Jason Lee is the founder of Hollywood Unlocked and Host of one of the most successful talk shows on YouTube, “The Jason Lee Show,” with each interview averaging Millions of views per episode. There is more to Jason Lee than amazing celebrity interviews and commentary. He is a self-made millionaire, philanthropist, author, and businessman who epitomizes the American dream. Growing up in Stockton, California, Jason was sent to foster care while his mother battled with substance abuse. Other tragedies would follow him as both of his brothers were tragically murdered, one right in front of Jason. These unfortunate events would be the catalyst that would drive Lee into advocacy, politics, and philanthropy.
During his time as director for a labor union representing healthcare workers in Los Angeles, Jason would spend his off time fostering connections with the Hollywood elite and on the social scene. Jason continued leveraging his connections after leaving the union in 2009, ultimately leading to him founding one of the most popular media outlets, Hollywood Unlocked. The outlet has over 3.5 million followers on Instagram and an undeniable worldwide reach and cultural influence. Even the iconic singer and beauty mogul Rihanna has praised Hollywood Unlocked, stating, “If I want to speak to my people, I come to Hollywood Unlocked.”
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Jason has been very vocal on his political and social stances. He was called to Capitol Hill to speak at the 2022 Congressional Foster Youth Shadow Day, where he was joined by former Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Rep. Karen Bass, and Pennsylvania State Rep. Malcolm Kenyatta. He also used his platform and influence to help secure the release of Dante Westmoreland, who was arrested and convicted of possession of marijuana and conspiracy to distribute. Westmoreland had no prior offenses on his record. The charges were later overturned after spending three years imprisoned with the help of Jason’s advocacy.
Jason is now using his influence to enrich his hometown of Stockton by announcing yesterday his candidacy for Stockton City Council District 6. After seeing a decline in the city over the years, Lee was compelled to transfer his leadership skills in business to the political arena to help his community. When asked about his decision to run for District 6 City Council, Lee said this. “I am ready to bring positive change and ensure that the residents of South Stockton have the resources and opportunities they deserve.” More is to come about his campaign platform and his plans to use his reach, influence, and business aptitude to enhance the lives of South Stockton residents.
Continuing his mission to service and help others, Jason’s company, Hollywood Unlocked, partnered with Enhance Health to launch “Healthcare Unlocked.” This initiative combines celebrity culture and health insurance to mobilize one million uninsured individuals to enroll in the Affordable Care Act. Research from Enhance Health states that 59 percent of eligible uninsured Americans plan to seek health insurance during this year’s open enrollment period. “As a longtime healthcare advocate, The Healthcare Unlocked platform holds significant importance to my team and me,” said Jason. 2023 saw record lows for uninsured Americans, with only 7.7 percent of all U.S. residents being uninsured. The Healthcare Unlocked initiative has the framework to help further the goal of every American having access to healthcare.
The State Of Black Media
With all of the philanthropy and advocacy that Jason has accomplished and continues to do, He sat with me for an in-depth interview on the state of Black media, a topic Lee has been very passionate and vocal about over the years. February 6th, 2022, Jason Lee and Kanye West brought together fifty Black journalists and media platforms including Essence, Ebony, Billboard, New York Times, Vibe Magazine, and Instyle, for their “The Future Brunch.” The purpose of the gathering was to help Black media reclaim their narratives. In our conversation, Jason covered a wide range of feelings and thoughts about Black Media’s state, its criticism, and how his vision for Hollywood Unlocked is breaking the mold.
Stephanie Tharpe: Hollywood Unlocked is reaching its tenth year of existence. How does that accomplishment feel for you?
Jason Lee: I always believed in myself, no matter what I’ve ever done, like my work in education, work in the union, and everything that I’ve wanted to do; I had to start with having a passion for it and love it. Pop culture, celebrity culture, black culture; I’ve always been passionate about being a driver and disrupter in that space. I think the different layers for me are like what the experience and journey have been like as a black entrepreneur raising money in the VC world, learning the disparities of people who often tend to flock to whiteness, or things that look like success when blackness and culture is the hot sauce to drive everything, including things that white people find attractive.
Stephanie Tharpe: What do you think has contributed to the negative stereotypes of Black American culture, and how can we combat that?
Jason Lee: Black people are the most significant contributor to it because we have an inferiority complex to whiteness. We can’t succeed unless ENews or Variety talks about us. I’m almost at an eight-figure, revenue-generating company that is self-owned with 11 employees. I was able to do that because I know the vision, I do the work, I’m very strategic and Building and Leveraging my relationships, I get up every day, if I’m awake, I’m working, which is my mantra, and I have a team that celebrates the same belief. We’re a family that literally rolls up our sleeves, gets in the trenches, and does the work every day. Caroline Wanga at Essence did a Breakfast Club interview and stated, “Jason Lee started the conversation about Black Journalists and how they’re mistreated on the red carpet,” which I did.
I opened up the Hollywood Unlocked Impact Awards. And I make sure that when I invite all the Black media to cover it, there are seats at the table for them inside because I don’t want you just to come and talk about how great I am. I want you to come, be celebrated, enjoy, and have the same access as everybody else. So I’ve spent millions of dollars building my own table but making sure that everybody else can sit at it.
Stephanie Tharpe: The third annual Hollywood Unlocked Impact Awards just passed, and every year, it gains more support from high-profile Black talent and engagement. Your award show is thriving at a time when it seems others are on the decline. Why? What is Hollywood Unlocked doing differently?
Jason Lee: Over the years, the BET awards used to be where all the top Black talent went; now they send in videos, don’t come, and are not celebrating it. One of the challenges is that, and I don’t even know if people realize this, but BET is a Black award show owned by white folks. That may be why people are disinterested. On the other hand, if you’re too busy to celebrate spaces that are provided for Black people, then you can’t get mad when the white spaces don’t acknowledge you because that’s their space. At Hollywood Unlock Impact Awards, we are very intentional about who we honor and how we honor them. It’s not a competitive award show where we compete for who has the best album and outfit. Those are things that white people are benefiting from because none of us own labels or these fashion houses. None of them are celebrating Jerry Lorenzo, who I knew was a club promoter who now owns a $75 million brand. That’s an issue.
Last Year, Jennifer Lewis was honored at the Hollywood Unlocked Impact Awards and said, “I’ve been in this room 70 times over the years, and I’ve never seen it look more beautiful.” That’s because it’s our space; you’re looking out at everybody who looks like you and feeling the love because we’re actually there to celebrate you. A lot of these Black Awards shows hire white publicists to govern these Black carpets, and they segregate Black media from its own culture. When celebrities walk down the carpet, by the time they get to the end, where publicists put all the Back media, they don’t want to do interviews, and talent doesn’t get seen.
Stephanie Tharpe: What are your thoughts on the criticism Black media receives, especially from Black celebrities?
Jason Lee: The problem with some Black-owned media is we’ve lost touch. Media outlets like Hollywood Unlocked, Baller Alert, and The Shade Room are not in that mainstream ecosystem. If we say something bad about a celebrity, they say we will never get the interview. Well, guess what? If they don’t want to, we will keep doing our job and criticize. I’m fine with that. Because we are the pulse of what everyone is talking about.
The dinosaurs of the industry are disconnected from this new media thing. It’s like people in music having to embrace TikTok; things are changing. Viral songs that can make you do silly dances on TikTok drive music versus artists like Halley Bailey, who recently dropped a beautiful song called Angel, and that’s crazy. So when I see celebrities saying we made it a rule to never talk to the blogs, you’re talking about us. You can’t lump all Black media in with Blogs.
Ultimately, It is a projection of how they villanize Black and seek out validation from white media. We all have different levels; when I say different levels, we are no bigger or lower. We have different positions. We have to support each other if we really care about reviving a culture that’s in critical condition, and I can’t stress it enough. When people see me on the red carpet with my celebrity friends, I advocate for them to speak to and prioritize Black media.
Stephanie Tharpe: Can you speak on your journey to your current success?
Jason Lee: People want to see you where they met you or to the extent that they can accept you because of their own limitations. I’m in therapy now and always said I don’t regret anything. Wholeheartedly to the core of who I am, everything I’ve ever done I’ve embraced. I got shot. I can’t change that. I have to embrace that experience. I survived, not a victim. I was molested more than once. There’s no shame in that, and I survived. My mother was on drugs. I remember watching her put a needle in her arm and shoot heroin, passing out multiple times and tying her little thing around her arm to get the vein. That is a real experience, and I lived. I also watched my brother get murdered. I’ve had a lot of tragedy. But the greatest part of it all was when my therapist said, “You’re not on drugs, you’re not in prison, you’re not dead, and you’re successful. Do you understand? That’s a big deal.” I had to fully embrace the fact that I’ve survived so many things that narratives formed against me will not prosper in my world.
The other part is that I have an amazing team that depends on me being of sound mind. And I’m now living a very different life from all the tragedies I had triumphed over. If you choose only to see the negative things and not look at the Hollywood Cares Foundation and pouring back into Black and Brown kids or me going on the hill with Nancy Pelosi and Karen Bass, talking to foster kids, or me getting Dante Westmoreland out of prison with my senator and the governor and negotiating that release when all the other people getting millions of dollars to help reform wouldn’t help me.
How many times do people look at Black people and hold their purses? Or look at Black people and wonder how you got in here? Look at Black women and say you’re not good enough. Or look at women in general and say you shouldn’t have an abortion. The audacity of this country to believe it can put people in boxes they think they should be in. My God is a Box cutter, and I’m cutting out of everything. I’m going to continue to thrive and continue to be who I am despite it all because I know where my blessings come from. I’m good.