By Victoria Kim

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Tara Duncan Is Navigating Hollywood On Her Own Terms.

Guided by powerful creative instincts and leading with a spirit of inclusion, Tara Duncan is breaking new ground at the helm of Onyx Collective.

Duncan spearheaded the formation of Onyx Collective, a content brand under Disney that spotlights storytelling by underrepresented voices and artists of color. With not even three years in the business, Onyx has come out of the gate shining. 

The brand’s debut project, Summer of Soul (…Or, When the Revolution Could Not Be Televised), brought home numerous awards including a Grammy for Best Music Film and an Academy Award for Best Documentary Feature.

More noteworthy projects followed, including the Emmy-winning docuseries The 1619 Project and The Other Black Girl based on the novel by Zakiya Dalila Harris.

Duncan grew up just east of Hollywood, spending her childhood in the desert suburb of Inland Empire, California. “As a kid I had a love for storytelling and a really big imagination,” she said. “I was one of those kids who was writing plays and performing for my parents and their friends.” Film and TV “exposed me to a world outside of my own and provided a window into other people’s lives. It fed my curiosity in people.”

Right out of high school, Duncan landed a paid internship at ABC Daytime through the Emma Bowen Foundation. She credits Sandra Rice, who ran the program at the time, with bridging the gap to the world of media. “There was really a class of executives that she helped usher into the business,” Duncan said.

Duncan’s first job in the industry was at Section Eight, George Clooney and Steven Soderbergh’s production company (Ocean’s Eleven, Syriana). “That gave me a very high-level view into the business at a very young age.”

From there, Duncan made her mark on major network and streaming brands including AMC (notably at the dawn of its Mad Men and Breaking Bad era) and Netflix during the “very early days” as one of the company’s first creative executives. There, she oversaw the development of original programming hits like Orange Is The New Black, Dear White People and Narcos.

Duncan’s ability to connect with audiences starts with the one at home—her family. “My family watches everything and they do not hold back their opinions on the family text chain,” Duncan laughs. “So, I want to make sure that whenever they see something I’ve worked on, it’s going to get a good review.”

Throughout her journey in the industry, Duncan honed what came naturally —her creative instincts and knack for guiding impactful brand evolution in a way that speaks to audiences. “I’ve really enjoyed being at places when they’re new, and you are building and looking to define a brand,” she said.

The creative powerhouse landed at Onyx Collective in 2021, embracing the newly launched brand’s vision of being a platform for diverse narratives. As a Black woman in Hollywood, Duncan’s instinct is to lead with heart. “As a Black woman, I feel empathetic towards anyone who sees themselves as an underdog,” she said.

This approach has been her cornerstone, empowering her executive and creative decision making at Onyx and throughout her career. “That’s been the thing that’s resonated with me as I think about the types of artists I want to champion and the types of stories I want to provide a platform for,” she said.

As we’re seeing more diverse representation on-screen, Duncan too has witnessed a shift in her industry. More than ever, she feels a sense of community among colleagues. “Ultimately, we’re all on the same team no matter what company you work for,” she said. “We do have representation and I feel connected to everyone’s successes in the business.”

With Duncan and others at the helm, the landscape is changing. But there is more work ahead. “I definitely feel like I’m a part of a shift that’s happened over the last few years,” she said. “But I also don’t think it could be understated just how far we have to go.”

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