NYU's Black List-Inspired Purple List Reveals 2019 Picks (Exclusive)

New York University - H 2015
Courtesy of New York University

Chloe Zhao and Desiree Akhavan are among those who have had their work featured on the list of the best production-ready screenplays from Tisch School of the Arts graduate film students and recent alumni.

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 2019 picks.

The three screenplays, selected by a panel of industry professionals, are Dry Summer, The Starling Girl and Two Sisters.

Dry Summer, by Lakshmi Simhan, follows a 17-year-old girl who moves to a small town on the Columbia River Gorge and finds herself torn between her parents as they split. She ultimately befriends a kid from the local, isolated Ukrainian Pentecostal community, exposing her to poverty, racism, religion and violence. Simhan, who grew up in Kuwait, India, the Philippines, the U.S. and Japan, says it was time spent in Portland, Oregon, that inspired the film: "Oregon was founded with the intention of being a whites-only state and Portland, despite its reputation for progressiveness, is one of the nation’s whitest cities. I lived in Portland, Oregon, from 2014-2016 and I have never felt more like an outsider. It was this pressing feeling of xenophobia in a place that claimed to be inclusive and enlightened that inspired me."

The Starling Girl, by Laurel Parmet, follows a 16-year-old girl who has an affair with her pastor in a patriarchal Christian community in rural Oklahoma. The story explores sexual abuse and power dynamics, with Parmet saying of the script, "It’s about a girl who wants to feel love, but needs to find it in herself. Although it’s set in an extreme environment, it’s an incredibly universal story. And with everything in our world today — #MeToo, church abuse scandals, religious extremism wielding huge power — I feel that now is the right time to make this film."

Two Sisters, by David Moragas, follows three New York siblings struggling with everyday problems six years after their mother's death, exploring sexual awakening, claustrophobia and the complications of familial bonds. Moragas, who identifies as queer, said the screenplay emerged from his own sense of self. "Everyone has personal, unresolved traumas that haunt us at night or manifest in weird and hilarious bursts of irrationality. Some of those traumas we actually confront and solve and feel like superheroes," he said. "This script is an ode to forgiving ourselves and trying our very best despite the many challenges that life surprises us with."

This year's Purple List selection panel included producers, screenwriters, casting directors, writers and editors from Fox Searchlight, Sony Pictures Classics and the Sundance Institute.

Purple List alumni include Chloe Zhao (Songs My Brothers Taught Me, The Rider), Desiree Akhavan (Appropriate Behavior, The Miseducation of Cameron Post) and Cathy Yan (Dead Pigs).

Thirteen Purple List screenplays have become finished films, 11 of which were released theatrically, including the following titles: The Adderall Diaries, Songs My Brothers Taught Me, Appropriate Behavior, Manos Sucias, Those People, Yosemite and Newlyweeds.

This year's Purple List selections join a diverse group. Over its eight editions, 23 of the 37 Purple List screenwriters are women; 20 are from black, Asian or other minority ethnic backgrounds; and five identify as LGBTQ. The list was founded in 2012 by classmates Ashim Bhalla and Shandor Garrison.

"We don’t do anything to manufacture diversity," Bhalla said in a statement. "We have a blind read process so if the judges love a script, it goes on The Purple List. Roughly 60 percent of Purple List selections are female-authored, which demonstrates the importance of ensuring women directors have the same opportunities to tell their stories and get their scripts in front of the right people. The Purple List shows the range of excellent untold stories we can access when the playing field is leveled."

Added Purple List faculty advisor and Tisch associate arts professor John Tintori: “The Purple List is an amazing collaboration between the NYU Graduate Film Program and the film industry. More than 60 industry professionals (agents, managers, writers, producers, and executives) serve as judges each year. Not surprisingly, our judges have an incredible ability to spot rising talent."

This year's Purple List writers will present on Wednesday night a staged reading of excerpts from their screenplays at Tisch, with a keynote from Purple List alum Cenk Erturk, whose film Noah Land will premiere Thursday at the Tribeca Film Festival.

A previous version of this story incorrectly stated that all three screenplays are accessible on The Black List's script database.