This story is part six of Boardroom’s Black History Month “Playmakers” series highlighting figures across sports, business, culture, and entertainment who are working to effect socially conscious change.
Part I: Patrick Mahomes | Part II: Karl Fowlkes | Part III: Nicole Lynn
Part IV: Chris Paul | Part V: Issa Rae | Part VII: Broccoli City
Quinta Brunson did not succeed by accident. Boardroom explores the ascent of one of the funniest people in show business.
When was the last time you and your family sat down on a weeknight to watch a 30-minute sitcom? When was the last time it was part of your weekly routine? Streaming has nearly eliminated the excitement of consuming primetime content like we used to in the 1990s and 2000s, but one person has made patience a virtue again.
That alone qualifies Quinta Brunson to be a Boardroom Playmaker. But she’s done so much more.
A Self-Made Success
In a society where perfection is trendy, Quinta Brunson has proven that being authentic has its benefits. Audiences were first introduced to the now-33-year-old back in 2014 when she started posting funny videos on Instagram. Remember the Girl Who Has Never Been on a Nice Date series? Brunson is the star of the skits, hilariously exclaiming her date “has moneyyy” because he takes her to nice restaurants and orders pretzels, Skittles, and large popcorn on a movie date.
The easily relatable series quickly grew her fanbase and soon enough, she joined Buzzfeed Video as a producer. Two years later, Brunson sold two web series to BuzzFeed Motion Pictures. The first, Broke, was a scripted comedy which Brunson wrote, produced, and starred in. Up for Adoption followed shortly, and she also starred in that project. Brunson earned a Streamy award nomination for Best Acting in a Comedy in 2017 for her work in Broke. During her tenure with the digital platform, she also helped propel the work of fellow Black creators. In 2018, Brunson left BuzzFeed, explaining in 2021 that working there was preventing her from pursuing personal aspirations.
“For me, it was time to leave when my ambitions became different than just working a nine-to-five,” she said in (ironically) a BuzzFeed video. “Requesting time off to do things like write on a TV show and that conflicted with keeping a nine-to-five job honestly. For me, it felt like college and you have to graduate from college. And I think it was really just time for me to graduate.”
Brunson’s choice meant lending her talent to shows like A Black Lady Sketch Show, Big Mouth, and Miracle Workers.
Quinta Brunson: Front & Center
Originally called Harrity Elementary, Brunson’s idea for a single-camera program about the lives of teachers working at a poorly funded, predominantly Black school was picked up as a pilot in September 2020. It was sort of art imitating life, since Brunson’s mom was a public school teacher in Philadelphia for 40 years. Speaking to Good Morning America, Brunson revealed she named the show Abbott Elementary after her sixth grade teacher. The reason for the switch up from the original title? Well, Mastery Charter Harrity Elementary in southwest Philly, where she attended, was vetoed for legal reasons. Brunson went with the second best option — honoring one of the many teachers she “adored” in grade school.
“Her name cleared. So not only was it legally great, it was great that I got to honor her in that way,” Brunson told Robin Roberts.
Now in its second season, Abbott Elementary has quickly made its place in television history. Taking on the format of The Office, the mockumentary effortlessly puts a comedic spin on the harsh realities of working in the public school system. Abbott Elementary explores the difficulties of outdated learning material, incomplete lunches, and in the Season 2 premiere, classroom accommodations for a student with disabilities. Of course, Abbott sprinkles storylines involving relationships throughout to humanize the characters.
Not only are viewers enamored with the show, but Abbott has already cemented itself in Emmy history. It picked up seven Primetime Emmy nominations at the 74th edition of the ceremony, earning three. Brunson, also the showrunner, became the first Black woman to win a solo award for Outstanding Writing For a Comedy Series. At January’s Golden Globes, Brunson won the award for Best Performance by an Actress in a Television Series – Musical or Comedy and the ensemble took home honors for Best Television Series – Musical or Comedy. To no one’s surprise, Abbott has already been renewed for a third season.
Brunson’s status as a Playmaker isn’t due to her individual accolades, but rather her passion for putting Black peers in similar situations to succeed. Though a veteran in the industry, Sheryl Lee Ralph had never attended — let be nominated at — an Emmy Awards ceremony. As of September 2022, she now has a golden statue, becoming the first Black woman to win the award for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series in 35 years for her role as Mrs. Barbara Howard. In a January feature for Harper’s BAZAAR where Brunson and Ralph discussed how television has transformed for the benefit of Black women, Ralph lauded the bond she has with her much younger manager.
“I say this a lot to people: ‘My boss is 33 years old, and I love her, and she has actually taught me a thing or two.'”
Brunson recalled her elation when Ralph’s name was called several months prior.
“To get your flowers in real time is something that doesn’t often happen to us, being Black and women,” she said. “I’ve lived my whole life proud to be the underdog, but to be recognized in this way makes me feel like something has changed. And that’s good for the world. … A week before the Emmys, I was in your dressing room and you were like, ‘Do you know what? It’s an honor to be nominated. We are going to be here for a long time, so if I don’t win this year, there’s always next year.’ So, when we got to the Emmys and they actually called your name, I remember thinking, ‘Sheryl has taken this winning out of her brain, and because of that, I’m not sure if she’s going to get up right now.'”
Real-life educators also benefitted from Brunson’s benevolence. On NPR’s Fresh Air last February, Brunson revealed she allocated some of her show’s marketing money for donations to teachers for supplies.
This is only the beginning for Quinta Brunson, and expect to see a lot more of her in the future. In August 2022, she inked an overall deal with Warner Bros. Television Group, production company behind Abbott Elementary. Per Variety, Brunson will “also create, develop, and produce original programming for all platforms, including but not limited to Warner Bros. Discovery’s HBO Max, external streaming platforms, cable channels, and the U.S. broadcast networks.”
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