The world’s first ever Black-owned Animation Studio was founded in 1966. Rather than sit by and allow people outside of the Black culture to dictate the depiction and direction of their people, legendary animators Leo Sullivan, Floyd Norman, Richard Allen, and Norm Edelen decided to take matters into their own hands and joined forces to create Vignette Films, Inc.
Vignette Films, Inc. would go on to produce iconic Black symbols in the pop culture space. However, rather than being seen for its talent, Vignette was viewed in the industry as the “Black company,” which hindered its clientele and forced it to shut its doors permanently in the early 1970s.
But this wasn’t the end of Black culture in the animation industry. Since then, Black-owned animation companies have become more widespread with imaginative characters and universes that tell Black and Brown stories from an authentic space.
1. D’ART Shtajio
D’ART Shtajio was created by Arthell and Darnell Isom, two twin brothers from New Jersey with a passion for art. After studying animation in college, Arthell set his sights on Japan where he was mentored by Hiromasa Ogura, the art director of his favorite anime Ghost In Shell. After working under Ogura for five years, Arthell joined forces with his brother and, in 2016, created the first ever Black-owned anime studio in Japan.
Since then, the 2-D animation house has set out to revolutionize the world of animation by combining Western styles of art and storytelling with traditional themes of Japanese animation. Their extensive portfolio includes everything from music videos with top 40 artists to production work on popular anime titles. When they’re not breaking ground in the anime industry, they can be found speaking at panels encouraging aspiring animators and providing insights into the experience of breaking into the anime industry.
2. Martian Blueberry
Co-founded by entrepreneur Love Barnett and award-winning animator Carl Jones, Martian Blueberry offers services in visual effects and design with an emphasis on 2D/3D animation. Their portfolio includes advertising, TV, films, NFTs, WEB3, and music videos with clients ranging from Megan Thee Stallion to Adult Swim.
As a lifelong fan of art, Barnett grew tired of feeling overlooked in a medium that has been supported by the Black community for so long. The lack of diversity among animation staff often caused confusion and creative barriers in animated projects like The Boondocks where, according to an interview with Black Girl Nerds, animator Carl Jones confessed he often had to split his production time breaking down Black mannerisms and culture to animators who kept missing the mark.
Rather than spend more time teaching people how to translate our swag, Barnett and Jones decided to take matters into their own hands and create toons for themselves. That creative control allowed them to produce untold stories from POVs that were unique to the community with characters, features, and skin tones that were accurately aligned with who we really are. From their distinguished founders to the head of their production team, every one of the “Martians” is Black, allowing for authenticity and inclusion to really shine through in their work. Best of all, at their core Martian Blueberry are fans of the industry who enjoy anime, gaming, and cartoons as much as the next Blerd.
3. BWA Studios
BWA—or Black Woman Animate—is an animation studio that creates content and programming across numerous platforms including fashion, music, and streaming services. Founded by CEO Taylor K. Shaw, the studio prides itself on its all-women staff and providing a home for talent that is graciously overlooked.
Tired of the lack of diversity in toons, both on screen and behind the scenes, the Brooklyn native sought to create her own network that would help put Black women (and women of color in general) on the map. In 2017, with the help of activist JLove Calderón, she created Black Woman Animate and has since created a community that consists of over 200 Black women and non-binary creatives of color.
When they’re not creating animated segments for corporations like Hulu and Mattel, they can often be found giving back to their community by offering events, programs, and initiatives for talent development, social justice, and inclusivity.
4. Lion Forge Entertainment
Lions Forge has come a long way; the brand started off as a comic book company and in 2019 expanded to a full-service animation studio with a mission statement of creating content that challenges expectations and reflects the diversity of their audience.
As the largest Black-owned animation company in the United States, Lion Forge Entertainment takes pride in producing content that doubles as a “window and a mirror.”
By forming international partnerships, Lions Forge Entertainment hopes to touch the hearts of children around the world, exposing them to diverse content that promotes education and cultural sensitivity while also telling stories from unique POVs that children of color find familiar and relatable. With six productions to their name and twelve currently in the works, including the highly anticipated Max series Young Love, they hope to continue developing, sourcing, and producing animated films, shorts, and shows that empower Black and Brown children while opening the door for new social norms and perspectives.
5. CBA Studios
Cleveland-born animator Chaz Bottoms knew he wanted to be an animator as soon as he knew it was a lucrative career. The 2023 30 Under 30 recipient moved out to L.A. after college, where he was inspired to create his own company. In 2019, he brought this dream to life with the creation of his online-based 2-D animation studio Chaz Bottoms Animation.
The creation of CBA Studios fulfilled Bottom’s wishes to collaborate with fellow Black artists and friends who were continuously overlooked for jobs in commercial studios. Since its creation, the animation house has committed to creating jobs for diverse talent in the entertainment industry, collaborating with artists through their shared love of Black culture. CBA Studio’s mission of creating compelling stories that combine passion, culture, and inclusivity has helped them connect with clients all over the world, from athletes and musicians to partnerships with global brands and streaming services. Their first in-house project is an animated film that Bottoms calls “a love letter” to the city of Chicago and young creatives. Battu: An Animated Musical is a hip-hop musical with a Chi-town style and flare. The short, which stars a predominantly Black cast and crew, is set to drop this year.
BGN would like to thank these Black entrepreneurs for pushing through, working hard, and paving the way for future generations of Black creatives who dare to dream of belonging in creative spaces that we seldom see ourselves reflected in. Your creations give us hope, and your presence shows that any limits that are placed on us are only there to be broken through.
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Kaillaby is a writer from The Bronx with infectious high energy and a passion for geek culture. She loves connecting with Blerds like herself and hopes to create her own cartoon someday.