Hope, Not Tropes
Julius Tennon seeks to showcase the underrepresented at JuVee Productions.
He played an anesthesiologist; she played a nurse.
And she was nice. So Julius Tennon, then an actor on the CBS medical drama City of Angels, gave Viola Davis his card. "My mom always said that if you want to talk to a girl, give her your number," he says. "I did that, and she called and we went on a date."
Though that series lasted a mere 24 episodes, Tennon and Davis are still going strong. They wed in 2003 and continue to work together — but now in a more powerful and far- reaching capacity. In 2011, they formed JuVee Productions, a Los Angeles–based company that specializes in creating a platform for underrepresented voices.
"We wanted to get away from the tropes and stereotypes for people of color and show a broader spectrum of humanity," he explains, noting that it started as a passion project to showcase Davis's diverse skills.
As president, Tennon runs day-to-day operations and oversees 10 executives. "You have to be a good people person and do a lot of listening," he notes.
JuVee (a mesh of his first name and her nickname) signed a first-look deal with Amazon Studios in 2018 and currently has nine projects in the pipeline. Among them? The sci-fi drama series Wild Seed, the film Woman King with Davis and Lupita Nyong'o, and the Showtime series First Ladies.
Davis (who won an Emmy for How to Get Away with Murder and a Tony and an Oscar for Fences) is set to play Michelle Obama in the latter.
The company is also a partner in Time's "The March," a virtual-reality exhibit of the 1963 March on Washington, where 250,000 people witnessed Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech. The exhibit opens February 28 at the DuSable Museum of African American History in Chicago and will tour the country.
Tennon majored in theater at the University of Tulsa in Oklahoma, but he aspired to play in the NFL. A devastating senior-year knee injury changed that.
"I ate guys alive [as a linebacker] and would have gotten drafted," he says. "But I had to give up the dream. I put all that passion into acting." He started in theater and then moved to films (Dazed and Confused) and TV series such as ER and Criminal Minds. He's since put acting on the back burner, though he did play gymnast Simone Biles's dad in a 2018 Lifetime movie.
"I miss it, but you have to prioritize," Tennon says. "We have a vision for the company, and I'm here to carry out the vision with Viola and my team. You have to stay focused, because you can't do everything and do it well."
This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 1, 2020.
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