Month: October 2017

This Is What It’s Like to Be a Latina Writer

…On Not Being Latina Enough: How Boricua Rapper BIA Found Her Place

This points to the fact that more often than not, writers’ rooms at major networks only allocate one slot for a diversity hire, creating a counterproductive sense of competitiveness between talents of color. Rather than building a community, this practice isolates them by making it seem there can only be one person of color on the team at a time. Having someone else with a similar background and perspective can validate ideas and provides a louder voice in terms of the topics and stories being told, as both Ornelas and Ramos can attest.

From getting a chancla gag included in the show to promoting the idea that diversity is a good business model, both writers share lots of tips on how to break in and navigate the white world of writers’ rooms, advice that can be applied to many other creative pursuits. Here are some highlights from the Latino Media Fest session.


Sierra on Her Advice for Being in a Writers’ Room

It was a lot of reading rooms, and trying to figure the way to talk and the way not to talk, taking the temperature of the room that you’re in. Finding a way to be useful, but at the same time, not annoying. At the staff writer level, the margin for error is so big. There’s no reason for a staff writer to be annoying, so much of it is just trying to be a positive force in the room. Be useful. I did all kinds of stuff. I offered to babysit, but don’t do that! Don’t make baked goods and don’t offer to babysit.

Vanessa on Getting Help from a Famous Comedian

An opportunity came up to submit for Jeff Ross, who was doing a Roast-based show called “Burn.” As a kid who grew up watching the Roast, it kind of felt like, “Yeah, this is what I’m supposed to be doing.” I begged a friend of mine, and he was able to get an agent to submit a packet. Jeff Ross has been great to me, and he was very honest. It came down to me and one other girl, and he said, “Look, I’ve known her longer, but I think you’re a great writer. I’ll pass along your stuff for the Roast, “and I was like, “Okay, he’s a very nice man, but he’s very high a lot of the time.” I was like, “Okay Jeff, sure you will.” But he did! He wasn’t that high that time, you guys! So he passed along [to] the Roast of Roseanne.

Sierra on Working with Another Latina Writer for the First Time

We’ve known each other all three seasons, and this was the first experience I had ever had working with another Latina women in the room. I’ve been to brunches with Latina writers because we’re like, “We have to go to brunch, because we’ll never be in the same room together.”

On That Chancla Joke

Vanessa: It wasn’t necessarily a chancla joke, but it was a thing where, Ben Feldman’s character, Jonah, comes in and he’s just met Amy’s mom, and so he’s like, “I’m not fully sure what this means, but she said, you’re not too old to get the chancla?” It was more like him guessing. I pitched that, and then the other writers in the room were like, “What is that?” I’d say, “Oh, it’s like a sandal used to hit kids.” They thought I was making it up, so they had an assistant pull it up, and they were like, “Oh my God it’s real.” Of all the things to make up, why would I make that up? So then [Sierra] backed me up.

Sierra: I had to co-sign the chancla joke. They were like, “This is a thing?” I’d be like, “This is very much a thing, ask any child.” But it was so much fun, and then they started trying to use chancla and we were like, “Don’t try to use chancla.” It was one of those things where you have backup, and it’s a great feeling.

Sierra on the Show’s Focus on Working Class People

I think one of the reasons that Justin wanted to make this show was because diversity is everywhere, but it’s so intrinsically in the workplace. He went to Northwestern, so he’s not a super working-class guy, but he filled the room with a lot of people like that. And I would also say that America Ferrera is just amazing, she’s a Producer on the show. She’s brought in a lot of people who are like consultants, who give lectures. There was a woman who wrote this book The New Working Class. Growing up, there was Rosanne, and so many shows that showed working class people, and I feel like Superstore is one of the few that does that anymore. It’s really trying to pay a lot of respect to that experience.

Vanessa on Being Asked to Play Up Her “Latina-ness” for a Job

We did a story in season one that was based off of this weird job that I had doing promos for a Tequila company in San Antonio. It was in a hotel bar, and they were like, “It’s going to be mostly be white guys, so amp up the Latin-ness.” They wanted me to basically put in a little “Vergara” and it was so ridiculous. I told that story in the room, and we did an episode in season one called Shots and Salsa where America’s character is trying to get people to sample the salsa, and she has to ham it up a bit more, and then people are like, “Oh, what’s happening here?” As soon as she get’s more festive, people are interested.

Sierra Ornelas on Why It’s Difficult to Be a Diversity Hire

There is a hierarchy, and you have to respect that hierarchy. Even if your boss is cool about it and says, “There is no hierarchy,” there is a hierarchy. They trust the people they know the most. They trust the people who look like them, which is why I think being a diverse writer in a room can be difficult. There were times as a staff writer where I would pitch a solution and I’ll get nothing, and some other guy would pitch a solution and it’ll be brilliant. I’d be like, “Fuck that guy,” but as I got older and was in the room longer that’s when my voice became more heard. It’s one of those things where you just have to get that sort of emotional currency going with your higher ups and once you have that you can spend that. That process is so hard to learn, especially when you are terrified.

Sierra Ornelas on How Diversity Programs Create Competitiveness

The one thing that these diversity programs create is that there can only be one. It’s like you climb your way Hunger Games-style and then you get thrown in a room with another one and you are like, “There is only supposed to be me,” because you have been trying to so hard and fighting all these people who look like you. One thing I learned very on from Silvia Olivas, who was in the program with us and who had been on Moesha, is how she was so smart at being supportive, helping other writers, and not being competitive. I think as women especially, but also as writers of color, we are taught to compete. I think the more you can help people the better off we’ll be.

Sierra Ornelas on Diversity Being a Good Business Model

Diversity is a good business model. Fast & Furious s the biggest franchise in the history of franchises, and there is a reason for that. People are going to want stories that come our perspective and from our experiences. Now I don’t go in being like, “Thank you so much having me.” No, it’s like, “You want me here because I will make you money and I will tell better stories.” I think having that confidence and trying to project that as, “This is just good business, this is not altruism.” I think that’s important.

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How TV Writer Angela Nissel Is Bringing Her Unique Voice to Tyler

the Creator’s The Jellies, and Why Black Female Writers in Hollywood Need to Be Heard

Angela Nissel; scenes from The Jellies (Adult Swim)

If you took a look at the writers’ room of some of your favorite television shows, you’d be hard-pressed to find a black person, and even harder pressed to find a black woman. But for the last decade, Angela Nissel has been leaving her mark behind the scenes on shows like Scrubs, The Boondocks and, now, The Jellies—Tyler, the Creator’s Adult Swim show, which premieres Oct. 22.

Before Nissel’s foray into scripted television, she was best-known as one of the creators of Okayplayer and for her two sidesplitting memoirs that captured the essence of her formative years, and of being broke and biracial. Both The Broke Diaries: The Completely True and Hilarious Misadventures of a Good Girl Gone Broke and Mixed: My Life in Black and White were heralded by critics, as well as the likes of Oprah Winfrey and Halle Berry, and Nissel became the “it” woman of literature in the early 2000s.

It was those books that set the University of Pennsylvania grad (she graduated with a degree in medical anthropology) on her way to a career in TV. But, of course, Nissel’s ascent into television writing wasn’t easy, especially as a black woman. After being in the game for 15 years, she is still fighting her way into writers’ rooms, and she made it into The Jellies’ room even though she thought she hadn’t landed the gig.

“Me being old enough to be Tyler’s aunt, I said, ‘I’ve heard of him,’ but I don’t really know him. And then I researched him. I was nervous in the meeting, but when Tyler came in, he just wanted to get to know about me. Ten minutes later, the meeting was over. I called my agent and was like, ‘I’m pretty sure I didn’t get that job; they thought I was a total nerd,’” Nissel says.

As luck talent would have it, Nissel landed the consulting-producer-and-writing gig on the series, and so her work began. And, yes, she was once again the only black woman in the writers’ room. As Nissel segues back into animation (after lending her talents to The Boondocks), she notes that writing live action and books is totally different from writing for animation, especially when it comes to the fans.

“In books, everything you write, even typos, it’s your fault. When it’s live-action TV, people tend to realize there’s a writer behind the words,” Nissel says. “But in animation, people fall completely in love with those characters. I’ve never worked on anything quite like animation, where the fans are so into it. And with the way Tyler’s fans are, I can only imagine the response the show will receive,” Nissel says.

To call Tyler’s fans “die-hard” would be an understatement. From his music to his cartoons, they’re nothing if not loyal. Both Tyler and co-creator Lionel Boyce, who make up Odd Future, premiered The Jellies on Tyler’s Golf Media app in 2015. Some may think the premise of a family of jellyfish adopting a human boy strange, but to them, chances are it’s not.


The Jellies follows in the footsteps of cartoons like The Boondocks in that it is created by young black men. But as Nissel lends her comedy and writing expertise to yet another animated series, the question remains: Why is there still a lack of black people, particularly women, in Hollywood when it comes to writing? Veterans in the game, like Nissel, have paved the way for the Issa Raes out there, but it’s still a drop in the bucket.

“I’m usually the only black woman in the writers’ room. I remember I pitched a really shitty joke one time, but Tyler said, ‘No, maybe women will understand the joke.’ He was so good about listening to my point of view, where sometimes, in other writers’ rooms, I would get shut down,” Nissel says. “When you’re immediately shut down, you don’t feel like you ever have the space to speak up again. But he always gave me that space to feel free to speak my mind.”

It’s that aspect of being shut down that many writers have to deal with when they’re in the minority. Earlier this year, Tyler quickly had to shut down a question from a fan during Comic-Con, when he decided to change Cornell, the main character in The Jellies, from a white teen to a black teen.

“How many fucking black cartoon characters is it on TV right now?” Tyler responded. “Name five. I’ll give you time.”

Nissel shares similar sentiments about Cornell’s newfound blackness.

“If you don’t like Cornell being black, color him another color in your head. What is wrong with people wanting to see the representation of themselves on-screen?” Nissel asks. “That’s why I think their generation will do better, and hopefully build on what my old-ass generation wasn’t able to do. Tyler is an outsider coming into this industry and wants Cornell to look like him. I don’t understand how anyone can be upset with that.”


After watching the first two episodes of the new season, I was left wondering one simple thing: “WTF?” And it wasn’t a bad “WTF?” either. More like amazement at how and why jellyfish are living among humans and raising a black kid. Even with Cornell going through his own self-discovery and having jellyfish as parents, shortly after the 15-minute cartoon starts, you actually forget they’re even jellyfish. Especially when it comes to Cornell’s mother, who is a combination of Tyler’s and Lionel’s moms. She definitely has the whole “I’m tired of your shit” down to a T when dealing with her jellyfish husband.

“Cornell’s mom is so tired of her husband,” Nissel says. “He reminds me of my ex-husband, and that’s why it was funny to write her. If you had a husband like that, you’re going to drink just to forget about it. I look at her as the epitome of someone who’s had a hard upbringing and a hard life.”

In The Jellies season premiere, Cornell has to deal with his parents fighting, primarily over his father’s spending habits, and he decides to track down his parents’ favorite R&B singer, who ignited their love for each other.

So where does a teenager go to track down someone who was popular back in the day? The Gangster’s Paradise retirement home, of course. And yes, a life-size statue of Coolio welcomes each visitor. Viewers will also notice little jabs here and there at celebrities, as well as some pretty on-point pop-culture references. Basically, nothing is sacred.

People watching the cartoon will soon realize that the comedy isn’t for the faint of heart. Nissel realizes that and helped set the tone by cautioning against certain things making it from the script into the show.

“Sometimes I would say, ‘This may be going a little too far.’ Even if [Cornell’s mother] is a jellyfish, people might be offended. Sometimes you have to be that person, when you’re the only one in the room, to educate people on how others may view things,” Nissel says. “So, sometimes I’ve had to be the person to say, ‘Yeah, we’re all laughing in this room, but we all have the same type of humor. But when it gets outside of the room, it could be viewed differently.’”


As someone who has watched Nissel’s career and who considers her a black-writer heroine, I know she has experienced it all: from people promising to turn books into movies, to seeing others get their careers catapulted, all because they were social media famous, and most importantly, having to be somewhat of the oracle for everyone who isn’t white.

Adult Swim

“Being forced, till this day, to speak up for everyone who is not white is my biggest gripe. When they turn to you and ask, ‘What do you think a handicapped person would say about this?’ Having that burden of having to speak for everybody, when even among our own community, we all have different points of view,” Nissel relates.

“And then having to hold your breath when something comes out because you realize just because it has ‘written by you’ on it, [but] it has to go through the editor, studio and network, and someone is going to find fault in it. As an artist, you want people to be happy. In this day and age, when outrage sells, you don’t want people to be upset about something you create,” Nissel continues. “There’s not a lot of black women, or women, period, in comedy. We’re just exiting the era of ‘Women aren’t funny.’ We’re just now getting a black woman late-night talk show host. It’s slowly coming around.”

With the success of this summer’s blockbuster hit Girls Trip, the spotlight is now shining on funny black women in front of and behind the camera. And Nissel has some savory advice for the bigwigs in Hollywood.

“I wish more people realize that having one voice in the room sometimes isn’t enough because you’re only going to get one point of view. At the end of the day, I just wish people would go outside of the neighborhoods and make friends with people who aren’t exactly like them, so they can bring that to the room if they don’t have the budget to hire 25 women,” Nissel says.

“I really want to create shows that show that women over the age of 40 still have lives, and they can be messy,” she adds. “To talk about the imbalance of women and men, like my own personal story of paying alimony. I want to tell the richness of women of color over 40 because sometimes I look on TV and we’re all dead, except for Oprah.”

Nissel doesn’t mince words, and as far as The Jellies are concerned, it’s coming out at the right time. Between the doom and gloom of a Trump presidency, sex scandals and everything else shitty in the world, laughter is definitely going to be the best medicine that you don’t need health insurance for.

“I have grown tired of watching TV that shows the bad of the world. You go online and everyone is ranting about something horrible” she says. “The Jellies is a big bowl of WTF. It’s 15 minutes of Easter eggs and fun hip-hop references. It’s like traveling to a world of where jellyfish and humans co-exist. And you can just forget everything for 15 minutes. It’s just pure silly comedy, and I think that’s something comedy has gotten away from.”

The Jellies premieres on Adult Swim at 12:15 a.m. Sunday, Oct. 22.

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About the author

Yesha Callahan

Deputy Managing Editor. Don’t start none, won’t be none.

Ayesha Curry Inks Deal

…With Endemol Shine North America

TV and social media personality, best-selling author and chef Ayesha Curry has signed an exclusive deal with Endemol Shine North America. Under the pact, the studio will develop original unscripted content with Curry and Flutie Entertainment’s Yardie Girl Productions for Curry to both appear in and also executive produce. In addition, Endemol Shine North America will work in conjunction with Flutie Entertainment, supplementing its work on licensing and brand partnerships for Curry.

Curry, who has redefined the content distribution model and has millions of social media followers, is set to co-host ABC’s upcoming season of The Great American Baking Show and hosts her own series, Ayesha’s Home Kitchen, on Food Network.

“Ayesha is re-defining the way audiences connect with celebrities, brands and content and we’re thrilled to have her joining the Endemol Shine family,” said Sharon Levy, President, Unscripted and Scripted Television, Endemol Shine North America. “We’re already developing a number of potentially ground-breaking projects with Ayesha to front and we’re collaborating with her to executive produce others with our team.”

“From the very first meeting I knew that Endemol Shine was a great fit for me,” says Curry. “I believe that in today’s media landscape, we can create and distribute content on multiple platforms, while remaining fresh and relevant. Endemol Shine North America CEO Cris Abrego and Sharon Levy openly supported my vision of being able to push limits and be on multiple platforms and their creative spirit and enthusiasm made me feel comfortable and at home.”

Flutie Entertainment discovered Curry through her local Bay Area access show, Cooking with the Currys, and has been serving as her management firm since 2014.

Curry, who has had a life-long interest in food and is a self-taught chef, was encouraged by her husband to start a blog that parlayed itself into a YouTube channel and ultimately into TV and book deals. Curry also recently launched her own meal kit company, Homemade, and her line of cookware is now available at Target stores and will be released at retailers nationwide next month.

Her restaurant International Smoke, in partnership with Michelin-starred chef Michael Mina, has locations in Waikiki, Los Angeles and San Francisco. Curry, who is the mother of two daughters, Riley and Ryan, and married to NBA superstar Stephen Curry, was announced as one of CoverGirl’s newest brand ambassadors in September. For her first role as the newest CoverGirl, Curry will be starring in a national campaign that launches in October.

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