Kemp Powers had no film credits in 2018, when he was summoned to Pixar Animation Studios in Emeryville, Calif., to give notes on a secret work in progress. During the flight from Los Angeles, the playwright and former journalist reviewed 40 minutes of rough storyboard footage sent by Pete Docter, the Oscar-winning director of "Up" and "Inside Out." "It was very cloak-and-dagger," Powers said, adding, "You sign a whole ton of N.D.A.s." Three years into the making of "Soul," the movie's lead character, Joe Gardner, had evolved from a white actor to a Black jazz pianist who — with his life hanging in the balance — discovers his reason for living. Docter and the screenwriter Mike Jones are white, and they needed help: The first Black protagonist in the studio's 34-year animation history had to feel specific and authentic. Powers eventually left Emeryville as the only Black co-writer and co-director of a Pixar film to date. Meanwhile, " One Night in Miami ," using a script he wrote based on his own play, was charging into production, with Regina King making her feature directing debut. Now both films are opening on Dec. 25 — " Soul " on Disney+, "Miami"… Read full this story
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