Hollywood Inclusion Lab for South Asian Screenwriters Selects Mentors (Exclusive)

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Guriner Chadha, Aneesh Chaganty, Maryam Keshavarz

The inaugural 1497 Writers Lab will see 'Bend It Like Beckham' director Gurinder Chadha and Sundance winners Aneesh Chaganty and Maryam Keshavarz help develop movie scripts by underrepresented scribes.

After the Hollywood success of Priyanka Chopra and Mindy Kaling, the inaugural 1497 Writers Lab, which offers mentoring from leading filmmakers for underrepresented South Asian screenwriters, has selected its mentors.

Bend it Like Beckham director Gurinder Chadha, Aneesh Chaganty, who will direct the upcoming Lionsgate thriller Run, and Iranian-American director Maryam Keshavarz will help develop feature film scripts at the talent incubator. "For too long, white American cinematic stories have been deemed to have universal appeal. I'm excited to support these emerging writers in crafting compelling stories that can be the new re-imagined American voice, the new universal story through the lens of our country's rich minority cultures," Keshavarz, a Sundance audience award winner for Circumstance, said in a statement.

The 1497 Writers Lab has an advisory team that includes Gersh agent Louise Keshaviah, Brillstein Partners manager Ken Lee, and Management 360 manager Priya Satiani. Founded by Adeel Ahmed, Kamran Khan, and Lipica Shah, the lab aims to support and lift talent of South Asian descent to reduce their underrepresentation in the U.S. film and TV industry.

Women and people of color are making major strides onscreen in recent years, according to the latest Hollywood Diversity Report from UCLA, but gains in behind-the-camera talent, including screenwriters, and in the executive suite have been minimal.

1497 as a title name was chosen to represent the year before present-day South Asia countries first faced western dominance. "1497 is a call to reclaim the South Asia of pre-colonization, celebrate the myriad aspects of the region's history, culture, and people, and give an opportunity for writers descended from across all of South Asia to have their voices heard and their stories told,” Shah said in her own statement.

The launch of the 1497 Writers Lab also comes amid growing audience acceptance for South Asian storylines. "The demand for South Asian stories by Western audiences is stronger than ever, and it is long past the time for a Western audience to experience these stories from a beautiful and truly authentic South Asian point of view," adds Khan about boosting the trajectory for South Asian talent in Hollywood.

The inaugural 1497 lab will have Sundance filmmaker Adrienne Weiss serving as a script coach and industry executives, including Hollywood managers and talent agents, also offering creative and career roadmaps for the South Asian screenwriters.

"The goal of this program is to actively enable filmmakers of South Asian descent to advance their careers and is a response to the industry’s call for inclusion," says Ahmed.

Submissions for the inaugural 1497 Writers Lab are open until July 31. Ten semi-finalists will be announced on August 5, and the three finalists will finally be unveiled on August 24. Starting Friday, applications are available at 1497.org.