Non-profit entertainment organization Diverso has launched the first-ever paid summer fellowship program for Black student screenwriters called Black Writers in Focus (BWIF). This year, Diverso welcomed its inaugural group of screenwriter mentors Joe Robert Cole (Black Panther), Juel Taylor (Space Jam: A New Legacy), and Justin Hillian (The Chi). They have signed on to provide mentorship and support to BWIF’s three student Fellows which include Brandon A. Buffong from SUNY Purchase, Ivan Rome from Columbia University, and Xavier Rogers from Feirstein Graduate School of Cinema.
BWIF received 446 submissions from Black students across 164 different universities. Scripts were vetted by a committee of all-Black professional script readers. More details about the Fellows and their projects can be read here.
In addition, development executives Shaye Guillory (Rideback), Michelle Schultz (ABC), and Tayanna Todd (Lionsgate) will serve as executive mentors. They will work alongside the writers and Fellows, providing additional development support throughout the program’s ten weeks, which kicked off June 8.
“What excites me most about being a Black Writers In Focus mentor is the opportunity to help bridge the gap between talent and possibility for diverse voices,” said Cole, who co-wrote the forthcoming Black Panther: Wakanda Forever.
Diverso partnered with Rideback and the Writers Guild Foundation to create BWIF. Program directors Mallom Liggon and Matt Zhang — undergraduate students from Loyola Marymount University and Vanderbilt University, respectively —
launched and fundraised an initial $90,000 for the program with help from their Diverso teammates.
The program was marketed nationwide by a virtual HBCU Speaker Series put on by Diverso that included Barry Jenkins (Moonlight), Kemp Powers (Soul), and more. Along with hands-on mentorship, Fellows participated in workshops focused on topics such as pitching and working with representation from industry leaders such as Oscar winner Chloe Zhao (Nomadland), Meg LeFauve (Inside Out), Karen Horne (SVP Equity and Inclusion, WarnerMedia), and Jermaine Johnson (Manager, 3Arts), among others.
“As a Black screenwriting student myself, Black Writers In Focus is exactly the type of program I wish existed for me and my peers when I was in school,” said Liggon. “It is a dream opportunity to assist in the creation of this revolutionary program that will open doors for our Fellows, and many more Black creators in the future.”
BWIF has received tremendous support from the entertainment industry. Financial sponsors of the program include WarnerMedia, Oprah Winfrey’s OWN, Madison Wells Media, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s Miranda Family Fund, Issa Rae’s Hoorae, Lagralane, and Couper Samuelson at Blumhouse. Off the initial funding success for the inaugural BWIF
program, Diverso is currently actively fundraising for their 2021 and 2022 goals.