Black women have a history of being creatives in media. Some o f the most recent and prominent examples are Insecure star Issa Rae, who’s Youtube web-series Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl loosely inspired the show. Lena Waithe has written and produced shows like Dear White People, Master Of None, and The Chi. Ava DuVernay has been nominated for the Directors Guild Nomination Award for her work in Netflix’s When They Us, she is also the creator and executive producer for Queen & Sugar.
I listed those names to highlight the fact that black women are making major moves as creatives in media. One of those women making noise is Key Williams. At just 26 years young, Key has built an impressive resume. Whether it was graduating college or stints with BET, Netflix, Buzzfeed & Genius Key has silently put in the work and represented black women well.
I had the opportunity to speak with the young black innovator and learn more about her come up and how it feels to most times be the only black face let alone women in most work spaces. Learn more about the next great African American media mogul.
While speaking with Key one thing stood out to me instantly, her humbleness. Maybe it’s her upbringing in the south, born and raised in Memphis Key didn’t always think what she has accomplished in her career so far was even possible, especially not this fast.
“If you know where I come from, you know that it’s absolutely an act of God that I’m in the position that I’m in today and I don’t take it for granted.”
Although Key is from a small town, she didn’t let that hinder her from dreaming big. Key attended the University of Arkansas where she would soon find her passion.
While in college, Key was able to land an internship with Darling Magazine and hometown radio station K97FM Clear Channel Radio. These internships instilled confidence in Key which is paramount in this profession.
“ I encourage everyone to do their research on what kind of internships are the best fit for the career path they want to go on and to try out different internships. I did 3 internships outside of television / film before I realized that television and film is what I wanted to do. Ultimately it all worked to my advantage because I was able to see what I liked and what I loved.”
As a recent college grad that quote stands out to me. We all think we know what we want to do but many times we have no idea until we get a taste of that life.
Realizing that her love was truly in television and film, Key applied for and then landed an internship with BET that would change her life forever.
The internship was located in Los Angeles and forced the girl from the south to have to adjust on the fly.
“Going from the south to LA was definitely a culture shock. I was in college in Arkansas right before I moved to LA, so it was a hard transition. I think my perspective and view of the world shifted immediately once I moved though. I feel like I was given freedom to dream and to be who I truly was and it was normalized vs feeling “weird” or like a “black sheep” because of my interests.”
Key was so impressive during her time with BET, that the internship that was slated to last for the summer extended longer than that and allowed her to finish her degree on the West Coast.
“I remember being like 16 or 17 and talking about all the things I wanted to do one day and the vision I had for my life and being told because of where I come from that it was unrealistic and that I needed a more “realistic” plan. In LA though, nothing is unrealistic. Every dream has a place and I needed that in order to flourish.”
While in Los Angeles, Key took full advantage of all the opportunities that the city provided. Shortly after her time with BET, Key became the only black women producer at Buzzfeed.
Like Dan Freeman in Sam Greenlee’s “The Spook Who Sat By The Door” many of us will be the only black face in a lot of our work spaces. However, Key was able to excel in the somewhat uncomfortable position.
“My goal was to just bring “Key” and the young, black, innovative voice to every video that I made and hoped that people would be impacted by it and would relate. The channel had like 19 million subscribers, so I couldn’t let that platform go to waste.”
Not resting on her laurels Key continued to push the envelope and became the LA producer/director of original shows for Genius.
“Working at Genius was great and one of the best experiences that I’ve had in this industry. I got to oversee and produce all the shows in LA so everything from Verified to Framework, to Deconstructed and even Genius Tests. It was dope! I’m a music fanatic and I swear I was a rapper in a past life, so it was amazing waking up everyday and getting to hang out and create content with some of my favorite artists.”
After solidifying herself as a creative on the rise in Los Angeles, Key then became a diversity scholar at the Amy Poehler’s, Upright Citizens Brigade Comedy School, who’s produced acts like Childish Gambino and Nicole Byer. Which elevated her career further by forcing her out of her comfort zone.
“I’m not easily phased by most things, so performing and forcing myself to react to things I normally wouldn’t, has been a good challenge for me as a person, as a creative and has opened a lot of opportunities professionally. “
With Key’s star growing larger with every new opportunity, she deals with an issue that is not talked about much in the black community, depression. Key has been dealing with depression since she was a pre-teen but has now learned how to manage it.
“I do a lot of things to manage it though, but the most important one is therapy. Therapy has saved and changed my life. Sometimes when I’m really going through it I’ll double up and go twice a week until I move into a better mental space. Other than that, I try to make room for self care. Something as minor as cleaning my place, going outside for a walk or spending time with people that I love helps me tremendously.”
Key is well on her way to becoming a prominent figure in media and in the film and television world.
Already hosting red carpets for the BET Awards, NAACP Image awards, speaking on panels for Revolt at SXSW, Edelman, working with brands like Adidas, writing and directing her first film “Kinfolk” that’s already been accepted into some film festivals, and now transitioning to being an on camera talent for some major studio projects in 2020/2021 all while surpassing one billion views across social media platforms and working for Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith, Key has even surpassed the goals she’s set for herself.
“Everything has really moved faster than I could’ve ever imagined. It’s terrifying, but it’s also super exciting to be in the middle of living my dream. I have a long ways to go, but I can’t wait to see what the next 5 years will look like.”
Winston Churchill once said, “Success is not final and failure is not fatal – it is the courage to continue that counts.” No one personifies that quote better than Key Williams. From growing up in a town where she was told her dreams were not realistic, moving to the west coast in pursuit of her dreams and conquering them one by one, being the only black woman in most spaces that she’s worked, to dealing with depression Key has crushed every obstacle in her way.
Key Williams is another example of how Black women are continuing to do their thing as influencers, creatives and innovators. We need to celebrate these women more and uplift them in all they do.