Atlanta Movie Studio Executive Apologizes After Sending Racist, Antisemitic Texts

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by Nicole Carr, ProPublica, and Mike Jordan, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

This story was originally published by ProPublica. ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for The Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox.

Ryan Millsap, a powerful Atlanta movie executive who has relied on relationships with Black and Jewish leaders to advance his business endeavors, has issued an apology after an investigative report that exposed his racist and antisemitic messages was published by ProPublica and The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

The apology comes as several influential government and entertainment figures acquainted with Millsap said they were disappointed by his derogatory rhetoric about “Fucking Black People” and “nasty Jews,” revealed in public records tied to an ongoing legal dispute with Millsap’s former attorney.

“Those comments were deplorable, and I don’t appreciate them,” said DeKalb County commissioner and CEO candidate Larry Johnson, who is Black.

Millsap, who is white, is a mainstay in Atlanta real estate, political and entertainment circles. He responded to the report with a statement issued three days after publication. He’d been made aware of the contents of the story weeks ahead of publication, but he did not respond to questions after journalists sent him the material that would be reported.

The messages, filed publicly as exhibits in two separate Fulton County Superior Court cases, contained racist and antisemitic comments made between Millsap and his girlfriend at the time, who was also an investor in his real estate business. In those messages, the couple complained about how Black people smell and how Jewish people do business. In a subsequent hearing, Millsap chalked up some of his rhetoric about Jewish people to “locker room” talk, according to transcripts.

“Unfortunately, in the course of this litigation, comments which I never intended to share publicly have come to light, and people I care about and who have put their trust in me have been hurt. I want to extend my sincere apologies to my dear friends, colleagues and associates in both the black and Jewish communities for any and all pain my words have caused,” Millsap wrote on Sunday.

“My sincere hope is that the bonds and friendships that we have forged speak far louder than some flippant, careless remarks. I intend to work privately with all of you to use this as an opportunity to have a healthy and authentic dialogue about race and culture, in a productive, not destructive, manner.”

In emails to ProPublica and the AJC that were cited in the story published last week, Millsap’s ex-girlfriend apologized for the texts and wrote: “I severed all personal and professional ties with Mr. Millsap years ago because our values, ethics, and beliefs did not align. As a passive investor in Blackhall, I was not involved in the day-to-day operations of the company, nor have I been party to any of the lawsuits involving Blackhall. I consistently encouraged Mr. Millsap to treat his investors and community supporters with fairness and respect.”

Todd “Speech” Thomas, a Grammy-winning artist and the front man for Atlanta hip-hop group Arrested Development, issued a blistering statement on Wednesday criticizing Millsap and his comments. Thomas was a guest on Millsap’s podcast last year.

“While I previously had a positive experience interacting with Millsap, the gravity of his words cannot be ignored or excused,” Thomas said. “His recent ‘apology’ rings hollow without concrete actions to address the harm caused. Mere words are not enough; we demand meaningful steps toward education, understanding, and genuine change.”

Millsap, the former owner of Blackhall Studios, has been celebrated for his commitment to diversity in the workplace.

In 2019, as he planned to expand his movie studio, he courted a South DeKalb Black community in his effort to get the approval of county commissioners like Johnson for a land swap. Millsap had promised the community $3.8 million in improvements — including trails and a public park — as a perk for the swap. He sold the studio in 2021, and the 40 acres of land that he acquired a year earlier (and still owns) is now part of a fierce environmental dispute tied to an area that will house the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center — a $90 million police training facility that is under construction. (Critics call the project Cop City.)

Johnson, who was among the government officials who publicly supported the swap, said the proposal would not have gotten his vote had he known of Millsap’s messages.

Had Millsap’s texts been made public at the time he was pursuing the land swap, “he would have never gotten a chance to talk to me or anybody, with the community and myself — he would have been ran out of there,” Johnson said, adding. “It would have never gotten to this point. He talked about African Americans and our people, and you don’t do that.”

Johnson said Millsap presented an alternate public persona to the majority Black area as neighbors largely supported the land swap.

“We can’t go back in time on those things, but my goal is to use this as a learning opportunity to talk about how we have to combat that stuff,” Johnson said.

Millsap, in a written statement issued Wednesday, responded to Johnson’s comments and defended the land swap deal.

“I care about DeKalb County and its citizens and would hope Commissioner Johnson feels the same way,” he said. “The commissioners, including Commissioner Johnson, agreed at the time of the land swap that it was the best thing for the county, and they voted for it on that basis. That’s what good leaders should do, and that’s exactly what they did.”

DeKalb CEO Michael Thurmond, who is Black, said he was advised by the county attorney against speaking about the text messages because of pending litigation involving Millsap, his real estate company and the county.

One of those matters is a state Court of Appeals case in which environmentalists have sued Millsap and the county over the swap, claiming changes made by the Trust for Public Land and the Arthur M. Blank Family Foundation to a deed agreement violated original terms that confirmed the land “shall be used in perpetuity as park property.”

It’s unclear what Millsap’s plans for the land are.

Millsap’s text messages have also caused a stir within the entertainment industry, where he allied himself with Black leaders and spoke publicly about the importance of the Black community’s contributions. Several people contacted by reporters said they didn’t want to speak publicly about such a discomforting subject.

Isaac Hayes III, founder of the Atlanta-based social media platform Fanbase and a record producer, was a guest on Millsap’s podcast in an episode posted in December 2022.

In an interview on Monday, Hayes said Millsap’s disparaging text messages were distasteful, but he’d be willing to talk with Millsap if he reached out.

“I wish him success in finding the pathway to, you know, dialogue — constructive dialogue — that results in those types of conversations for him in his life,” Hayes said. “I don’t speak about, you know, races of people in that fashion. It’s disappointing, but I wish him luck.”