As producer of such genre-defining television shows as NCIS, JAG, and Magnum, P.I., Charles F. Johnson has built pathways within the entertainment industry to create balanced and equal opportunities for people of color.
Charles grew up hearing stories of the Tuskegee Airmen from his father, Orange Maull Johnson, who was a member of the American cavalry in North Africa during World War II. Building on this history, Charles nurtured the story of the African American fighter pilots for more than 20 years and worked with executive producer George Lucas to bring the film to life.
The result, 2012’s Red Tails, won the NAACP Image Award for best picture.
Red Tails is “a story that has resonance with a lot of people,” Charles says.
“These young men were not encouraged to fly for their country. They were not expected to succeed. But they triumphed over adversity. These were men who fought racism at home and fascism abroad. They did it successfully and they were heroes, not victims.”
Charles’s activism began in the late 1960s, when he attended Howard University alongside such classmates as Stokely Carmichael. During the Civil Rights Movement, he was active in protests and marches and later worked on John F. Kennedy’s presidential campaign.
Charles earned his law degree from Howard University, was drafted during the Vietnam War, worked as a copyright lawyer for several years, and finally decided to “follow his dreams” and in 1971 embarked on a new career in entertainment. He attended the Professional Theater Workshop in Hollywood, then found work in Universal Studios’ Mail Room, and soon became employed in the studio’s Business Affairs Department. His successful and accomplished career as a producer on television shows at Universal soon followed, and continues to this day.
Deeply committed to social justice, education, and the power of community engagement, Charles advances social change through creativity, passion, and philanthropic investment in a broad range of organizations, including his leadership as a Trustee of the Art Center College of Design in Pasadena and his support of the Samburu Project, which builds wells in Africa and whose mission is to enhance lives of men and women in developing countries.