Mandatory Credit: Photo by AP/Shutterstock (8155205b) Ashley C. Ford poses for a photo in New York. Ford felt driven to act by a sad fact of life in the nation's school cafeterias: Kids with unpaid lunch accounts are often embarrassed with a substitute meal of a cold cheese sandwich and a carton of milk. She appealed to her 66,000 Twitter followers with a solution, and in the nearly two months since, people around the country have been inspired to donate thousands of dollars to erase debts that can follow kids throughout their school careers Lunch Debt Donors, New York, USA - 25 Jan 2017

Ashley C. Ford

By Variety Staff | Variety

The merger of artistic gumption and shrewd business sense sets New York apart, and this list pays tribute to both qualities, with some of the year’s defining artists — “Marriage Story” director Noah Baumbach and star Scarlett Johansson; playwrights Jackie Sibblies Drury, Katori Hall and Jeremy O. Harris; and novelist Taffy Brodesser-Akner — sharing space with dealmakers like A&E’s Paul Buccieri, FilmNation’s Glen Basner and UTA’s Mackenzie Roussos. What they all have in common is New York: the opportunities the city has provided, and the grit it can’t help giving all who call it home.

Janet Mock by Billy Porter

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“Janet Mock first came into my world in 2014. I saw her on MSNBC, discussing her New York Times best-selling book ‘Redefining Realness,’ and I was obsessed with her. She represented something I had really never seen. As a gay man who came out in 1985, the ‘T’ in ‘LGBTQ’ was largely absent from my queer knowledge, and I was just so moved by this woman.”

Read the full essay by Porter, the star of FX’s “Pose” and the first openly gay black man to win an Emmy for lead actor in a drama, here.

Craig Melvin by Al Roker

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“I’m just going to come right out and say this. I have a man crush on Craig Melvin, and I don’t care who knows it. How can you not love this guy? He’s a young Southerner who was raised by a mom who was a teacher and a dad who worked shifts at the post office in South Carolina. I love that even though he is so young, he has made his success the old-fashioned way: through hard work, coming up through local news in South Carolina, winning Emmy Awards, becoming an honored anchorman. Then at the NBC station in Washington, D.C., he not only distinguished himself with his journalistic chops — he multi-tasked by meeting, wooing and marrying the much more talented sportscaster Lindsay Czarniak.”

Read the full essay by Roker, host and weatherman on NBC’s “Today Show,” here.

Kasi Lemmons - Film crusader

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With “Harriet,” director Lemmons imbues one of American history’s most painful moments with heroism and light. Her story of Harriet Tubman leading slaves to freedom — animated with the passionate energy of actor Cynthia Erivo — pulses with energy. It’s a film whose willingness to lend contemporary verve to the past is the latest testament to the gifted Lemmons, a film professor whose first feature, “Eve’s Bayou,” is considered a modern classic.

Charlamagne Tha God - Radio provocateur

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As a host of the nationally syndicated “Breakfast Club” radio show and the “Brilliant Idiots” podcast, Charlamagne Tha God is the rare interviewer who isn’t afraid to ask his subjects unfiltered, difficult and controversial questions. His conversations with Elizabeth Warren, multiple hip-hop artists and others have gone viral. He’s also a New York Times best-selling author whose latest book “Shook One: Anxiety Playing Tricks On Me” is an effort to help eradicate the stigma around mental health.

Jackie Sibblies Drury - Theater firebrand

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Sibblies Drury’s “Fairview,” a play that examines the racial composition of theater audiences, dominated cultural conversations in New York — and won the Pulitzer — thanks both to its provocative take on who the theater exists to serve and its perfect execution. “Fairview” has gone on to play Washington, D.C., and will reach London later this year, spreading Sibblies Drury’s incisive questioning about who gets to see and to create theater worldwide.

Jeremy O. Harris - Broadway’s newest superstar

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After graduating from Yale School of Drama this year, Harris is making his debut as a playwright produced on Broadway with “Slave Play,” a drama that entertained and provoked sold-out crowds during an Off Broadway run. He’s also an outspoken advocate of inclusion and representation in theater and in its audience, and has a burgeoning friendship with Rihanna, whom he has called his muse.

Katori Hall - Broadway’s leading light

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The prolific playwright is back on Broadway with “Tina: The Tina Turner Musical,” a look at the life and times of the “Proud Mary” singer, which was a smash on London’s West End. Hall, an Olivier Award winner for her 2009 play “The Mountaintop,” will next serve as showrunner of Starz’s “Pussy Valley.” The series follows the female employees of a Mississippi strip club, and is an adaptation of her play of the same name.

Desus & Mero - Future of late night

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The double act of Desus Nice and The Kid Mero took a long route to their current role toplining Showtime’s first late-night series, rising to prominence with a podcast before launching a TV show on Viceland. With a bigger megaphone on the premium cabler, the hosts and Bronx natives express provocative, witty thoughts on politics, sports and entertainment and welcome guests such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Lin-Manuel Miranda and Don Cheadle.

Tamron Hall - Real Talk

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More than two years after a very public departure from NBC’s “Today” and a botched talk-show deal with Harvey Weinstein, the beloved broadcaster got the last laugh, landing her own nationally syndicated daytime show. “Tamron Hall” focuses on real stories and emphasizes Hall’s interaction with her in-studio audience more than celebrity sit-downs. The opening week rated as one of the best syndicated talkers since 2014.

Ashley C. Ford - Ace Interviewer

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Hailed by The New Yorker and Forbes as an important voice in media, Ford is a talk-show host for the 21st century. The former host of Brooklyn-based podcast “112BK,” Ford has taken her talents to weekly interview show “Profile by BuzzFeed News” and has sat down with guests ranging from Valerie Jarrett to Bella Thorne. Her memoir, “Somebody’s Daughter,” is forthcoming.

Keke Palmer - She’s a hustler

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The 26-year-old former child actor established herself as a force in a major way this year, with a standout comedic performance in “Hustlers,” a co-hosting seat alongside Michael Strahan and Sara Haines on “Good Morning America” and the kind of viral fame (“Sorry to this man”) that only the most magnetic personalities can inspire.

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