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Changing the Picture

Tracey Edmonds, executive

Courtesy Tracey Edmonds

By Lenora Chu

The chicken pox may have kept her from a star turn in a Babyface music video, but it didn’t stop what Tracey Edmonds calls her “slow pull” into the entertainment world. More than 15 years later, Edmonds, ’87, has found her place among Hollywood’s power set.

Last year, Edmonds scored the biggest assignment of her career: heading the new studio Our Stories Films. She was handpicked by two entertainment heavyweights: BET founder Bob Johnson and Harvey Weinstein of former Miramax fame.

“Tracey was our first and best choice on a very short list of African-American executives who could run a studio from the business and creative side,” Johnson says. “She has a passion for things that are important.” Johnson created Our Stories Films with a $200 million budget and the idea of giving African-Americans a place to greenlight their own films. Johnson and Edmonds together decide which projects to fund, and the Weinstein Company will distribute.

Edmonds, best known as the producing force behind 1997’s sleeper hit Soul Food, says Our Stories eliminates the problem she faced time and again as an African-American producer: trying to sell urban projects to “white studio executives who don’t understand what we’re pitching.”

“Our Stories will be a breath of fresh air, an open door for minorities to bring us their film projects,” Edmonds says. She cites Latina actresses Eva Mendes and Salma Hayek, now also a producer, as other women of color making headway in Hollywood. “Hopefully they will help create more opportunities the same way I want to as I’m able to grow and position myself in the industry,” Edmonds says.

Our Stories will produce urban comedies with $7 million to $10 million budgets. First up is Who’s Your Caddy?, which stars Big Boi of the rap group OutKast and is set to premiere this summer. The storyline involves an educated rap mogul whose entourage wreaks havoc on a Waspy country club because it doesn’t admit blacks.

Also in the works is a deal with Cedric the Entertainer, who will write and star in the story of a football idol who returns home to a blue-collar job and leads a rebellion against factory management. In “Bad in Bed,” Boris Kodjoe will attempt to win back his dream girl by apprenticing with an exotic dancer to learn better bedroom skills. The workplace comedy “Mission: Intolerable” will feature a professional temp whose sole aim is to compel others to quit their jobs.

Our Stories projects will target an urban audience, where comedies have historically enjoyed success. Profitability won’t depend on widespread appeal, although “of course we hope to reach as many people as possible,” Edmonds says.

Born Tracey McQuarn, Edmonds recalls “trying to keep up with the rich kids” at Stanford. Her parents divorced when she was young; life with her mother and younger brother was loving and secure, but money was tight. To pay college tuition, she worked odd jobs at a local restaurant, the psychology department and the financial aid office. She remembers with mock horror the day an eating club manager pulled her aside to say her check had bounced.

“My kids don’t have to deal with those things, which is great,” says Edmonds, who now resides in a multimillion-dollar Beverly Hills home. These days her challenge is to make sure “a nanny isn’t raising my kids,” given that her workdays can stretch past midnight. “I’m always rushing, rushing, rushing,” says Edmonds, who exudes a down-to-earthiness that pairs blue jeans with diamonds.

Edmonds graduated in psychobiology in 1987 and moved back to Southern California and her mother’s real estate business with plans to eventually enter medical school. On a lark she snagged a part in a Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds music video.

Although Edmonds was unable to start shooting, her mother commanded her to greet the Grammy-winning R&B artist—sweatpants, chicken pox and all. One thing led to another, and they married in 1992. “I discovered you can really make a lot of money owning music copyrights,” Tracey Edmonds says. Then came music publishing and a record label. Eventually the Edmondses launched into film and television production—including the current hit reality series College Hill—under the banner of the Edmonds Entertainment production company, where Edmonds still has oversight duties.

Divorced from Babyface since 2006, Edmonds acknowledges she’s been fortunate to meet people who have opened doors. “But once an opportunity’s created for you, you have to deliver,” she says.

These days, she shares her free time with her sons, Brandon, 10, and Dylan, 6, as well as entertainer Eddie Murphy. At the mention of Murphy, her face brightens. “He was one of those unexpected gifts that just walked into my life,” she says. “I love smart men, he’s obviously funny, and I just enjoy every minute we spend together.”

LENORA CHU, ’95, is a writer in Los Angeles.

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