Lena Dunham, Lin-Manuel Miranda and New York's 5 Top Cultural Influencers

5:30 AM 4/6/2016

by THR Staff and Edited by Alison Brower and Marisa Guthrie

Yes, duh, the 'Girls' co-showrunner and 'Hamilton' mastermind made the list, but so did a TV/digital duo and one of the city's veteran provocateurs.

Photographed by Austin Hargrave

Reported by Seth Abramovitch, Eriq Gardner, Merle Ginsberg, Marisa Guthrie, Natalie Jarvey, Andy Lewis, Michael O'Connell, Ryan Parker, Lacey Rose, Bryn Elise Sandberg and Tatiana Siegel

  • Ta-Nehisi Coates

    Author, 'Between the World and Me'

    Stephen Lovekin/Getty Images

    WHY HE MATTERS July brought the publication of Between the World and Me, an exploration of what it means to grow up black in America (written in the form of a letter to his teenage son), September a MacArthur "genius" grant and November the National Book Award. The Atlantic's national correspondent, 40, has become a pop-culture touchstone (with 609,000 Twitter followers) for Black Lives Matter, getting name-checked in everything from Sleepy Hollow to Black-ish (an episode about police brutality was a mini-Coates seminar). Coming in April is his Black Panther comic series for Marvel — which he says shares the theme of "the promise and limits of human governance" with the best-selling Between.

  • Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner

    Showrunners/founders, 'Girls'/Lenny Letter

    Austin Hargrave

    WHY THEY MATTER When Dunham, 29, and Konner, 44, launched Lenny Letter in September, they hoped one day it'd be more than an email newsletter. Only six months in, the digital outlet has featured such powerhouse bylines as Jane Fonda, Michelle Obama and Jennifer Lawrence — who put Lenny on the map when she penned an essay on Hollywood's gender pay gap. The newsletter now boasts more than 400,000 subscribers and an impressive 70 percent open rate, which it's been able to monetize thanks to an advertising deal with Hearst. "The newsletter was a way to take the temperature of an audience and see if there really was a place for us to step into other media with the Lenny voice," says Dunham. Now, as Dunham and Konner prepare to bid adieu to their acclaimed HBO series Girls in 2017, they plan to expand the Lenny brand and are in negotiations to team with HBO for what the pair describes as a series of 22-minute films written and directed by women. "Instead of just discussing issues, we want Lenny to be a part of something that gives opportunities," says Dunham of the collaboration with HBO, with which they have other scripted projects in development via their L.A.-based production company A Casual Romance (including Max, a 1960s-set feminism comedy pilot starring Zoe Kazan). The duo also is launching a book imprint with Random House, publisher of Dunham's best-selling memoir Not That Kind of Girl, that will focus on emerging voices in fiction and nonfiction. Dunham's BuzzFeed-produced Women of the Hour podcast will be rebranded as the official Lenny podcast and is scheduled to return in the fall with double the number of episodes (10 instead of five). "We don't know what the limits of Lenny are," says Konner. "There's a lot floating around in our heads, bubbling up, as we're trying to figure out all the things Lenny can be."

    APP I CAN'T LIVE WITHOUT Konner: "Khloe Kardashian's app, Uber and Postmates. And Waze when I'm in L.A."

    DREAM INTERVIEW Dunham: "I've been chasing Babs Streisand for a little while: Call, got a lot of questions for you, girl!"

  • Alex Gibney

    Documentary filmmaker

    Getty Images

    WHY HE MATTERS The prolific Oscar winner has directed seven features over the past 27 months. In 2015, he tackled a titan (Steve Jobs: The Man in the Machine) and a litigious institution (Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief — a searing investigation and triple Emmy winner). The New Jersey denizen, 62, also began work on an 11-episode Amazon series, The New Yorker Presents (developed with the magazine's editor, David Remnick), which began streaming Feb. 16. On the horizon, he'll direct his first feature, political thriller The Action.

    PERSON I'D LIKE TO SIT NEXT TO AT A DINNER PARTY "Big Papi on my left and Elizabeth Warren on my right."

  • Spike Lee

    Director

    Getty Images

    WHY HE MATTERS Never was the out­spoken director's voice heard more widely than Jan. 18, when he announced that he would sit out this year's Academy Awards (after receiving a lifetime achievement Oscar in November). His absence not only had a role in the Academy's pledge to diversify its membership, but it also sparked a conversation that still reverberates throughout Hollywood. Lee, 59, who directed two films in the past year — Chi-Raq and the documentary Michael Jackson's Journey From Motown to Off the Wall — endorsed Bernie Sanders for president in February, giving him much-needed momentum among black voters (see THR's cover story on page 66).

    FAVORITE NEW YORK DISH "Pizza, but you gotta get the pizza right. [Republican candidate John] Kasich was eating it with a fork and knife. This is not that Chicago stuff, deep dish. You do not use a knife and fork to eat pizza in New York City."

  • Lin-Manuel Miranda

    Creator, 'Hamilton'

    Getty Images

    WHY HE MATTERS Soon after Hamilton debuted at the Public Theater in February 2015 (six years after he'd performed an early bit of his hip-hop historical musical for President Obama at the White House) to rave reviews, Miranda, 36, recalls thinking, "Soon everything will go back to normal." Hardly. The show moved to Broadway in July, becoming a white-hot ticket for A-listers and politicos and doing $30 million in presales en route to an astonishing $100 million projected first year — but Miranda is most proud of the way it connects young people of color to U.S. history. "Even if the people who founded it don't look like you, it's your country. We get to tell this story, too, and we get to tell it our way."

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