The Center of Hope LA — an Inglewood-based nondenominational church — is seeking to spread its message of hope in a creative way: by backing a production company and a physical studio located on the church’s four-acre campus.
Pastor Geremy Dixon hired Krenée Tolson, a TV and theater actress, writer, and producer to lead and direct the new operation. Tolson says she plans to cultivate local talent, develop short films and short-form digital content, and bring Hollywood to Inglewood. Tolson is looking for work that aligns with the broader message of hope.
“Content that lets us know more about our history, specifically as African Americans living and moving in a society that says it's post-racial, but not actually,” Tolson explains. “Hearing the voices and stories of marginalized individuals, all across the world, not just in America. Music that has heart. And what I mean by that is music that tells a story about the person's life.”
The church invested $500,000 into reconfiguring a space on their campus into a production space they’re calling Hope Studios, creating a sound stage, sound proofing, raising the space’s ceiling, and bringing in production equipment. Tolson says the goal is to use the studio space to fund a production company called Hope Entertainment.
“The entertainment company, that's where we produce content that we dream up, that we envision,” says Tolson. “We have the brick and mortar, we have the space, so we're able to rent it out to fund a lot of the other ideas that we want to do.”
Through the development of this content, Tolson aims to create opportunities for creatives that may not be available in Hollywood. According to UCLA’s 2022 Hollywood Diversity Report, people of color have made incremental progress in key roles such as film directors and writers. For instance, during the 2020-21 season, people of color made up only 30% of directors and 32% of film writers in Hollywood. Additionally, filmmakers who are people of color face hurdles in raising financing with about 67% of those films receiving a budget under $20 million.
“Hollywood has a little bubble that's hard to break into and so when you create companies like Hope Entertainment, when you create companies like Hope Studios, it brings business to Inglewood,” says Tolson.
Actress, producer, and writer Issa Rae, an Inglewood native, is well-practiced in bringing business to the community through her media production company, HOORAE Media, which produced five seasons of “Insecure,” an HBO comedy drama set in South LA and filmed partly in Ingelwood. HOORAE Chief of Staff Kaylin Cotton says Rae had a significant community and economic impact.
“She employed people from South LA,” says Cotton. “They were part of the crew. They were part of the cast of the show. And just showing beautiful spaces like Leimert Park, apartments in South LA, eateries, everything. … [Y]ou're just seeing them in such a completely different light.”
Cotton says the murder of George Floyd in 2020 sparked a call to create more inclusives spaces for people of color, specifically Black people, across many industries, inluding entertainment. In this spirit, Hope Entertainment and Hope Studios want to focus on ownership, control, and who reaps the benefits from the content created.
“We're Black-owned. There's something really important about that,” says Dixon. “I think there's something unique in a world of gentrification. I think the fact that we are centered in this neighborhood as predominantly an African American church with African American leadership. We're landowners. Representation matters. And I think young Black boys and young Black girls need to see not just representation and content creation, [but also] representation in platform ownership and industry ownership. [B]eing able to see a population of African American people with capacity is really important. There's some great people who can tell great stories, but no one can tell the African American story like African American people.”
Hope Entertainment plans to do just that after they officially launch next month.