Image: Top – L to R: Razzaaq Boykin, Paige Compton; Bottom – L to R: Blake Pickens, Sophia Youssef
We’re excited to announce the Disney/AFI Underrepresented Storytellers Initiative, a new pathway program in collaboration with Disney’s Launchpad program to support underrepresented directors and remove economic barriers for new filmmakers. The new program provides an opportunity for four emerging first- or second-time directors to create a short film. Each filmmaker will receive a microgrant of $35,000, along with professional development workshops and mentor meetings hosted by AFI and Disney Launchpad. The recipients of the 2023 Disney/AFI Underrepresented Storytellers Initiative grant are: Razzaaq Boykin, Paige Compton, Blake Pickens and Sophia Youssef.
“Building on the success of our innovative programs that have redefined the landscape of the entertainment industry, the Disney/AFI Underrepresented Storytellers Initiative provides a critical opportunity for emerging filmmakers, and we look forward to working with our notable Alumni to serve as mentors and our esteemed Faculty to provide the necessary tools for success for each of the finalists,” said Susan Ruskin, Dean of the AFI Conservatory and EVP of the American Film Institute. “Thank you to our collaborators at Disney for their continued commitment to increasing creative representation and championing the AFI community.”
The AFI Conservatory’s Bridge to the Future program and Alumni Affairs office in the Lawrence Herbert Alumni Center will oversee and manage the program. The Disney Launchpad Team will work with AFI to mentor applicants. Deniese Davis (AFI Class of 2012), four-time Emmy® nominated producer and the Founder/CEO of Reform Media Group, which recently announced an exclusive development deal with Tyler Perry Studios, will be the Production Mentor to the four filmmakers.
This collaboration is an expansion of Disney and AFI’s longstanding relationship and is part of Disney Future Storytellers, Disney’s commitment to investing in the next generation of storytellers. Disney’s investment in AFI supporting underrepresented filmmakers spans decades, with recent support for AFI’s Diverse Storytellers Scholarship Fund, AFI DWW+ and the AFI Cinematography Intensive for Women, all programs which currently serve as a pathway for diversity and talent for the entertainment community. Most recently, Disney Launchpad has collaborated with AFI to provide the program curriculum for Launchpad filmmakers.
“AFI has been with us since the start of Launchpad and we are grateful to continue this journey to give filmmakers a more open playing field to creating art,” said Mahin Ibrahim, Director, Creative Talent Pathways, Representation & Inclusion Strategies.
“AFI has long been a successful training ground for the filmmakers of tomorrow,” said Phillip Domfeh, Senior Manager, Launchpad. “We couldn’t be more excited to expand our scope and work with them to reduce the social economic barrier to directing underrepresented storytellers face.”
AFI Conservatory graduates from the Class of 2015 through the Class of 2021 who met the eligibility criteria submitted applications in Fall 2022 for consideration. Additionally, Disney Launchpad invited nonprofit organizations who are leaders in supporting underrepresented voices to nominate eligible applicants. The finalists will go into production of their short films in the coming weeks and complete their films in Summer 2023.
ABOUT THE FINALISTS