NYU's Black List-Inspired Purple List Reveals Diverse Group of Winners (Exclusive)

New York University - H 2015
Courtesy of New York University

The annual selection of the most promising production-ready screenplays generated from Tisch's graduate film students and recent alumni has previously included 'The Adderall Diaries,' 'Songs My Brothers Taught Me' and 'Appropriate Behavior.'

NYU's Black List-inspired annual selection of the best production-ready screenplays from the university's Tisch School of the Arts graduate film students and recent alumni, known as the Purple List, has revealed its 2016 picks.

The three screenplays, two of which are by women, are all ethnically diverse at a time in which there's been a strong push for more inclusive movies in Hollywood in the wake of the #OscarsSoWhite controversy.

The 2016 Purple List winners are Broker, Chickenshit and Noah Tree. The first screenplay, by African-American writer-director-producer Kiara C. Jones, follows an African-American Wall Street financier risking everything to lift his family out of poverty.

Jones, who won a DGA grand jury award and received an Independent Spirit Award nomination for producing and was selected for Sony Pictures Television's directing program, said Wednesday in a statement: “We are seriously lacking the privilege of perspective in black cinema. We have been severely limited in opportunities to tell our stories. This has created a biased and unjust view of blacks in the world media.”

Chickenshit, by Filipino-American writer-director Jess dela Merced, follows a young African-American girl who joins forces with a group of boys to thwart arsonists in Detroit. Dela Merced — a Spike Lee fellow, IFP emerging storyteller and Lorraine Hansberry Media Award winner — said of her film, "The kids I’ve met working in Detroit are much savvier than I was, more in tune with their environment. They have to navigate a darker, more morally ambiguous world. This frightening realization that the world is not simply black and white is what I am most interested in exploring.” Her movie has won support from NYU's production lab and NYU graduate film program creative director Spike Lee.

In his own statement about the Purple List winners, Lee said, "You can tell what a school does by its students. These three exciting screenplays are a representation of what we do here."

Noah Tree, by Turkish writer-director Cenk Erturk, follows a son trying to fulfill his dying father's dangerously contentious wish to be buried on what may be sacred land, exploring the interactions between Islam and Turkish society. The film was partly financed with a grant from the Turkish Ministry of Culture. Erturk, the festival director of the L.A. Turkish Film Festival, said in a statement, "Ninety-five percent of Turks are Muslims but the vast majority do not actually practice the religion, and yet 95 percent of these non-practicing Muslims say they would fight for their religion. ‘Islam’ means peace in the original Arabic.”

All three films are accessible on the Black List's script database.

With its 2016 selections, the Purple List founders also shared statistics from its five editions, revealing that the screenplays chosen have been particularly diverse. Looking at the 25 Purple List selections since 2012, 19 of the winning screenwriters are women, 15 are ethnically diverse and two identify as LGBT.

The Purple List winners are chosen by a panel of industry professionals. This year's judges include actress Jennifer Beals, writer-director Karyn Kusama, Beasts of the Southern Wild producers Josh Penn and Michael Gottwald, WME’s Craig Kestel, UTA's Jacob Epstein and Sundance Lab’s Rachel Chanoff.

Twelve Purple List screenplays have gone into production, including the following titles, which were released theatrically: The Adderall Diaries, Songs My Brothers Taught Me, Appropriate Behavior, Manos Sucias, Those People, Yosemite and Newlyweeds.

“Diversity on the Purple List isn’t manufactured, it arises organically from the blind read process — it shows what’s possible when the playing field is leveled.” grad film student and Purple List co-founder Shandor Garrison said in a statement.

Fellow grad film student and Purple List co-founder Ash Bhalla added: “Judges don’t know the screenwriter’s name or have any accompanying information about the screenplay — decisions are based on the writing alone. The Purple List shows that not only are diverse filmmakers out there, they’re out there telling untold stories and making excellent films."

Barbara Schock, NYU grad film program chair, said, “The impressive and important diversity voices found in the Purple List doesn’t come as a surprise to me, as it simply reflects the NYU graduate film community, our values, and the mandate we honor to find and give voice to stories from all across our culture. We admit applicants on the basis of who they are as people and what kinds of stories they have to tell, and are especially attracted to those stories that don’t easily find a place in the film industry. The fact that the Purple List so fully embodies this animating spirit of our program is a source of great pride for all our faculty, our staff and, most importantly, our students."

Purple List faculty advisor John Tintori added: “NYU grad film celebrates and cultivates diversity in every sense of the word. Students from around the world learn how to make films that matter to them, and make them well. The Purple List is a perfect embodiment of the training. These are well crafted screenplays, and stories that you haven't heard before.”