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Five fellows for the 2020-21 Black List and Google Assistant Storytelling Fellowship were announced Monday.
The program will provide financial and creative support to five writers in the development and execution of a new original feature film script or TV pilot under the condition that the project tells a contemporary story from the perspective of historically underrepresented communities.
Each of the five scribes will be awarded $20,000 (two are part of one writing team and received $10,000 each) with the purpose of supporting themselves for six months during their creative process. During that time, the Black List and Google Assistant will pair each fellowship recipient with a screenwriting mentor. Confirmed screenwriting mentors include Max Barbakow (Palm Springs), Andy Siara (Palm Springs), Marja Lewis Ryan (The L Word, The Four-Faced Liar), and Erica Rivinoja (South Park, The Last Man on Earth, Marry Me). Only writers who have never been compensated for screenwriting work were able to opt in on the Black List website, which began taking submissions this January.
The first five fellows are:
Anna Khaja, the daughter of a Pakistani immigrant and clinical psychologist, who has made it her mission to depict Muslim women how they are seldom seen on screen — as complex, driven individuals with their own individual strengths and flaws. Khaja garnered numerous TV and film roles early in her career, the majority of which had her portray stereotypical representations of one quarter of the world’s population. Rather than continuing to portray those roles, Khaja has honed in on writing her own stories about nuanced Muslim females who ultimately define themselves.
Alan Jenkins, a law professor, writer, and advocate who has devoted his career to the intersection of storytelling and social justice. Descended from African-American migrants from the South and immigrants from the Caribbean, the Black experience is central to much of his storytelling. Jenkins seeks to engage broad audiences with shared values and new ideas and believes diverse and inclusive storytelling is especially important at this critical time in our nation’s history. He has worked as a Supreme Court law clerk, civil rights lawyer, human rights grantmaker, and non-profit communications strategist.
Leslie Nipkow, a longtime boxer who also battled a breast cancer diagnosis in 2012. Boxing and writing have long been her daily grounding practices and ultimately helped her power through her battle against the disease. Nipkow has most recently had to face other hard realities like a drained bank account and lost time, which she is now making up as a Storytelling Fellow. She is a member of WGAE, SAG-AFTRA, AEA, and Women in Film.
Urvashi Pathania, who emmigrated from Mumbai, India to Princeton, New Jersey in middle school and began creating films in her video production classes as a way to connect with classmates and share her experiences about being an immigrant. The films she makes are for her parents and immigrant parents everywhere–to show their stories matter. She received a Bachelors in Film Studies from Columbia University. Upon graduation, she worked on the sets of feature films and made a documentary series examining LGBTQ South Asians living in America. After receiving an M.F.A. in Film Production from USC, she wrote and directed the short film, Unmothered, about an Indian American woman who travels to India to immerse her mother’s ashes in holy water. It has screened at multiple Oscar-qualifying film festivals. Urvashi is currently a writing fellow in Lena Waithe’s inaugural mentorship lab.
Matteo Caprio Gomez and Kareem Ayas, who are friends and writing partners. Gomez is the son of Italian immigrants with Spanish ancestry, whose father instilled a love of film at an early age through the masterworks of Felini, Leone, Coppola, and Scorcese. After experiencing life as an agency assistant in LA, he stepped away from Hollywood to study film at NYU, where he met Ayas. Ayas went to high school in Damascus, where he was labeled “too Lebanese,” and then studied at the American University of Beirut in Lebanon, where he was suddenly “too Syrian.” He also dealt with racial stereotypes in a post-9/11 America before returning to Syria. After 12 years and three wars, he decided to attend NYU, where he became fast friends with Gomez.
“We are grateful to be in partnership with Google on our first-ever Storytelling Fellowship to help invest in and champion the work of diverse, underrepresented creators, part of the Black List’s core mission,” said The Black List founder Franklin Leonard. “The talented Storytelling finalists announced today vary by age, race, background, and interests, but have one thing in common – their exceptional ability to tell authentic stories. The Black List and Google can’t wait to see their finished products and help share them with the world.”
“The six outstanding screenwriting fellows Google selected with our partners at The Blacklist exemplify the diverse and creative minds that should have an equitable opportunity to be heard in Hollywood,” said Elle Roth-Brunet, Google Assistant’s Global Head of Entertainment and Marketing Partnerships. “It was our goal in initiating the Storytelling Fellowship to provide mentorship opportunities and economic sustenance to an extremely talented group of individuals who would otherwise may not have the access or the resources, to have their stories told on a larger scale.”
The partnership was negotiated by UTA Marketing, which represents Google.
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