Report: Atlanta movie executive, former CEO of Blackhall Studios under fire for racist and antisemitic text messages

Ryan Millsap, the founder and former CEO of Blackhall Studios. (Wikimedia Commons)

A prominent figure in Atlanta’s film and television industry, previously lauded for his diversity and inclusion efforts, is embroiled in controversy over private messages released in court that show a sharp contrast to his public persona.

Court documents show text messages in which Blackhall Studios founder Ryan Millsap made derogatory comments against African Americans and Jewish people, according to a story Thursday by ProPublica and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The messages, filed in Fulton County Superior Court by Millsap’s former attorney John Da Grosa Smith, range from Millsap expressing his annoyance with “F—— Black People” to “nasty Jews.”

A majority of the messages are from 2019, when Smith worked for Millsap during the latter’s tenure as the former CEO of Shadowbox Studios (formerly known as Blackhall Studios), an 850,000-square-foot production studio that the executive developed from the ground up.

According to his IMDB, Millsap’s role at the studio saw him managing “the long and short term strategy of the studios, staying involved on a daily basis to provide leadership and direction for the company and its assets.”

Millsap, a California native, gained prominence in Atlanta within the past decade for his diversity efforts.

Production partners during his time at Blackhall, which ended in 2021 after selling the company for $120 million, included African American-led projects such as HBO’s “Lovecraft Country” and YouTube Premium’s “Step Up: The Series.”

He also has collaborated with Atlanta-based public figures such as T.I. and Issac Hayes III, with both moguls appearing on Millsap’s “The Blackhall Podcast.” Millsap also appeared on the former’s podcast “expediTIously” in 2023.

But Smith said that his former employer’s public desire to embrace Black culture and Black creatives was betrayed by his private messages.

“Ryan works hard to mislead and hide the truth. And he is very good at it,” said Smith in one of the court filings. “These text messages are perilous for him.”

The rest of the racist and antisemitic messages — which took place between Millsap and Christy Hockmeyer, his former girlfriend and an investor in his real estate company — are detailed in ProPublica and the AJC’s story.

Hockmeyer issued an apology, referring to her comments and language as “inappropriate.” Millsap declined to provide a formal comment.

Millsap led the push for a land swap in 2020 between Blackhall Studios and DeKalb County. The deal swapped 55 acres of the studio’s property in exchange for DeKalb’s 40 acres of Intrenchment Creek Park. The public park is directly across from the parcel of land that now contains the controversial and soon-to-be-completed Atlanta Public Safety Training Center, or “Cop City” as protesters call it.