New York University’s Black List-inspired annual selection of the best production-ready screenplays from its Tisch School of the Arts graduate film students and recent alumni, known as The Purple List, has revealed its 2021 picks.
The five screenplays, selected by a panel of industry professionals, are Adrian Cardenas’ El Cuento de la Ballena / The Story of the Whale, Raha Amirfazli’s In the Land of Brothers, Sontenish Myers’ Stampede, Farida Zahran’s The Leftover Ladies and Juan Pablo Daranas Molina’s Zoe.
The Story of the Whale focuses on a Cuban fisherman who wakes up on the shore next to an enormous humpback whale he netted the night before.
“The film is about the value of friendship, the complexities of aging, and the love that can be found in a community”, the Cuban-American Cardenas says of his drama. “I was born to Cuban immigrants who uprooted their lives for a better opportunity. I frequently heard stories of displacement and separation due to deep political divide and war, but I was also told uplifting stories about a people and culture that so closely resembled my own.”
Cardenas’ film is in the final round of selection for both the NYU Production Lab slate and Film Independent’s Screenwriting Lab.
In the Land of Brothers is a social drama told over three decades following four Afghan refugee families living in Iran.
“I’ve always been interested in borders and how they shape the lives and identities of the unprivileged, without having any effect on the privileged. For those they affect, borders often become internalized, intimate, like a handicap,” says Iranian writer-director Amirfazli.
Stampede, which was a 2020 Sundance Labs project, blends period drama with sci-fi as it features an 11-year-old girl with telekinetic abilities on a Southern slave plantation in the 1800s.
“I grew up reading sci-fi and fantasy, I read beautiful folklore with gorgeous illustrations about Black mermaids, mysterious elders or a little Black girl on an epic adventure,” Myers says. “When I outgrew children’s books, those images vanished from my life. I wanted to tell a story about a Black girl called upon to adventure in a dangerous world, and what time and place is more dangerous for a Black girl than during the Slave Era in the deep South?”
The Leftover Ladies is an off-beat comedy set in Cairo following a 60-something woman trying to leave her polygamous husband after he expresses a commitment to their relationship.
“The film is about self-care and building boundaries even when it feels like it’s too late. It’s a dedication to the generous women in my life who have had their kindness mistaken for weakness.” Zahran, a staff writer on Hulu’s Ramy, says.
In Zoe, the lives of a Cuban mother and daughter are upended when they become political refugees in the U.S.
“Like the two women in Zoe, emigrating was for me like being born again. This is a fictional story made of autobiographical ingredients, merging childhood memories with experiences from my journey as an immigrant,” the Cuban writer-director says. “Zoe is a movie about two childhoods – that of a little girl, growing up and becoming her own self, and that of her mother, who must start from zero and reinvent herself in a new country.”
This year’s Purple List selection panel included producers, screenwriters, casting directors, writers and editors from Searchlight Pictures, Netflix, Sundance Labs and other film organizations.
Prominent filmmakers whose work was included on past editions of the Purple List, which celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, include Nomadland‘s Chloe Zhao, Judas and the Black Messiah‘s Shaka King, Cathy Yan (Dead Pigs, Birds of Prey), Desiree Akhavan (Appropriate Behavior, The Miseducation of Cameron Post) and Lisa Duva (Hound).
Zhao made the Purple List for Songs My Brothers Taught Me, and King was on there for Newlyweeds.
Thirteen Purple List screenplays have been released theatrically, with this year’s selections joining a diverse group: Twenty eight of the 46 purple list screenwriters are women; 27 are from black, Asian or other minority ethnic backgrounds; and seven identify as LGBTQ or have LGBTQ themes in their screenplays.