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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

TV producer Mandi Price talks representation, Hollywood and more as she prepares for Black Stories Symposium and return to Spokane

In 2014, Mandi Price was hungry for a fruitful career. Hungry for opportunity. Hungry for Hollywood.

After eight years of hard work, she has become a producer of some of America’s most beloved shows.

“Now every day I look at the Hollywood sign and say, ‘Holy cow, I work here? This is real?’ ” Price said.

Price returns to her Spokane roots on Feb. 16 to discuss her journey from a Shadle Park High School and Gonzaga University graduate to a producer in Hollywood during the Black Stories Symposium, where five Black Spokane Public Schools students will perform art at the Montvale Event Center in an event that examines, expands and celebrates the Black experience. The event is part of the Northwest Passages Book Club.

“We talk so much in Hollywood about being in the room and thanks for my seat at the table, but I don’t want a seat.” Price said. “I want to influence.”

Price’s journey started with a young, distinctive connection with television. From her parents’ recollection, she never watched TV. She studied it.

“I would point out things like, ‘A hand wasn’t here before the scene and all of sudden the hand was there,’ ” Price said. “Just picking out the little details that the average person is just watching for entertainment. I always looked at it a little differently.”

The love for TV didn’t sprout into an instant career path for Price. She wanted to be a nurse.

“But then I realized math was involved, and I stink at math, so I said ‘That’s gotta be done,’ ” Price said.

Price pursued a political science degree at South Virginia University with an end goal to be a lawyer. After consideration of her homesickness, she decided to transfer back home to Gonzaga. She pursued her love for storytelling, double majoring in broadcast journalism and political science. Then Price had to figure out how to survive the common financial struggles of higher education.

“I was lucky enough to get a job at KHQ my junior year of college as their morning show editor,” Price said.

Price stayed in that position for almost two years, but the weight of student loans began to weigh on her and forced her into a job for Delta Airlines to secure higher pay.

Even though she knitted together a financial safety net, she yearned for creativity and television. So she repurposed her free flights benefits to fly to Los Angeles in her off time.

She pretended to be an LA resident, meeting with various producers to discuss her experiences and passion for storytelling. She’d spent over a year flying back and forth, watching TV shows and prepping for the moment a producer would buy into her drive and potential.

“Until, one day I got a call saying ‘Hey, I have this show called Rizzoli & Isles, would you be interested?’ ” Price recalled. “It was one of my favorite shows at the time. I was like ‘Yes, absolutely. I’d love to do that.’ ”

Price became a post-production supervisor, a natural fit with her hands-on experience at KHQ.

The news formula that takes place every 24 hours was now stretched into about 22 days, giving Price and other editors more time to explore specific and intricate details of shows. Between news and television, Price described it as learning American English and British English, a process that is two sides of the same coin.

“The formula is the same, the process is the same, it’s just a little different depending on which genre you’re going through,” she said.

For some shows, however, the editorial experience isn’t what shines brightest. Price, an adoptee of a multiracial family, sees her childhood in Spokane as a priceless puzzle piece to her identity and career.

It came in handy while producing “Little Fires Everywhere,” the Hulu limited series, starring Reese Witherspoon and Kerry Washington, who played family matriarchs navigating touchy topics like race, motherhood and societal belonging.

Released on March 18, 2020, the Hulu miniseries was a hit, capturing viewers as they escaped the boredom of COVID-19 lockdowns. Originally a novel by Celeste Ng, “Little Fires Everywhere” resonated with many, and it hit close to home for Price as she pulled from her experience as a Black woman navigating the world, and an adoptee with two white parents. She has two younger brothers, also adopted, who have helped clarify her understanding of being a Black male in America.

“We talked about what it means to be a mother, what does it mean to be Black in America, what does it mean to be marginalized,” Price said. “Even what does it mean to be female in a marginalized community when it comes to adoption. A lot of it just made a framework around my life.”

While attending Lakeside High School and Shadle Park High School, Price felt out of place, a common thread throughout “Little Fires Everywhere.” In communication with the writer’s room and executive producer Liz Tigelaar, the show benefited from Price’s authentic perspective, with Price calling herself a “bridge of experience.”

“I had a lot of talks with Liz Tigelaar and we all discussed what is my experience as an adoptee in a white family,” Price said. “There’s lines of dialogue from that show that really resonated with me and I made sure that I spoke to my editors and said, ‘This is important, don’t cut this line because this is key to how I grew up.’ Or I’d tell them, ‘A lot of people will resonate with that.’ ”

Before her work on the show, Price saw the importance of Black storytellers as a producer for “Boomerang,” a BET series produced and created by Lena Waithe. Working with an all-Black cast, while modernizing the Black cult classic “Boomerang” into a show, Price gained a deeper meaning of the importance of Hollywood producing Black stories. Price also worked under Dime Davis, a popular Black director who helped bring recent hits like HBO’s “A Black Lady Sketch Show” to the screen.

“For the first time I walked in a room where everyone looked like me. I got an opportunity to ask all the questions I would never, ever get to ask,” Price said. “Dime Davis really took me under her wing and it was just so fun. I was just like, ‘Oh my God, I want to do this again.’ ”

Returning home to Spokane for the Black Art Symposium, Price feels the full-circle moment of nourishing the roots to diversify and empower Black students to tell their own stories.

Price remembers seeing a Black nurse for the first time in the NBC show ER, which sparked her initial interest in nursing.

“Even now, there’s this clip on social media of the movie ‘Encanto,’ where a girl who looks exactly like the main character, thinks it’s her on the screen. That’s incredible to see that,” she said. “Little kids relate, and it’s so important that we see representation on screen of all colors and creeds. People’s stories need to be told, and what better ways to share these experiences than from our own personal wealth of knowledge.”