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Six years ago, Manuel and Geiszel Godoy were only looking to fill a need for their daughter and children like her. But they ended up exceeding those expectations.
Mr. and Mrs. Godoy, owners of Delaware-based Black Sands Entertainment, were unable to find children’s books and comics that represented their family and its Black heritage.
They realized how such representation is still something with which the entertainment industry struggles. While there are a few examples — such as “Black Panther” — Black characters, directors and content creators remain the minority in the entertainment world and face additional struggles while trying to make it there.
So the Godoys started their enterprise as a way to diversify the field, by introducing Black characters and storylines in their comic books.
“We saw a need just to do stories on African history before slavery. We wanted to connect with that aspect because it’s never really been told before. So we focus on all the different countries around Africa and other Indigenous groups, too,” said Mrs. Godoy, whose company’s books also extend to the Incan and Malaysian cultures.
They started Black Sands to tell stories of strong Black characters set in those early days of history before colonization. Established in 2016, their empire has grown to 25 titles. The most popular series is “Black Sands,” about important Black pharaohs and their families in ancient Egypt and surrounding areas.
To further their journey into getting these stories told in a full-length, animated way, the couple, both Army veterans, scored $500,000 on the ABC show “Shark Tank” via actor/comedian Kevin Hart and Mark Cuban, during a show that aired in January.
Mr. Hart’s global media company Hartbeat formally closed the deal recently with Black Sands Entertainment.
As part of the partnership, Hartbeat will offer advisory services to accelerate Black Sands’ efforts, especially in the area of film and TV. Hartbeat and Black Sands are already in development on an animated feature and a series around the “Black Sands” flagship franchise.
“The moment that Manuel, Geiszel and the Black Sands Entertainment team walked into the ‘Tank,’ I knew that this was a company that I wanted to bring into my eco-system,” said Mr. Hart in a statement.
“The Black Sands team was looking for a partner that has resources to grow their distribution, expand on their production, find new creative talent, and promote their current and future portfolio of content — these are all areas of Hartbeat’s core business. I’m very excited that our team will be able to help Black Sands grow and continue to share their unique stories with audiences all over the world.”
The deal follows Mr. and Mrs. Godoy’s successful Kickstarter campaign, which reached its goal of $10,000 in one minute and garnered $100,000 in one day. Black Sands has sold 200,000 print copies of its comic books, resulting in $2 million in sales since its inception.
Aside from their military backgrounds — Mr. Godoy was a radar technician, and Mrs. Godoy worked in human resources — both have an interest in art.
“I went to fashion design school in California and have a bachelor’s in fashion design. I worked with Calvin Klein designing for them. … And my husband went to college for video game design. So he’s an artist, as well,” Mrs. Godoy said.
In addition, both have had hands in writing many of the books.
Mrs. Godoy, who serves as the company’s chief financial officer, said she is very surprised by the company’s success.
“I thought I was going to continue to do fashion forever,” she said.
But, thinking back to Black Sands’ early days, she said going the independent route was the right move.
“Usually, when you write novels and stuff, you have to go to the big dogs, and they want to change everything,” said Mr. Godoy, Black Sands’ CEO.
“I remember trying to pitch this really beautiful book, and they wanted to change the character’s name from Godoy to Jefferson just because of their market research. And I’m like, ‘That’s kind of stupid stuff.’”
“My last name is Godoy. It’s about my son and my daughter. I wrote about them in the book, and they wanted me to change the names. My kids love me incorporating them in our stories,” she said.
The decision to go on “Shark Tank” was made for a few reasons.
“We wanted exposure, and we wanted to grow and scale the company, to take our company to the next level because there is so much red tape involved,” Mrs. Godoy said.
However, appearing on the show was a tough task.
“They don’t play games. They want to know your entire history. They do their due diligence. They want to know your credit report of your company, the health of your company. They want to see all your documents relating to your company. It’s a very, very, very hard process. And they were telling us during that process, a lot of people get cut, and they don’t make it,” Mrs. Godoy said.
They appeared on “Shark Tank,” which was taped in summer 2021 and aired Jan. 7, with their head of studio, Teunis De Raat.
They came in asking for $500,000 for a 5% stake in their company but settled for an offer from Mr. Hart and Mr. Cuban of $500,000 for 30%. The actor would handle the entertainment portion, and Mr. Cuban the technical side of things.
Mr. Godoy shared his excitement about Black Sands’ future with its new investors.
“They are putting their name out there with us. And now that that’s happened, we can actually start making some real business plays on the animation production side. We have it out there. It’s all public. It’s all ready to go. And that alone allows us to go after key voice actors, go after animation studios and stuff like that, when we couldn’t do that prior,” he said.
Along with looking to grow into animation, Black Sands has launched an app to help Black creators reach larger audiences and a podcast to share secrets of indie publishing success.
The Godoys said they would love to bring their books into more schools, too. They have some Southern states onboard but are aiming to expand farther, with Delaware chief among those regions.
“That’s one of the big things that we’re currently focusing on. We’re currently trying to get into New York and the D.C. area (schools), as far as getting very wide distribution in those places. We really did a lot of work to make sure that we have the books available for those areas,” Mr. Godoy said.