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Mona Scott-Young on Building ‘Love & Hip Hop’ Empire, Venturing Into Scripted TV (Listen)

Variety — Cynthia Littleton

Mona Scott-Young had been in the music business as a manager for years when opportunity knocked in the form of a reality TV show about the significant others of hip hop stars.

That was a decade ago. The durable VH1 franchise “Love & Hip Hop” is now the cornerstone of Scott-Young’s Monami Entertainment banner, which has ventured into everything from cosmetics and wine to physical production and post-production assets.

On the latest episode of Variety podcast “Strictly Business,” Monami CEO Scott-Young discusses the company’s growth and the building blocks in her professional life that led her to launch Monami in 2008 after leaving the top-tier music management firm Violator. She had wanted to break into television, but hadn’t found the right avenue until the concept for “Love & Hip Hop” came to her from a former protege, manager-producer Yandy Smith, who would later appear on the show.

“I saw this as an opportunity to do (TV) in something that was rooted in a field that I knew,” Scott-Young said. “I thought this was a way for me to get into the television game from a place I was comfortable talking about. It felt like a great way for me to marry where I was coming from with where I wanted to go.”

Monami is now poised for expansion on a number of fronts. Scott-Young is excited about the potential of a partnership recently struck with South Africa’s NV Studios that calls for the sides to develop scripted projects together, including the remake rights to the 1986 miniseries “Shaka Zulu” about the African warrior king. Monami is also shepherding a biopic about Aaron Hernandez, the football player convicted of murder who killed himself in prison, with his former fiance Shayanna Jenkins.

“Scripted is where we’ve got a lot of focus,” she said.

Scott-Young credits much of her drive and ambition to the values that were instilled by her mother, Jeanine Ridore, who had little education and few resources, but still found a way “to provide everything I could have possibly wanted in life.” Scott-Young realized early on that a key to success was recognizing your own strengths and building on them.

“I polished my gift. I recognized what it was about me that made me uniquely different,” she said. “I had so many tools at my disposal. How dare I not succeed? How dare I not maximize my gifts?”

Scott-Young’s prominence as a producer and entrepreneur has been noted in recent months amid the entertainment industry’s reckoning with racial justice concerns. Scott-Young said she’s had a lot of incoming calls from people who suddenly want to  meet with her. The big question that she bluntly asks is: “Am I assuaging their guilt or do they want to do real business here?”

The real challenge, Scott-Young said, is to ensure that the determination to break down systemic barriers and elevate people of color into key decision-making roles is meaningful and not a fleeting interest.

“I think the biggest travesty will be if we look back at this moment and it was just a moment,” Scott-Young said. “Shame on us if we don’t all rise to the occasion and make lasting change.”

“Strictly Business” is Variety’s weekly podcast featuring conversations with industry leaders about the business of media and entertainment. A new episode debuts each Wednesday and can be downloaded on iTunes, Spotify, Google Play, Stitcher and SoundCloud.

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