Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’re aware of Hollywood’s growing need to provide diverse representation. Thankfully, the stars are aligning and allies are coming together to thrust marginalized voices forward. But, how does a burgeoning screenwriter of color get their work out there?
With the help of The Black List, in association with several organizations, a list of the top Latinx talent has been assembled. Dubbed the Latinx List, 10 up-and-coming Latinx screenwriters are seeing their work not only recognized, but promoted. We spoke to three of the women writers who made the list about their journey and how the Latinx List hopes to raise Latino voices.
Founded in 2005, The Black List has become the go-to place to find the best scripts and untapped talent, fostering an online community where screenwriters can make their work available to colleagues, buyers, and potential employers. Since its inception, scripts that have made the Black List has gone on to gross $28 billion in worldwide box office and win 53 Academy Awards. To say it’s prestigious is an understatement.
The arrival of the Latinx List is the result of a filmic landscape that often fails to reflect the people living within it, according to Franklin Leonard, Black List founder. He says the scripts on the Latinx List “are remarkable opportunities to tell great stories and do good business in the process.” Contenders hoping to make the list either had their work already on the Black List or were nominated from participating organizations like The Latin Tracking Board, Mijente, Remezcla, the Nathan Cummings Foundation, UnidosUS, and the National Association of Latino Independent Producers. The scripts had to have at least one Latinx writer credited and feature a Latinx or Latin American character “in a prominent role.”
Ahead of the official announcement at the NALIP Media Summit, we talked to three of the female screenwriters selected for inclusion on the Latinx List and found they are all diverse, both in their life experiences and the stories they’ve penned.
Mexican Danya Jimenez‘s Luna Likes (cowritten with Hannah McMechan) is a teen comedy about a teenage girl’s desperate desire to become “the next great culinary-travel documentarian extraordinaire.” This means getting more social media followers, hitting the hottest parties in Los Angeles, and becoming someone her quiet, low-key Mexican-born family doesn’t recognize. For Jimenez, the story isn’t autobiographical, but her heroine certainly holds commonalities with herself, “I was always so dramatic and angsty … I was like, ‘Why am I not blonde and not 5 feet 2 inches? Why am I 5 feet 7 inches and Mexican in Orange County?’” While going to college and studying abroad in Hungary, Jimenez and McMechan made it into the Black List Women in Film TV Lab in 2017 and decided to work with McMechan on a proper script. Writing Luna Likes was itself born out of a desire for fun. Jimenez recounts that she’d studied screenwriting and film production in college but upon writing their first script, Blackfriars, they “never even thought of it as anything that was going to get us anywhere.”
Barbara Cigarroa, the screenwriter of The Other Side, has a similar background. Her script, the story of a Mexican-American teen dealing with poverty on the Texas-Mexico border and whose father sponsors two unaccompanied migrant children, came while she was studying narrative filmmaking at Columbia University. After working in documentaries, learning at the hand of acclaimed documentarian Albert Maysles, Cigarroa decided to transition to narrative filmmaking in order to blend prose and playwrighting with her interest in social justice issues. Her inspiration for The Other Side came, in part, through her two and a half years examining the residents of a farmworker’s ranch in upstate New York. “Talking to a lot of people about their first experiences, in terms of coming and landing in America, observing that familial relationship that occurs when you’re new to this country and those who are taking them in” intrigued her. She also drew from her own knowledge of border life, regularly visiting family cousins on her mother’s side who still lived in Mexico.
Maria Victoria Ponce, who wrote Washing Elena, admits “growing up I would have never thought about going into the arts.” Yet in spite of that, her script is an emotionally wrought tale of friendship and murder, involving two Mexican-American friends from childhood who grow apart after one converts to Islam. Ponce initially started her career as a history major before making the brash decision to quit her job and take up screenwriting. Like Cigarroa, much of Ponce’s work is born out of looking at what she’s seeing. Her first documentary sought to look at minority voter turnout in the wake of the Obama-Clinton election, and Washing Elena came from a similar background. “[A friend] told me that Latinos are the largest ethnic group converting to Islam in the United States. I was taken aback by that; I was shocked. Why would Latinos want to convert to Islam? They’re coming from one minority group that’s already oppressed to another group, post-9/11, that’s being oppressed even more.”
For all three of these screenwriters, their hope is that their inclusion on The Black List will not only allow them to tell stories but inspire other Latinx and Latin American screenwriters to enter the industry. “Hopefully I can inspire other Latinx filmmakers who are trying to break in and … through that it can inspire a lot of filmmakers to go out and tell their stories.” Jimenez hopes more discussion will not just inspire others, but change what stories are told. She explains that Latino filmmakers shouldn’t have to strictly focus on stories about immigration. “People are really hungry for these kinds of stories … It was important for us to write a character who’s like every girl you know and are friends with who just happens to be Latina.” Ponce says stories from Latino writers have to go further and encompass all different genres. She recounts hearing an executive talk on a panel about the need for a “Latino Black Panther moment.” Ponce thought, “Of course I want Latinos to have a Black Panther moment, but I also want us to have every other moment. We need our Manchester by the Sea moment. Our Juno moment. Can we have all these other moments because that’s a lot of pressure to put on someone, on a community. Is that all we are?”
The Latinx List is a step forward toward in true representation. Vanessa Erazo, editor of Remezcla’s film and TV section, hopes the list will “spotlight screenwriters who will create opportunities for Latino talent to thrive in front of the camera and behind it.” The onus is now on the studios to employ the writers included on the list and change the discussion of what makes a Latino movie. As these women prove, there’s more than meets the eye.
The complete Latinx List with movie titles and loglines can be found here.