Syracuse University Magazine


Manuela Ikenze G'01

Producing with Heart

Manuela Ikenze enjoyed the sights and sounds of Broadway as a child, but the Syracuse native, who was later raised in California, had no childhood aspirations to work in show business. However, Ikenze, who is a fan of such productions as West Side Story and Dreamgirls, embarked on a career that has carried her to both Hollywood and the heart of Georgia. “I recently moved to Atlanta after living in L.A. for over eight years,” she says. “I travel between the two cities for specific projects that involve fund raising for entertainment productions and charitable initiatives. Atlanta is becoming the Hollywood of the South.”

Ikenze’s familiarity with those cities has created opportunities for her to work on a variety of projects in her role as a producer who uses film and media to highlight the importance of and generate revenue for various charitable causes. A member of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, Ikenze was the producer of the 2011 Ronald Reagan Tribute Project, for which she received a letter of support from former first lady Nancy Reagan. Ikenze also served as the executive producer for Defining Beauty: Ms. Wheelchair America, an award-winning documentary directed by Alexis Ostrander ’07 and written by Chuck Hayward ’02 that focuses on five women with disabilities who made the journey to the 2010 Ms. Wheelchair America pageant. “As the project grew, we brought on additional SU alumni,” says Ikenze, who earned an M.B.A. degree from the Whitman School of Management. “It was great to get the support of our own alumni to highlight the importance of this film that champions women with disabilities through pageantry.”

Highlighting the women’s lives particularly appealed to Ikenze. “I love to work on stories that explore the heart of the human condition,” she says. “I love to work on pieces that look at life as more than just a random sequence of events and challenge you to look deeper to see what makes people tick.”

Ikenze’s journey to Los Angeles started more than a decade ago and included some advice and assistance from alumni. “SU provided me with the tools to succeed in a rough marketplace,” she says. “When I graduated in 2001, my class was deeply affected by the economic recession after 9/11. If not for the kind help of our amazing alumni network, I doubt I would have been given a foothold in the business. I am especially grateful to Rob Light [’78, a managing partner at Creative Artists Agency and SU trustee] and Marc Hirschfeld [’78, an executive at NBC Universal TV], who met with me at different points of my career to help me on my journey to where I am today.”

Ikenze has taken to that role as a communicator, helping fellow SU graduates by sharing career wisdom, just as Light and Hirschfeld did for her. “I participated in the Atlanta SUccess in the City,” she says. “It was great to see future alums and recent graduates there and to give them advice on how to weather a tough economy in their chosen fields.”  —Brian Hudgins