LOS ANGELES — Michael Latt, a 33-year-old marketing strategist and social justice advocate who was shot and killed in his Los Angeles home Monday, leaves behind a legacy of uplifting marginalized artists — but he didn’t foresee this path for himself.
After graduating from Chapman University in 2013 with a degree in public relations and advertising, Latt kick-started his career in entertainment marketing, then, by chance, became the digital marketing director for Ryan Coogler’s acclaimed first feature, “Fruitvale Station.” The film’s release coincided with the George Zimmerman trial.
Zimmerman, a neighborhood watch coordinator, fatally shot unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin on Feb. 26, 2012, in his gated community in Sanford, Florida. He was acquitted the day after “Fruitvale Station” opened in limited release, and protests over the trial’s outcome magnified the film’s impact.
For Latt, promoting the film was a turning point.
“Working on Ryan Coogler’s ‘Fruitvale Station’ opened my eyes up to how prevalent and insidious white supremacy is in our country and also showed me the potent power of storytelling to change hearts and minds,” Latt said in a 2019 interview with Forbes.
A year after “Fruitvale Station” debuted, in the wake of the Ferguson unrest, Coogler asked Latt to lead marketing for the artist-activist collective Blackout for Human Rights, and there he began to more clearly envision a future in social activism.
“The moment I realized that I could use my skill set for social good, I decided to dedicate the rest of my career to helping others, empowering storytellers of color and fighting injustice wherever it stands,” he told Forbes.
“Fruitvale” producer Sev Ohanian, who founded production company Proximity Media with Ryan and Zinzi Coogler, first began working with Latt when “Fruitvale Station” was selected for the 2013 Sundance Film Festival. Ohanian said Latt was pivotal in marketing the film online, starting with a “humble Instagram page.”
“To this day we attribute much of that little film’s ability to find an audience to the work Michael did in single-handedly getting the word out online,” he told the L.A. Times in an email. “I’ve always felt that Mike was a trailblazer in utilizing social media with the model he established with ‘Fruitvale Station.’ It’s not at all surprising to see all these years later what an amazing legacy he established for himself as an advocate of the arts, and issues dear to him.”
This became the mission of Latt’s entertainment marketing consulting firm Lead With Love, which he founded in 2019. Through Lead With Love, Latt strove to diversify the pool of creatives in Hollywood.
Since its inception four years ago, Lead With Love has driven digital attention toward myriad festivals, campaigns and social justice organizations focused on uplifting women and artists of color, and their work.
In 2022, Lead With Love partnered with “Manchester by the Sea” producer Kimberly Steward’s K Period Media Foundation (KPMF) on a campaign to promote Chinonye Chukwu’s “Till.” The film tells the story of Mamie Till-Mobley and her pursuit of justice for her 14-year-old son, Emmett Till, who was tortured and lynched in Mississippi in 1955 for allegedly whistling at a white woman — whose testimony at the subsequent murder trial was disputed.
Lead With Love’s three-pronged campaign included an exhibition featuring Black photographers that was on view for about a month at two Black-owned galleries in South L.A. and Atlanta; a 150-foot mural at the Black-owned L.A. event space the Beehive that was dedicated to Emmett and Mamie Till; and a series of events focused on empowering Black women.
At one such event, “Love in Action: Honoring Mothers,” held on Oct. 11, 2022, Black women and mothers were gathered for a screening of “Till.” Afterward, they were invited to assemble their own flower bouquets to pose for portraits. KPMF’s Elizabeth Mosely still remembers being stunned by the thoughtfulness of the flower-making session, which Latt orchestrated himself.
“After going through the traumatic experience of watching that film, then you have this healing process of making these flowers together,” Mosely said. “That was important to him. He was like, ‘We need something that’s uplifting after this really heavy movie.’ I personally had never seen that before, and that was beautiful.”
During several early brainstorming sessions, Mosely had told Latt that she wasn’t sure whether his “big ideas,” as she called them, were feasible — but he always found a way.
As to whether Lead With Love has a future beyond Latt, Mosely remains unsure.
“From my perspective, Lead With Love was Michael,” she said. “I hope somebody can continue the work in a way that he would’ve wanted, but his company was so synonymous with him, and the clients he had were because of his relationships and who he was.”
“Michael had a beautiful way of connecting culture and community,” KPMF founder Steward said in a statement to the L.A. Times. “There was always a heartbeat behind his work and genuineness in his efforts. His kindness, tenacity and generosity to this world will not be forgotten.”
In addition to promoting individual films, Lead With Love has also advised the Sundance Institute, where Latt’s mother, Michelle Satter, serves as the founding director of its feature film program. For her work at the institute, Satter will receive the the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award (and an Oscar statuette) at the film academy’s Governors Awards in January.
Building on his mother’s work, Latt had helped increase visibility over the years for Sundance.
For the 2016 fest, Latt partnered with Facebook to produce an original video series featuring several creatives Latt had worked with before, including Nate Parker and Common, and others attending the event, including Christopher Nolan and Diego Luna.
According to Lead With Love’s website, the 10-plus videos published during the festival generated more than 10 million views and 50 million impressions — a 400% increase in impressions compared with the previous year.
“He dedicated his career to serving others, employing storytelling, art and various mediums to create enduring change, and galvanizing communities with hope, love and inspiration,” the Sundance Institute said in a statement on behalf of the Latt family. “Michael will never be forgotten and his legacy and work will carry on through his family, his friends and his colleagues.”
Police say Latt’s killing was the culmination of a series of threats made by Jameelah Michl, who was an extra on A.V. Rockwell’s film “A Thousand and One” and began stalking Rockwell shortly thereafter. In June, the director filed a restraining order against Michl, whose initially innocuous fan messages had turned violent and threatening, Rockwell said in court documents reviewed by the L.A. Times.
Five months later, Michl forced her way into Latt’s Mid-City apartment building and shot him, authorities say.
According to a news release from the district attorney’s office, Michl targeted Latt because he was “friends with a woman [Michl] had been stalking,” but Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón didn’t name Rockwell as the stalking victim.
“Our hearts ache for the loss of a passionate advocate who believed in the principles of justice and equity within our criminal legal system,” Gascón said in a statement Thursday. “It is devastating to see a life cut short, especially one dedicated to fighting for a more just society.”
Satter; Latt’s father, writer-producer David Latt; and Latt’s older brother, Franklin Latt, co-head of the motion picture talent department at Creative Artists Agency; issued their own remarks Thursday.
“He devoted his career to supporting others, championing organizations that raised up women and artists of color, along with leveraging storytelling, art and various mediums to create enduring change and instill communities with hope, love and inspiration,” his parents said in a statement. “Michael will never be forgotten and we ask you to all carry on his legacy of love, compassion and fierce dedication to positive and lasting change.”
His brother added: “To know Michael was to understand that he lived his life with intention. The outpouring of love and support from all those he touched has been gratifying for our family beyond words. He founded his company Lead With Love to champion artists and to affect positive change for the world at large. His legacy will live on eternally through all of us as we choose to lead our own lives with that very same intention.”
On Thursday night, filmmaker Ava DuVernay dedicated the New York City premiere of her film “Origin” to Latt. Latt worked as a communications consultant for DuVernay’s independent distribution company ARRAY Now from 2019 to 2020.
“[Latt] was such a good guy, an extraordinary person — one of those people that comes into the room and just lights it up,” DuVernay said, holding back tears. “If you needed him, he would be there. He didn’t ask for money, he didn’t ask for fame, he didn’t ask for anything. He liked to work behind the scenes to get the word out about the things that mattered.”