Datari Turner’s Unlikely Rise From Oakland To Hollywood Power Player

The sparsely furnished studio apartment in Los Angeles had little more than a table and a blow-up air mattress. But Datari Turner wasnt about the accoutrements in 2003 as he took the first steps towards changing his lifes trajectory.

Just a few years prior, he was a globe-trotting fashion model and music video leading man with a fly apartment in Manhattan who zoomed around town in a Range Rover. 

Xscape – My Little Secret

Xscape’s official music video for ‘My Little Secret’. Click to listen to Xscape on Spotify: As featured on Traces of My Lipstick.

I was 22 years old, living in New York at the time and had moved to Hoboken after 9-11, said Turner. I had a dope spot, right on the water and a lot of notable people lived in my building. I had the new 4.6. I was doing my thing. I remember being on the balcony saying, Wow, this is my life now. Im a real-life fashion model.

He was always in demand, both for work and on the New York social scene. He walked the runways of Milan during Fashion Week. Had worked in Barcelona, among other international locales. His was the face of many an ad campaign. And the money was flowing in.

But by the time he found himself sitting in that small studio apartment in the L.A. valley, things had changed for him. Both internally and externally. It was time to make some changes, move in a different direction. The cash was running out. 

Im gonna make this happen, he told himself, over and over, propelled by little more than an unwavering belief in himself and nourished by the dream he was chasing.

And people laughed at him when he said he was dipping out on his successful modeling career to take a stab at being a Hollywood screenwriter.


As a kid growing up in the Bay Area in Oakland, California, Turner was active in sports at an early age. He began playing organized baseball when he was seven. But as much as he begged his mom to sign him up for football, she wasnt hearing it. 

We used to play in the streets, said Turner. I was fast, could catch and could throw the ball really well. I was talented and my friends were all playing Pop Warner from an early age. But my mom wouldnt let me play. She was like, You dont know the game.’

On the diamond, he once competed against C.C. Sabathia while playing for the Salesian Boys and Girls club for the right to advance to the Little League state championship.

But football was where his passion lied. He pleaded with his mother, who repeatedly gave him and his football dreams the stiff-arm. When he broached the subject again when he was 12 years old, she said, Before I let you play, you need to know every team in the NFL. I want you to write a report and Im gonna quiz you.

She wanted me to write reports on the top five quarterbacks of all time, who led the league in rushing and receiving, who the best players were on each team, said Turner. Once I passed those tests, she let me play. That was one of the most important things she did for me. She made me study, prepare and learn everything I could about something that I really wanted to do. And that approach helped me later on in life.


A few months removed from his graduation from Pinole Valley High School, he was strolling through the Bay Areas Union Square shopping district with some friends when a modeling scout approached him and asked him to sign up for a local competition.

Turner pointed to his 6-foot-5, 300-pound friend and said, Ill sign up, but you gotta let my friends sign up too.

That lady looked at me like I was crazy, said Turner. She called me that night and said I had a great look.

taral hicks – silly

Uploaded by OrgasmicTunes on 2008-07-11.

The abbreviated version unfolds as such – Turner wound up winning the regional competition, went to Palm Springs and won a bigger event and proceeded to go to New York, where he was signed by the Ford Modeling Agency in a dizzying, whirlwind odyssey that literally came out of nowhere.

I didnt know anything about fashion,he recalls. In the Bay area, we were rocking the Karl Kani, Polo and Tommy Hilfiger. I walked around with a gold grill in my mouth, sporting doo-rags.

When he was signed to Ford, they insisted that he move to New York. He was merely 18 years old and his parents response was, Yeah, thats not gonna happen. 

The agency had a Los Angeles branch as well, and suggested that the Turners drive down from Oakland to visit.

We drove down there and they took some Polaroids, said Turner. I didnt think anything was going to happen because when I walked in, they said I had to lose 15 pounds. I had the big football neck and a lot of muscles. I couldnt fit the clothes. They wouldnt test shoot me until I lost the weight, so I didnt think the modeling thing would get off the ground.

But those polaroids found their way into the hands of a photographer named Bruce Weber, who loved what he saw.

He wound up using me for an Abercrombie & Fitch campaign, said Turner. That turned out to be a really big deal because I was the first Black man they used in one of their campaigns.

Webber shot him for other campaigns as well, and within a three-month radius, the young kid from Oakland whod dreamed of one day playing safety for the 49ers was appearing in ads for Chaps and Skechers, among others.

And when the checks came rolling in, Turner proceeded to lose his mind.

The first thing I did was go out and spend money, he said. I financed a Mercedes and once I started spending money, I was on a hamster wheel. I realized I had to keep working to continue to pay for stuff.


Turner was cast as the leading man in Xscapes My Little Secret video. Others soon followed, like Xscape and Keith Sweats Am I Dreaming and the Hype Williams-directed, Taral Hicks video for Silly.

Ol Skool – Am I Dreaming ft. Xscape, Keith Sweat

Music video by Ol Skool performing Am I Dreaming. (C) 1997 Universal Records, a Division of UMG Recordings, Inc.

In the late 90s, Turner was on fire. He was with Ford, one of the worlds most prestigious modeling agencies, appearing on runways across the globe while being featured in high end print campaigns for the likes of Banana Republic.

When Puff started Sean John, him and Mase appeared in the first ad, said Turner. Then I was the face of the brand after that for the first two years.

He moved to New York, spending a couple of months in Brooklyn before settling in midtown Manhattan. Opportunities that others were dying for came knocking at his door. On the social scene, he was in high demand as well with celebs clamoring to hang out with him at parties and industry functions.

After a few years, despite his success and healthy bank account, he took an accounting of where he was in life and where he was heading. 

When I first got into the fashion and modeling business, I was excited, said Turner. A couple of years later, Im looking around the landscape and realizing that this is the only business where women make five times as much as men. Its a female dominated business and a male models shelf life is short. I started thinking to myself, I cant do this when Im 40. I was making good money, but I wasnt getting rich. I started thinking about the next move and what I was going to do from there.

After the 9-11 terrorist attacks in 2001, he moved to Jersey and found himself within the grips of a debilitating depression. He didnt leave the house for months. He kept asking himself, What do you love to do? Whats your passion? What do you want to do with the rest of your life?

And he began watching movies for days on end. There was Alfred HitchcocksMr. and Mrs. Smith, which set him off on a Hitchcock adventure, watching every film the man ever made. 

I watched The Godfather ten times in a row and just studied it, he said. 

He purchased a screenwriting book and read it cover to cover. He bought a separate one on how to craft film and television treatments.

The first thing both of those books said was to write about something that you know, he said. Id been in this music video world, saw this film that Angelina Jolie did, Gia, about this supermodel that got turned out on drugs. And I had this story for a film called Video Girl in my head.

He wrote an outline for the movie in a day and passed it along to a friend who advised him to bang out a script.

I wrote the first draft of the script in 12 days, said Turner. I tried to give it to a couple of directors on the music video side, a lot of notable names, and couldnt get them to read it.

A friend, however, knew an executive at a company that had an interest in producing films within the urban space.

The first urban film they were doing was called Speakerbox: The Love Below, which eventually became Idlewild, said Turner. They liked my script, set up a meeting for me to come out to L.A. and said that they wanted to option my script. I was like, OK, this is gonna be easier than I thought!

He told his friends that he was moving to Los Angeles to become a screenwriter. He told The Ford Modeling Agency the same. Neither group responded with excitement or unequivocal support. The Ford execs looked at him with pity, snickering, OK, kid. Well keep your card on the wall in case you need to come back.

Everybody wasnt thinking it was gonna pop off for me, said Turner. I was a fashion model, and there’s this stigma that fashion models aren’t too bright. I got this little studio apartment and I’m just out there chasing a dream.”

After a chance meeting with actress Meagan Good at a nightclub, he eventually got the script in her hands.

“I had her on my list of women that I wanted to star in the film,” said Turner. “She read it, liked it and wanted to do it.”

But Turner and the production company were still developing the project. And when Idlewild under-performed at the box office, things suddenly changed.

“Idlewild was originally slated to be an HBO movie, but then Outkast released an album that went diamond,” said Turner. “They sold 10 million units, so the executives said it needed to be a theatrical release. So that’s what they did, and went over budget. It came out, didn’t do well at the box office. And then they said they weren’t interested in urban movies anymore.” 

Undeterred, he could often be found at Kinko’s making copies of his 92-page script and walking in to hand deliver it to every production company and every studio executive and creative director that he could find listed.

In the meantime, Turner had been busy carving a niche as a creator of reality television shows such as The Ultimate Hustler and I Married A Baller. Jay Z reached out and invited him on the Kingdom Come tour to shoot a new Rocawear fashion campaign.

“That was the most life-changing trip for me,” said Turner. “We went on tour with him and MTV filmed the Water for Life campaign, where Jay visited children living without clean water in Angola and South Africa during his worldwide tour to bring awareness to the world’s water crisis. We shot the Rocawear campaign there, and in London, Dubai and Bankok.” 

JAY-Z DIARY IN AFRICA: WATER FOR LIFE PT 2 exist to bring awareness of the water crisis crippling our planet. This is a call to action all my familyand friends to get the word out. Watch the video get off the couch. 1.1 billion people on earth don’t have access to clean drinking water.

But he was still burning to get Video Girl into production. In addition to Meagan Good, he’d also been able to get legendary actress Ruby Dee attached to the project after her Oscar-nominated performance in American Gangster

“A friend of mine said, ‘If you got Meagan Good and Ruby Dee, I’ve got a guy in Louisiana who’ll give you the money to make the film independently. The only caveat is you have to shoot it in Louisiana. That’s where he lives, it’s a tax credit state and he’s trying to bring Hollywood to his home town,'” said Turner. 

He and Good soon flew out to Louisiana to meet with the potential investor.

“The money turned out to be real,” said Turner. “Before that, I never thought about making the movie independently. I didn’t know how to go about that, I was just trying to get studios to make it. I was looking at this as my entry way into film, which was initially to get a screenplay credit.”

But Turner now had a much bigger vision. He wrote the film, produced it and formed his own production company.

Video Girl – Trailer

Lorie Walker (MEGAN GOOD) is a small town girl whose big dreams of becoming a dancer come true when she becomes a star in the Hip-Hop video world. But she soon learns the hard way that life in front of the camera is not as glamorous as it seems. MPAA Rating: R Rated R for drug use, language and some sexual content.

“By the grace of God, we were able to get the film made,” he said. “BET bought the cable rights and the world premier TV rights, we did a deal for a limited theatrical release, got it out on home video and sold the digital rights to Netflix. And my investor got his money back. I was like, ‘I waited seven years to get people to make my movie, why didn’t I do this for myself from the beginning?’ That changed the whole trajectory of my career.”

The year after Video Girl was released, he served as a producer on four films, including LUV, which was nominated for the Grand Jury Prize at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival and starred Good, Common, Lonette McKee, Charles S. Dutton, Danny Glover, Dennis Haysbert and Michael Kenneth Williams. 

LUV TRAILER (2012) – Common, Danny Glover Movie HD

Subscribe to TRAILERS: Subscribe to COMING SOON: Like us on FACEBOOK: Follow us on TWITTER: LUV TRAILER (2012) – Common, Danny Glover Movie HD Over the course of one day, a shy 11-year-old forms a bond with his troubled uncle. Cast: Common: Dennis Haysbert: Danny Glover: Charles S.

From 2010 til now, Turner has produced close to 30 feature films, making him one of the most prolific independent producers working today. He’s also the Executive Producer of recent reality TV hits such as Growing Up Hip Hop, and Growing Up Hip Hop: Atlanta.

And he’s very excited about one of his recent projects, “A Boy. A Girl. A Dream: Love On Election Night.” The film stars Good and Omari Hardwick as Frida and Cass. On the night of the 2016 Presidential election, Cass, an L.A. club promoter, takes a thrilling and emotional journey with Frida, a Midwestern visitor. She challenges him to revisit his broken dreams – while he pushes her to discover hers. 

“This is a really great time in film right now for people of color,” said Turner. “For 80 years, white men have told our stories in Hollywood. Within the last 20 years, we’ve been able to tell our own stories, the way that we want to tell them. I’m excited, man, that our kids are gonna grow up, along with kids of other races, seeing Black people as superheroes and kings and queens. We’ve still got a long way to go, but I’m excited.”

“I’m excited about “A Boy. A Girl. A Dream,”” he continued. “It’s my sixth Sundance movie in the last six years. Since “Video Girl” was made, me and Meagan have made five movies together. It’s about faith and dreams and hope. I’ve got another film in post-production that I just finished, I’m doing a film about the wine industry called “Uncorked” by a super talented writer and director, got a new project with Omar Epps and T.I. coming and a second installment to a popular movie I did on Netflix called “Adulterers” and continuing to expand the “Growing Up Hip Hop” franchise, along with a ton of other stuff on the TV side.”

Debut Clip – A BOY. A GIRL. A DREAM.

On the night of the 2016 Presidential election, Cass, an L.A. club promoter, takes a thrilling and emotional journey with Frida, a Midwestern visitor. She challenges him to revisit his broken dreams – while he pushes her to discover hers. Sundance 2018 Screening Details:

Those people that laughed at him when he ditched a successful modeling career to chase his passion as a dreamer and storyteller in Hollywood? They certainly arent laughing now.

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