Nigerian Film Producer Extraordinaire
…there is absolutely no mistaking this man’s awesome work!
MICHAEL AJAKWE JR. (WRITER-DIRECTOR-PRODUCER)
Since 1993, Ajakwe has worked in the theatre with renowned performers like Hil Harper, Vanessa Bell Calloway, Ted Lange, Phil Morris, Robert Ri’chard, Tommy Hicks, Tracee Ellis Ross, Art Evans, Gary Sturgis, James Pickens, Tatyana Ali, Marc Coppage, Estelle Harris, Wendy Raquel Robinson, Lee Garlington, Robert Pine, Shayla Rivera, Candace Parker, Gary Anthony Williams, Ralph Carter, Deniece Williams, Obba Babbatunde, Tony winner Charles Dutton, Emmy winners Glynn Turman and Niecy Nash, Golden Globe winner Debbie Allen, and Oscar winner Mo’Nique.
As a tv and film writer/producer, he’s worked with Martin Lawrence, Greg Kinear, Sherman Hemsley, Sheryl Lee Ralph, Reggie Hayes, Tichina Arnold, Tisha Campbell, Kelly Rowland, Charles Barkley, Marc Curry, Tracey Morgan, Tia & Tamera Mowry, Mary Hart, Kelita Smith, Leeza Gibbons, Brandy, Diondre Whitfield, Ali Landry, Kelly Perine, Tim Reid, Tommy Davidson, Ernest Thomas, Richard Lawson, John Tesh, Steve Harvey, Steve Trevino, Valery Ortiz, Dorien Wilson, Jason George, Judy Pace, Eve, Emmy winners Jackee and Paul Winfield, and 3-time Oscar nominee Djimon Honsou. As a tv segment and documentary writer/producer, he’s personally booked and interviewed Quincy Jones (twice), Clive Davis (twice), Sly Stone (twice), Stevie Wonder, Chaka Kahn, David Foster, Johnny Mathis, Ray Parker Jr., Deniece Williams, Cheryl Lynn, Tevin Campbell, Will Downing, Rosie Grier, Eddie Holland, Bill Withers, Kadeem Hardisson, Verdine White, Phillip Bailey, Toto co-founder David Paich, and the late great George Duke, Tina Allen and Robin Harris.
As a live events show writer, he’s written for Anthony Anderson, Kimberly Elise, Jo Marie Payton, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, ex-L.A. Police Chief Bernard Parks, NAACP National President Benjamin Todd Jealous, Kevin Ross, Jason Alexander, Ben Stiller, and the NAACP Theater Awards (’04-’06, ‘08). He’s also developed TV and/or film projects for Russell Simmons, Dr. Dre, Bret Ratner, Kim Fields, Reuben Cannon, Norman Howard (nephew of The Three Stooges), Beverly Todd, Vidal Sassoon, ex-
Ajakwe has written & directed 9 plays and produced 16 that have been nominated for 29 NAACP Theater Awards, winning 5. He’s a two-time NAACP Image Award-winning Producer (Unsung, 2011&12), an NAACP Theatre Award-winning Playwright (Company Policy, 1994), an NAACP Theater Award-winning Producer (Ted Lange’s Four Queens, No Trump!, 1997), two- time NAACP Theatre Award Nominated Director (If You Don’t Believe: A Love Story– featuring the songs of Deniece Williams, 2005; Body Language– featuring the songs of Patti LaBelle, 2006), an Emmy Award-winning TV producer (E!’s Talk Soup, 1995), an award-winning filmmaker (Happy Anniversary, Punk!), a web series creator (Who… on Ajakwetv.com & Ajakwetv.com/ mobile), and a historic festival founder (Los Angeles Web Series Festival – the first all-web series festival in the world– www.Lawebfest.com).
Born and raised in Los Angeles, Ajakwe graduated from Inglewood’s Morningside High, receiving the Outstanding Service Award. He attended the University of Redlands on an academic scholarship, earned Bachelor’s degrees in both English and Political Science, and was named Most Outstanding Senior of his graduating class. While still in college, he worked as a public relations writer for Redland’s Magazine, wrote freelance exposes for the Redlands Daily Facts, and for two years worked as a weekend sportswriter for the Riverside Press Enterprise.
In 2000, the release of Company Policy made Michael Ajakwe Jr. the first African-American to have a play published in the 21st Century. He’s written for and/or produced TV shows like Martin, Soul Food, The Parkers, Moesha, Between Brothers, The Brothers Garcia, Built To Last, Sister Sister, Entertainment Tonight, Talk Soup, Steve Harvey’s Big Time, Eve, Love That Girl and Unsung. He’s sold TV pilots to Paramount TV (The Second Family), Warner Bros. TV (Alley Cats), and LATV/ American Latino Syndication (Trevino). In 2002, Rat Entertainment (Bret Ratner) and Artisan Pictures (now Lionsgate) hired Ajakwe to write his first studio feature film– the biopic Crip. He’s also written spec feature films on Major League Baseball free agency icon Curt Flood, NBA great John Lucas, and the only Black quarterback to win the Super Bowl– Doug Williams.
From 2000-03 and in ‘09, he was the TV Professor for the Bill & Camille Cosby-sponsored Guy Hanks/Marvin Miller Screenwriting Fellowship Program at USC. Cosby Fellows he mentored have gone on to write for shows like Girlfriends, One On One, The Division, My Wife & Kids, The Proud Family, ER, The District, Eve, Little Bill, Kingpin, Lincoln Heights, Undercovers, House of Lies and The Blacklist.
In 2002, Michael Ajakwe Jr wrote, directed and co-produced (with Kosmond Russell, Ian Foxx, James Burkes and Lynne Conner) You’re All I Need To Get By: The Marvin Gaye/Tammi Terrell Love Story that starred William L. Johnson and Prince protégé Ashley Ta’Mar Davis in the title roles and attracted everyone from Lakers legend Norm Nixon to Britney and Jamie Spears.
In 2003, he, Jamie Foxx Show and Love That Girl creator Bentley Kyle Evans and legendary actress, choreographer and filmmaker Debbie Allen traveled to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil to develop the sitcom, Journal Feliz (The Good News), for Picante Entertainment. Ajakwe co-created a second sitcom for Picante, Mano A Mano (Brother To Brother), whose 18 episodes Season 1 ran on Brazilian tv in 2005.
In 2004, Ajakwe co-wrote and co-produced (along with Picante Entertainment) Rocket Science & Salsa: The Shayla Rivera Story at the Zephyr Theater in Hollywood. The sold-out, one- woman show about a Puerto Rican rocket scientist who gave up working for NASA to become a comic was co-written by Ajakwe and Rivera, directed by Debbie Allen, and nominated for two NAACP Theater Awards. Also in 2004, Ajakwe wrote, directed and produced If You Don’t Believe: A Love Story (Featuring the Songs of Deniece Williams) that starred ex-Fresh Prince of Bel- Air regular Tatyana Ali.
Ajakwe co-produced the musical with iconic songbird Deniece Williams herself, the play received 8 NAACP Theater Award Nominations (including Best Director), winning for Best Musical Director (Scott Allen). Next came Body Language (Featuring the Songs of Patti LaBelle). Originally produced in Los Angeles in 2005, it later ran at the 1800-seat Warner Theater in Washington D.C. in 2006. It received 7 NAACP Theater Award Nominations (including Best Director), winning again for Best Musical Director (Matilda Haywood) and Best Choreographer (Madonna Grimes).
In 2007, Ajakwe adapted his one-act play Happy Anniversary, Punk! into a short film that he also produced and directed. In just its second film festival, the 23-minute courtroom drama about Black-on- Black crime won the Jury Prize AND Audience Award for Best Short Film at the Mid-Atlantic Black Film Festival in Norfolk, Virginia.
Invited to West Africa for three weeks in 2008 to teach screenwriting workshops to Nigerian filmmakers by the Nigerian Film & Video Censor Board and the Writers Guild of Nigeria, Ajakwe returned to America and was commissioned by an independent production company to write the noir thriller No More Bloodshed that Taraji P. Henson was later attached to star in. Ajakwe closed out 2008 with a Beacon of Light Award from the City of Inglewood, California as it celebrated its Centennial. The other two honorees were Oscar- nominated director John Singleton and legendary gospel duo Mary Mary.
In 2009, he co-produced What Would Jimi Do? at the Stage 52 Playhouse. The one-act play, written by tv drama writer/ producer Felicia Henderson (Soul Food) starred Girlfriend’s Tracey Ellis Ross, and was attended by the legendary Diana Ross herself. It enjoyed a sold-out 6-week Los Angeles summer run. Also in 2009, Ajakwe was a punch up writer on Season 1 of the Martin Lawrence/Bentley Evans/Jeff Franklin/Raphael Saadiq produced sitcom Love That Girl starring Tatyana Ali and Phil Morris on the TV One cable channel. Ajakwe was also a writer on Season 1 of the T.D. Jakes produced sitcom One Love (aka Church Folks) starring Sherman Hemsley, Carl Payne, Chico Benymon, Marc Curry, Drew Sidora, Sheryl Lee Ralph, Kym Whitley, Buddy Lewis, Keith Robinson, and Jackee. To close out ’09,
Ajakwe jumped head first into the Internet by constructing his own web channel and creating a series for it. He wrote, produced and directed a 12-episode original web comedy featuring two opinionated beauties who meet every day for lunch and talk about people called Who… that you can watch for as little as $1 on your laptop at Ajakwetv.com or on your cell phone at Ajakwetv.com/mobile.
In 2010, Ajakwe was Program Director for the 2010 Mid- Atlantic Black Film Festival in Norfolk, Virginia alongside former Spike Lee producer Monty Ross. In 2011, he was honored by the American Medical & Educational Services in Africa Foundation. From 2010-12 he was a writer/ producer on the three-time NAACP Image Award-winning tv documentary series Unsung, having made one-hour life profiles on pop/soul legend Deniece Williams, legendary sideman-turned-solo star Ray Parker Jr., and influential rock/funk icon Sly & The Family Stone.
In March 2010, Michael Ajakwe Jr. started the world’s first all-web series festival when he launched the Los Angeles Web Series Festival (www.lawebfest.com). It has showcased over 1300 web series from 36 different states and 33 different countries and is the largest and most prestigious web series festival in the world. Since 2011, LAWEBFEST has sent 60 web series makers, guest speakers and board members on all-expenses-paid trips to Europe as a part of his festival’s annual LAWEBFEST-Marseille Webfest Grand Prize.
Ajakwe recently wrapped Season 1 of Basketball Wife (www.Facebook.com/BasketballWife)– a nine- episode single- camera TV comedy series he created, wrote, directed and produced that was adapted from his web series Who… (Ajakwetv.com). Mike tackled this Herculean project, which is currently being shopped to broadcast and cable networks, as further proof of the tremendous value that can be mined from online entertainment.
Michael Ajakwe Jr. has been featured in numerous books: The Future of Television: Your Guide To Creating Television In the New World by Pamela Douglas (Michael Weise Productions, 2015); Create Your Own TV Series For The Internet by Ross Brown (Michael Weise Productions, 2nd Edition, 2014); Digital Storytelling: A Creator’s Guide To Interactive Entertainment by Carolyn Handler Miller (Focal Press/Francis & Taylor, 3rd Edition, 2014); Crossmedia Innovations, Edited by Indrek Ibrus and Carlos A. Scolari (Peter Lang Publishing, 2013); Watching While Black, Edited by Beretta E. Smith-Shomade (Rutgers University Press, 2012); Black Comedians on Black Comedy by Darryl Littleton (Applause Books, 2010), The Script-Selling Game by Kathie Fong Yoneda (Michael Weise Productions, 2nd Edition, 2010), African-Americans in Television: Behind The Scenes by Greg Adamo (Peter Lang P ublishing, 2010).
Additionally, Ajakwe’s writings can be found in the books Now Write! Screenwriting Edited by Sherry Ellis and Laurie Lamson (Tarcher/Penguin Books, 2011), Souls of My Brothers Edited by Dawn Marie Daniels and Candace Sandy (Plume Books, 2003), South Of Where We Live a two-act play by Ken Davis, Edited by Michael Ajakwe Jr. and Stan Peters (Pipedream Press, 2003), South Central Stories: Double or Nothin’, The Ride, Happy Anniversary Punk! a two-act play by Michael Ajakwe Jr. (Pipedream Press, 2001); Company Policy: The Rage Behind The Mask Three one-act plays by Michael Ajakwe Jr. (Pipedream Press, 2000), Outstanding Stage Monologs & Scenes of the ‘90s Edited by Steven H. Gale (Merriweather Publishing, 2000), Best Stage Scenes 1996 Edited by Jocelyn A. Beard (Smith & Krause), Best Men’s Stage Monologues 1996 Edited by Jocelyn A. Beard (Smith & Krause), Best Men’s Stage Monologues 1995 Edited by Jocelyn A. Beard (Smith & Krause), and Best Women’s Stage Monologues 1995 Edited by Jocelyn A. Beard (Smith & Krause).
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