Reel Black List: Kozi Kyles, creator, actor, entrepreneur

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Kozi Kyles

Kozi Kyles

From data plots to story plots:
This native Chicagoan,
Duke University alum,
and marketer / filmmaker
produces everything
from digital series
to compelling content
for top brands

Kozi Kyles, co-founder of Myth Lab Entertainment, is an award-winning content producer and marketing executive with film / TV and media experience.

While heading up brand partnerships for home entertainment giant, Redbox, the Chicago-born cinephile took full advantage of all the free films at her disposal.

Independently, she has produced original content for major brands including P&G, Cadillac, and EBONY.

A Duke University graduate, Kozi once earned the ear (and eye) of B-movie mogul Roger Corman for her short film Immaculate Obsession, a schizophrenically shot piece about an OCD sufferer trapped in a filthy public restroom.

Among her honors, she has been named a finalist for the prestigious ABC TV Talent Development & Diversity Program, a winner of a LAWEBFEST award for an original web series, HR: The Series, and one of the Chicago Defender’s Top 40 Under 40.

Kozi also has appeared on camera with credits as an actress and model representing brands including Pantene, The Onion, EBONY magazine, Walgreens, Garrett Popcorn, Feldco, and McDonald’s.

She has trained at Chicago’s famous iO writing program, Second City, Acting Studio Chicago, and The Green Room Studio.

 
CUBICLE CREEPSHOW | TRAILER

 
 

What was your first break? My first break in entertainment was an internship at Tracey Edmonds’ production company developing TV & film projects that included the popular Soul Food TV series. For as long as I can remember, I’ve kept a notepad by my bed so I can jot down all of the movie and television show ideas that pop into my head late at night. This internship was invaluable because it showed me the steps needed to take those creative concepts from ideas scribbled on paper to completed productions.
 

Worst thing that ever happened to you to remind you that you are Black? I take pride in my heritage and that’s not something I’d ever forget (or try to). I’ve experienced some truly disgusting situations, including the n-word carved into my parents’ driveway when I was growing up in a predominantly White neighborhood. There were some other run-ins when I was a child with other students who refused to hold my hands during a dance recital because I was Black or didn’t invite me to their birthday parties because of my skin color.

But what is chilling in a different vein is when “well-meaning” non-Black individuals have felt compelled to give me a “race reminder” because I wanted to do something that fell outside of their narrow concept of Blackness.

During my high school days, I had a drama coach who insisted it would be preposterous for me to perform Shakespeare along with my classmates because I (unlike those classmates) wasn’t White. I had won several oratory competitions with a wide variety of pieces,” but for some reason, this instructor thought I’d be setting myself up for failure if I didn’t portray a more “realistic” character. She found a poem with “classic Negro dialect” and argued it was more appropriate for me to perform.

Today, working both on-camera and behind the scenes in production, I see how that same “well-meaning” thinking limits opportunities for minority actors and creatives if left unchecked.
 

Best thing to ever happen to you to remind you that you are Black? That’s a hard question to answer, but I will tell you what one of the best things about being Black is, and it’s an almost innate resilience. I learned at an early age not to allow someone’s limited thinking to put limits on what I, or others like me, can achieve. Luckily, I come from a long line of challengers of the status quo, including my Great Grandmother on my mother’s side who was a Civil Rights advocate that fought alongside Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. for voters’ rights even when she was threatened with physical violence or arrest. If those before me didn’t succumb under that kind of pressure, how could I?
 

Work you are most proud of? I’ve been fortunate to work on high-profile campaigns with really great brands but there is something uniquely rewarding when you can channel that same energy into completing your own passion projects.

My sister, Kyra Kyles, and I have been crafting creative stories since our days playing Barbies in our playroom. We’d written screenplays together and even had an option for a TV pitch, but our web series, Human Resources, was the first time we put something into production on our own. The web series also gave us an opportunity to work with some great diverse talent in Chicago including one of our favorite comedians, Lil Rel. Talk about dream casting. He’s now become the patron saint of horror and sci-fi movies, “Get Out” and “Bird Box,” but we’re so proud to have featured him in the genre first.
 

How has the business changed since you broke in? My background is in marketing and entertainment production. When I first started out in my career, I always felt I had to choose between the two paths. Now you see entertainment playing a larger role in marketing strategy as more brands are embracing branded content and original programming to engage their consumers.

Additionally, I’m seeing more platforms for content and more direct access to audiences. I think this change is critical because content creators of color have consistently faced barriers going the traditional routes of TV and film, but now we can find and reach audiences through mediums including Web series, podcasts, and social media. As an avid web series watcher, I’ve been inspired by the success of some of my favorite creators and digital stars like Issa Rae, Lena Waithe, and Franchesca Ramsey.
 

Trapped on an island, what essentials must you have? I would love to have my MacBook and filmmaking / screenwriting software on hand, but at minimum, pens and notepads to jot down my ideas. Music triggers my creativity, particularly 90s hip-hop, so I’d need some way to access all of my carefully curated Spotify playlists. (Hopefully this island has some strong WiFi.)
 

If you had a time machine, what would you say to your past self? Looking back through my notebook of ideas, I’ve seen similar concepts go into production and wanted to kick myself for not striking first. I’d say: “Don’t wait to get it perfect. Get it out there.” And frankly, I should know better as I was on the Latin team in high school. Carpe Diem (Seize the day)!
 

If you could have a one-on-one with anyone who would it be? And why? I have so many, but I’ll talk about two in particular:

Ava DuVernay. Coming from a marketing background myself, I’m fascinated by how she leveraged her career experience in publicity and marketing to become the entertainment mogul we know and admire today. I also love how she’s using those same skills to champion other content creators of color and to push for more access to distribution.

Debbie Allen. I might need to borrow that time machine for this one. In college, I missed a shot at a meeting with the multi-hyphenate phenom. From Debbie’s career as an actress/dancer/choreographer to directing some of the biggest shows on television, I’d love to talk to her about career longevity and reinvention.
 

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