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News Americas, NEW YORK, NY, Thurs. March 28, 2024: “Women of color in the 21st century have a unique and unprecedented opportunity to constantly evolve. And we owe it to ourselves, our children– especially our daughters– to take advantage of that as much as we possibly can. Hopefully, I can lead by example.”

These are the words of Caribbean American businesswoman Lisa Franklyn-Zaidi, former Wall Street trader and current Chief Financial Officer (CFO) of the award-winning film and production company RFSwolf Entertainment LLC.

Caribbean American businesswoman Lisa Franklyn-Zaidi, former Wall Street trader and current Chief Financial Officer (CFO) of the award-winning film and production company RFSwolf Entertainment LLC. (Photo courtesy of Zaharah Zaidi.)

Founded in 2004 by Franklyn-Zaidi’s Trinidadian-born business partner, Emmy nominated television and film producer/director Randy Simon, RFSwolf Entertainment is a film and production entity that produces socially relevant content for non-profits and various corporations. Franklyn-Zaidi joined Simon in 2012, and since then the company has expanded its resume to include television reality shows, feature films, art installations such as New York’s African Burial Ground and an Off Broadway musical.

“If you had told me years ago that in 2024, I, someone with a finance background, would be deeply immersed in the entertainment business, managing the production of film, television, and stage projects and pitching them at major festivals, I would’ve sworn you were joking,” says the Columbia University graduate, who pursued a degree in Economics. “But I think my journey proves that you don’t have to be static– ever. There are always other challenges to attempt. And life is most satisfying when you emancipate yourself from mental boundaries and embrace all your possibilities.”

As strong advocates for human rights, racial equality and justice for women and the LGBTQIA community, Franklyn-Zaidi and Simon see their work as not just a job but a responsibility.

“Randy and I truly believe that we can raise awareness, enlighten minds and change hearts with our projects,” commented Franklyn-Zaidi. “And I think that my financial skills, newly acquired production knowledge, and chatterbox personality can blend together and allow me to contribute in very meaningful ways, especially with the list of everything we have coming up in 2024.”

On that list is a reality show featuring a celebrity dentist, the release and distribution of their independent feature film Third Week and a remounting of their 2023 Off Broadway musical, The Duchess Of Les- An AI Musical from Little Ukraine, which enjoyed its world premiere at the Kraine Theatre in the East Village last fall.

The latter two projects are emblematic of the work that Lisa and Randy are most passionate about, where art is used to present new realities to diverse audiences. 

In Third Week, written and directed by Spanish born auteur Jordi Torrent, a young second generation Caribbean-American man tries to rebuild his life after emerging from a three year prison term, using his prison skills to build a place for himself and his community. The film recently had its European premiere at American Film Fest in Madrid and Barcelona, with possibilities for U.S. distribution in the near future.

The Duchess of LES is an LGBTQIA-friendly musical that follows the story of Simon, a young breakdancer, who falls in love with her psychotic brother’s wife. The musical is described as “encapsulating all the broken dreams and grand hopes that make America the country it is, with music that will transport you back to the dance sounds of the 80s, as imagined by AI.”  It is written by Ukrainian playwright Dennis Woychuk. After a solid reception during its run last fall, Lisa, Randy and their team are in negotiations to remount the production later in 2024.

For the original New Yorker who now resides in North Carolina, and yet still maintains her deep “Trini” roots, it has been a winding and unlikely path that has brought her to her current destination. 

She was born in Manhattan to parents of Trinidadian descent, and partially raised in Trinidad for several years by her maternal grandparents. She was four years old when she and her two siblings returned to the United States where her mother, Jacklyne Cecelia Franklyn, a single parent after her divorce from Lisa’s father, made education a top priority for her children. She made huge sacrifices, as Franklyn puts it, to have her children attend private school, where Lisa and her siblings proved to be gifted and talented students. 

While studying at Columbia University, Franklyn reconnected with her high school friend Azeem “Malik” Zaidi, who later became her husband. After graduating, Franklyn worked as a commodities trader and research analyst on Wall Street at established companies including Firebird Capital, Wyndham Group and UBS Securities, eventually becoming a marketing consultant. And yet, at this precise moment, Franklyn-Zaidi elected to become a stay-at-home mom to her brood of three, which eventually grew to what she affectionately calls her “Fantastic Four”– daughter  Zaharah and sons Arshad, Arman and Azahn.

Reflecting on that part of her life now, she says: “It was a hard decision to make. My thought process however, was that I could always come back to a career later on, but my children will only be children now. So I deferred my dreams to give my children the nurturing they deserved. And I stand by that decision to this day.”

Initially, she worked part-time with Simon at RFSwolf while still raising her young family. She handled accounting before slowly entering the creative sphere as a Production Manager and Coordinator for independent films, commercials and several PSAs sponsored by organizations such as the National Park Service and National Institute of Health.

“It’s not the position I thought I’d be in years ago, but if my story proves anything, it’s that evolution is sometimes a welcome, if unexpected thing. You start in one career and wind up merging it with another. Above all else, this century offers women like me the opportunity to keep becoming. And that,” concluded Franklyn-Zaidi, “is a wonderful thing.”

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