They're building a bridge forward!
A royal couple just launched a new media company to tell stories uniting the Black diaspora.
Prince Joel Makonnen, the great-grandson of the last emperor of Ethiopia, Haile Selassie I, and his wife, Princess Ariana Makonnen, are on a mission to unite the Black diaspora, launching their new media company, "Old World//New World (OWNW)." Inspired by their own story, the media and entertainment company is dedicated to storytelling across various forms, focused on sharing powerful stories that unite and inspire the global Black diaspora.
The name of the couple's Los Angeles-based media company is a homage to their wedding theme and echoes a sentiment they hope to bring to their projects.
"Ariana coined this statement during our wedding...old-world aristocracy meets new world charm...and it stuck with us. And so we thought the concept...which represents ourselves...we [thought it would be good for] all of our projects to have that same theme, with Africa and the diaspora coming together," Prince Joel told Because Of Them We Can.
"We've always kind of thought of our relationship as a cool Old World/New world mix, taking what's great, the history and tradition of the old world, and combining it with the innovation and freedom of the new world and we thought through a while about what we wanted to do next...and we decided that a media company would be close to our heart," Princess Ariana added.
The company officially launched in 2018, focusing on acquiring projects and partnerships that aligned with its mission. Their first project, a children's book entitled "Last Gate Of The Emperor," was co-authored by HIH Prince Joel in partnership with Kwame Mbalia. The two are both Howard University grads and came together to tell a story for young children rooted in history that also had an Afrofuturist element.
"Last Gate Of The Emperor" follows a young 12-year-old Ethiopian boy who lives in a distant future, ultimately discovering his royal lineage, which gives him the power to save his city and his people. The story is loosely based on Prince Joel's life, exploring themes of resilience, family, and bravery with a bit of fun and a whole lot of sci-fi.
"It was definitely inspired by my own life, growing up as a prince in exile. When I was born, there was a really bad revolution that happened in Ethiopia, and we happened to be outside of the country, so my family just couldn't go back. As a child, I had to struggle, understanding what that meant. My family had taught me all this great legacy, but then also it impacted life, and we just kind of had to survive. And so I wanted to share that experience but in a children's format," Prince Joel said.
The book has already hit number one on Amazon's bestsellers, and the Makonnens have no plans on slowing down. The mission of OWNW is to curate compelling stories that give new narratives to Africa and the diaspora, building a bridge to unite Black people across the globe and pushing positive Black stories to the mainstream.
"With the company, the goal is to tell powerful Black stories... Stories that are always from an empowered place, a place of agency, and it doesn't mean that traumatic things don't happen or the history is not complicated, but I think there is always a way to tell a story...that you come through trauma, that you're resilient, even if it does happen. And then jointly, to really connect the diaspora in a way that we haven't seen before," Princess Ariana said.
Ideally, OWNW is looking to build inroads that help Africa feel more like home for those in the diaspora. While people are learning more and more every day, Africa still feels like a faraway concept for many Black people in the diaspora. Through these stories, the Makonnen's are hoping to help people see themselves more and more.
In addition to the book, more projects are coming down the pipeline, including a biopic, a television series centered around the Ethiopian monarchy, and a romantic comedy based on the Prince and Princesses' love story.
Currently, they're looking to connect with all storytellers who may be interested in getting their projects out to the world.
Photo Courtesy of Antwon Maxwell