and a doc feature for A&E (untitled TLC project).