HBO Max Is Developing a Post-Civil Rights Era Drama Series About Essence Magazine's Origin Story

Co-founder of Essence magazine Edward Lewis attends the 2018 Essence Festival on July 6, 2018, in New Orleans, La.
Co-founder of Essence magazine Edward Lewis attends the 2018 Essence Festival on July 6, 2018, in New Orleans, La.
Photo: Paras Griffin/Getty Images for Essence (Getty Images)

The essence of Essence Magazine is coming to your television screens!

According to Deadline, HBO Max is developing a period drama series based on the launch of Essence Magazine, executive produced by the co-founder of the publication and Chairman-Publisher Emeritus of Essence Communications, Inc. (ECI), Edward Lewis. Shukree Tilghman and Jessica Rambo will co-write the project.

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Deadline provides the scoop on what to expect from the series:

Set amid the changing social and cultural landscape of post-civil rights era America, the series is inspired by the relationships between the men who founded the iconic women’s magazine, Essence, and the women who were the creative force behind it, as they create something mainstream America has never seen before. The show will tell the story of a Black startup before “startup” was a term and explores universal themes of love, loss and the pursuit of the American Dream.

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ECI was founded in 1968 by Lewis, Clarence O. Smith, Cecil Hollingsworth, and Jonathan Blount. Essence Magazine began publishing in May of 1970, marketed as a lifestyle magazine for upscale Black women. This year marked the 50th anniversary of the publication, which is a fantastic feat meant for celebration, but this year has also brought on some turmoil for Essence, unfortunately.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic, Essence had to cancel its epic in-person Essence Festival and pivoted to digital, which was surely a major financial hit as the festival serves as a huge revenue stream for the company. Additionally, the publication has dealt with an array of internal issues, including a very public controversy involving former and current staff members’ serious claims against the company’s c-suite membership.

Last week, the company announced temporary furloughs for most of its editorial staff. While the official Essence statement assured us that the recent alarming furloughs don’t mean the digital and print versions of the magazine will cease to exist, it’s important to note that the decision alone definitely heightened an ongoing conversation regarding the legacy of Black publications.

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We’ve already been mourning the tragic downfall of other beloved Black publications such as Ebony Magazine and Jet Magazine, so preserving all of these publications’ respective legacies is of utmost importance. Perhaps this upcoming series will ensure that in some way for Essence regardless of what the future holds in these uncertain times.

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You know how superheroes have origin stories within a cinematic universe? Well, Essence Magazine can be considered a superhero in the publication universe as, since its purchase by Shea Moisture co-founder Richelieu Dennis in 2018, ECI is once again one of the largest African American-owned communications companies in the U.S. I look forward to seeing how this series plays out—and hopefully, learning some new things about this legacy publication!

Staff Writer, Entertainment at The Root. Sugar, spice & everything rice. Equipped with the uncanny ability to make a Disney reference and a double entendre in the same sentence.

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