Kokayi began his career just after graduating from high school at KTCA the PBS affiliate in St. Paul, Minnesota. There he produced, directed and operated camera for a weekly television series “Black Voices.” Gordon Parks, who would allow him to visit the sets of the films he directed, “Shaft’s Big Score and Leadbelly”, mentored him. Kokayi followed up with the contacts he met and eventually moved to Los Angeles in 1977.
Working as PA on “Roots II” Kokayi assisted the location manager and thus became the first African-American in the Location wing of Teamsters Local 399. Kokayi began in television and managed such shows as Fall Guy, Cagney and Lacey and The A Team among others.
In 1984 Kokayi got a call from Amblin about managing a feature, thus began his feature career with “The Color Purple.”Kokayi has managed over 35 feature films, including The Five Heartbeats, Poetic Justice, Shawshank Redemption and Million Dollar Baby.Kokayi was the first recipient of the Feature Location Manager of the Year Award for his work on Mars Attacks by California On Locations Awards. He was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award by the Location Managers Guild of America in 2015.
Kokayi has produced and directed two documentaries on location management, Curiosity and Make It Happen. In 2016 he was the Associate Producer on the award winning short film “A Beautiful Day”, Co-Producer of the feature film “Cliffs Of Freedom” released March 1, 2019. In 2017 Kokayi wrote, produced and directed the short film “Who Are They” which was inspired by his work on “The Soloist.”
Kokayi is a member of Teamsters Local #399, DGA, LMGI and in 2016 became a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Science. In 2018 Kokayi was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award at the 24th Annual African American Film Market Place.
Mary Ashley Burton
Burton is currently the main producer of “Catholic Central” and a part of our digital production team. An episode of “Catholic Central” written by Burton won a 2018 Gabriel Award for Best Internet Video – 10 Minutes or Less. She was also a finalist in the 168 Project Write of Passage Contest 2012. Burton has worked as a producer, writer and actor on several television programs, including “Click Gospel Now” and “Hipsters Anonymous,” as well as films “Our Rose Garden” and “Hitting the Cycle.” She is a member of the Screen Actors Guild. Before joining Ananse Cinema, Burton worked as a Spanish translator at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. She attended Berea College, Miami University of Ohio, Bluegrass Community and Technical College, has Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in Spanish and a certificate in Filmmaking. Burton is a Sunday school teacher and a member of the choir at St. Anne Melkite Greek Catholic Church in North Hollywood.
A second generation Los Angeles native, Maya Emelle studied at the Art Institute of Hollywood earning her BS in Digital Cinema and Video Production. She began her career working on various live televised productions such as the Latin Grammy’s, iHeart Award Shows and Concerts, and the Latin American Music Awards. She would go on to produce several independent feature films such as award-winning JINN which had its SXSW 2018 premiere, directed by Nijla Mu’min and released theatrically by MGM Orion Classics in November of 2018 and is currently streaming on Amazon; SOLACE which won the award for Best Ensemble at Los Angeles Film Festival, 2018 directed by Tchaiko Omawale, released in May 2019; and the upcoming film WORKINGMAN directed by Bob Jury which premiered in February, 2019 at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival. Since Emelle has launched Higherground Content a collective of writers, directors, and artists of color dedicated to producing content that gives marginalized people a larger presence in mainstream media. Currently she is a Production Executive Assistant for the Home Box Office (HBO).
Born and raised in Texas, arguably one of the most patriotic states in the U.S., Chloe enlisted after her freshman year of college. Always one to set the bar high, she chose the Marine Corps because she knew their reputation to be the toughest branch of the military. Two weeks after she signed her enlistment papers, she was on her way to bootcamp and she quickly became a well-respected Ammunition Technician. After four years of service she decided to change gears and become an actress. She now lives in California with her daughter and has been featured in several television shows. She’s most proud of her role on FOX’s American Grit where she worked along side 3 fellow Veterans and WWE superstar John Cena to help civilians overcome mental and physical obstacles. She has also appeared on The Real Husbands of Hollywood, a hilarious satire starring Kevin Hart. Chloe credits great teachers and life experiences for her talent and work ethic.