Tyrese Gibson, Amandla Stenberg, Rosa Salazar and honorary Oscar winner Wes Studi made an appearance at the Academy of Arts and Sciences’ Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills to celebrate the five honorees chosen as the 2019 Nicholl fellowships in screenwriting recipients with a live reading of each writer’s scripts.
Led by the Academy’s short films and animation branch governor Jennifer Yuh Nelson and directed by 2016 Nicholl fellow Geeta Malik (writer and director of “India’s Sweets and Spices”), the event served as a celebration for the five winners admitted into the program, chosen out of the over 7,000 scripts sent in this year.
“We have these incredibly talented writers and this is [The Academy’s] way of getting their work seen,” Yuh Nelson explained. “For them, its the beginning of a huge step forward in their career. They’ll be provided with sponsorship and mentorship and hopefully, we’ll start seeing their films coming out.”
The Nicholl fellowship serves as a way of pushing diverse narratives to the center stage as well as providing opportunities for underrepresented groups and the winning scripts — “Princess Vietnam” by Aaron Chung, “Mother” by Sean Malcolm, “Street Rat Allie Punches Her Ticket” by Walker McKnight, “Lullabies of La Jaula” by Karen McDermott, and “Boy with Kite” by Renee Pillai — certainly reflect that goal.
Pillai’s testimony of her journey to the event only proves of the Academy’s commitment. After she received the news of her acceptance via a Skype call to her home in Malaysia, things started to look grim once she discovered she needed a passport and a U.S. visa to attend the event, for which she would need an interview with the U.S. embassy. However, the embassy couldn’t schedule an appointment with her until Nov. 8.
But where there’s a will, there’s a way. After a few long distance phone calls from the Academy and the Nicholl’s committee, Pillai’s interview was expedited — “they met with me for about an hour, and turns out they’re big movie fans,” she recalled — and she was able to start the journey and hear the live reading of her script “Boy With Kite” in the theater surrounded by Academy members and her peers. But, while this real-life story of tribulations came with happy endings, other fictional stories told throughout the night showed they don’t have the same conclusions.
Peter Samuelson and Eva Marie Saint served as presenters during the ceremony. “It’s no secret to anyone here that we are living in dark and dangerous times,” Samuelson said when presenting McDermott with her award. Her story “Lullabies of La Jaula” details the story of a young girl Dalia, who’s separated from her mother after crossing the border only to end up in a detainment camp with the many other children separated from their families. Saint added that McDermott said she felt she needed to share this story because “she was outraged that children are being caged in America.”
The feelings surrounding President Trump’s agenda were echoed throughout the crowd. Salazar (“Undone,” “Alita: Battle Angel”) expressed her distaste for the commander in chief as well. While she admits she may not know much about sports, As a D.C. native, she said felt a sense of home sickness after seeing crowds boo the president at the Nationals World Series game. “That warmed my heart big time because I’m not a fan. I hope he gets taken down.”