NBCUniversal has selected the directed the 2020-2021 classes for the Female Forward and the Emerging Director Program. The scripted directing initiatives aim to increase representation of female and ethnically diverse male and non-binary directors, respectively, by creating a pipeline into scripted television. The announcement was made by Janine Jones-Clark as Executive Vice President, Inclusion – Talent & Content, NBCUniversal Film, Television and Streaming.
Both initiatives remain unique within the industry in that they are the only network programs to guarantee that participating directors will helm an episode of primetime television by the conclusion of the program. Program directors shadow on up to two episodes of their assigned NBC scripted series before receiving an in-season assignment to helm an episode of the same series.
Female Forward and the Emerging Director Program will become building blocks for a cross-functional directors initiative under the Global Talent Development & Inclusion team that will service the Universal Filmed Entertainment Group, the entertainment television networks, streaming platforms and Universal Studio Group. To be eligible for the programs, finalists are required to have directing experience in their respective fields of expertise, including feature films, music videos, commercials, digital content and theater. Candidates can have no more than one scripted television directing credit.
“Creating a unified brand for all of our directing initiatives is the first step in creating a clear and expansive approach to representation in the director’s chair across NBCUniversal’s film, television and streaming platforms,” said Jones-Clark. “By sharing resources across NBCUniversal’s vast portfolio, we have a great opportunity to build on the successes of our current film and television programs, expand their reach and exponentially increase impact in our company and across the industry”
The new class of Female Forward directors and the NBC series they are set to direct are Maureen Bharoocha (Superstore), Lara Everly (Good Girls), Jean Lee (New Amsterdam), Kantú Lentz (Chicago Fire), Afia Nathaniel (Chicago Med), Kay Oyegun (This Is Us) and Pratibha Parmar (Law & Order: SVU). Juan Avella will direct an episode of The Blacklist as part of the Emerging Director Program.
Due to current production constraints and safety protocols, it has yet to be determined whether all the directors will be able to shadow and direct on their respective shows this season. If they are not able to safely fulfill the program curriculum this season, they will shadow and direct an episode on an NBC scripted series in the 2021-22 season.
“While the format of our directing programs has shifted to accommodate these unique circumstances, our commitment to giving underrepresented voices their time in the director’s chair has not wavered,” said Lisa Katz and Tracey Pakosta, Co-Presidents, Scripted Programming, NBC Entertainment. “We are thrilled to usher in this latest cohort of directors and are excited to see them add to the rich legacies both programs have established.”
For the third consecutive year, an advisory council of celebrated television directors helped select the participating directors and will mentor them during the program. With critically acclaimed director Lesli Linka Glatter serving as chair, the advisory council includes Norberto Barba, Liz Friedlander, Pam Fryman, Nisha Ganatra, Peter Horton, Jaffar Mahmood, Gail Mancuso, Solvan “Slick” Naim, Ken Olin, Sharat Raju, Julie Anne Robinson, Millicent Shelton, Michael Spiller and Jason Winer.
The programs’ annual workshops kicked off with a series of virtual sessions in partnership with the Alliance of Women Directors. They are designed to enhance the directors’ experiences in the program, covering topics ranging from time management when on set to personal branding and working with actors.
This marks the third year of Female Forward while The Emerging Director Program is in its 11th year. Eight members of the inaugural class of Female Forward were invited back to direct additional episodes of NBC shows, including The Blacklist, Chicago Fire, Good Girls and Superstore. Their talents can also be seen on Netflix’s The Babysitter’s Club, Fox’s Prodigal Son and Peacock’s upcoming Saved By the Bell revivial. Kim Nguyen, from the second class, directed an episode of Fresh Off the Boat soon after completing the program while Livi Newman, an alumna of the inaugural class, will direct the forthcoming feature adaptation of the best-selling novel Where the Crawdads Sing.
The Emerging Director Program was NBC’s first scripted directing program. It counts celebrated directors Kat Coiro, Hanelle Culpepper, Rashaad Ernesto Green and Nzingha Stewart among its alumni.
Read the bios of the selected directors for the programs below.
Juan Avella – The Blacklist
Juan Avella is an LA-based bilingual writer and director originally from Caracas, Venezuela who focuses on gritty thrillers and genre stories set in multicultural worlds. Avella’s two award-winning short films, Hijo Por Hijo (2017) and Her Body (2018), were exclusively distributed by HBO after successful festival runs; the latter is currently streaming on HBO Max.
He holds a Screenwriting MFA from the AFI Conservatory, where he won the William J, Fadiman Award for excellence
in screenwriting for his crime thriller Bolichicos. This project was also the recipient of the 2019 TFI Sloan Film Fund grant from the Tribeca Film Institute, and the script was included in The Black List’s 2019 inaugural Latinx List.
Avella is set to direct Bolichicos in 2021 with Axel Kuschevatzky and Diego Nájera producing. His work has been supported by the Time Warner Foundation, Film Independent, and NALIP.
He is represented by the Gersh Agency and Thruline Entertainment.
Maureen Bharoocha – Superstore
Maureen Bharoocha is a Los Angeles based writer/director. She recently directed her third feature film, the arm-wrestling comedy Golden Arm set to premiere on HBO in 2021. Bharoocha spent three seasons as a segment director on Jimmy Kimmel Live! and has directed over 50 short films and commercial spots.
Bharoocha started her career with her short film, Abajee (shot on the streets of Karachi) which premiered at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival in 2009. Bharoocha was then commissioned by Sprinkles Cupcakes to create a film series in which she wrote and directed ten shorts based on their cupcake flavors.
Bharoocha is half Irish Catholic and half Indian-Pakistani-Burmese Muslim. Because of her mixed background, she enjoys telling stories about complicated characters and mixing genres. She was selected as one of IndieWire’s Rising Female Directors of 2020, named on HBO’s 2018 Directors List, and nominated for the SXSW 2020 Adam Yauch Hörnblowér Visionary Directing Award.
She is represented by Grandview, CAA and Ginsburg Daniels Kallis.
Lara Everly – Good Girls
Lara Everly is a director, born and raised in Los Angeles, who celebrates female-driven comedy and dramedy. She loves bringing comedy to unexpected topics and exploring the charged space where comedy meets drama.
As a filmmaker, her narrative films and documentaries have played the film festival circuit, including Santa Barbara, Napa, Austin, Bentonville, Vail and the year-long Lunafest, winning awards and procuring distribution on Amazon and iTunes. Everly has written and directed for a range of platforms including Disney, Netflix Family, Oprah, Refinery29, Funny or Die, Scary Mommy, Awestruck and Babycenter. Her original pilot Embaby is a current finalist at the Slamdance Screenplay competition and was finalist in the 2020 Sundance Episodic Lab.
Some highlights include The Play Date, a dark comedy about gun safety that she co-wrote and directed, which garnered two million views online. Her documentary short film, Free to Laugh, about the power of comedy after being released from prison, was acquired by Comedy Dynamics/ New Wave Entertainment; they are also attached to distribute a feature version. She directed Patriettes, an all-female musical pilot presentation about a mock government summer camp for teenagers as well as Milk Money, a 10-episode portrait-driven doc series that explores the rising cost of raising children. Her directing has been commissioned for broadcast commercials and high-profile brands including Walmart, Little Tikes, Swing Left, Bloomlife, Schwarzkopf, Geico, Diono and several fashion lines.
She is represented by Echo Lake Entertainment.
Jean Lee – New Amsterdam
Jean Lee is a Korean American writer/director from Allentown, Pennsylvania. A lover of global cinema and universal stories, Lee has directed in seven languages spanning nine countries and five continents.
Most recently, Lee’s feature directorial debut, Pecado Original, was picked up by HBO and is the first-ever Paraguayan and American co-production.
Her sci-fi action series proof-of-concept, Strong, is in post-production with support from the AFI DWW, Google, the Sundance Institute, the Knight Foundation, and Panavision. Lee is also in post on a VR docuseries, “The Heart Of Puerto Rico,” which won the 2020 AT&T Film Award and follows a group of Puerto Rican artists in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria. Her magical realism short, Cahaya, which was shot in Jakarta, Indonesia, premiered at Berlinale Film Festival.
Lee is also an alumnus of the 2014 Film Independent Directors Lab, 2015 AFI Directing Workshop for Women, the 2016 Blacklist/WIF TV Writers Lab, the 2017 Fox Filmmakers Lab, 2018 NALIP TV Writers Lab, and the Ryan Murphy HALF program, through which she had the privilege of shadowing Gwyneth Horder-Payton on “American Horror Story.” In 2019, she was named one of the “Top 25 Screenwriters to Watch” by Moviemaker Magazine and Austin Film Festival.
Lee graduated from the University of Pennsylvania Summa Cum Laude and Phi Beta Kappa, and earned her MFA at NYU Tisch Asia as a Jacob Javitz Fellow. In her spare time, she can be found enjoying blueberry donuts and freshly steamed dumplings.
She is repped by Jennifer Au Management
Kantú Lentz – Chicago Fire
Kantú Lentz is a Peruvian filmmaker who creates films that take place in alternate realities with magical realism elements. She recently directed the award-winning short film Jack and Jo Don’t Want to Die commissioned by the Shatterbox Anthology Series starring Justin Kirk (Weeds, Angels In America) and Olivia Edward (Better Things) which premiered at the 2020 Tribeca Film Festival.
Lentz is an AFI DWW, Sony Television Diverse Directors Program & Viacom Viewfinder Emerging Directors Program with AwesomenessTV alumni. Her film “Coche Bomba” was one of five projects selected by the Tribeca/Chanel ‘Through Her Lens’ fellowship in 2019.
For the past 3 years, Lentz directed over 50 political ads for One Vote at a Time, which creates in-kind campaign videos for democratic candidates who believe in gun safety legislation. In branded content and commercials, she has worked with brands & clients such as New Balance, TUMI, Ulta Beauty, LG, Refinery 29, Vice Media and YouTube Originals.
Her comedic video Rollercoaster Break-up starring Moses Storm (Sunnyside, Unfriended) went viral and currently has eight million views and counting.
Lentz is currently developing the feature-length version of Jack and Jo Don’t Want to Die with Level Forward and Refinery 29/VICE.
Afia Nathaniel – Chicago Med
Pakistani-American filmmaker Afia Nathaniel loves pushing the boundaries of narrative storytelling. Her debut feature film Dukhtar (Daughter) premiered at Toronto (2014) becoming Pakistan’s Official Submission for Foreign Language Film at the 87th Academy Awards. The film played to critical acclaim in over 20 countries to rave reviews and became the Critics’ Pick (Village Voice) and the People Magazine’s Pick of the Week. The film has won several awards including the Adrienne Shelly award for Directors, Audience Award at Creteil, Best World Feature at Sonoma and Best Director + Best Feature Film at SAIFF.
Dukhtar was nominated for a Gotham award (2013) and the Women Film Critics Circle award (2015) for the “Best Foreign Film by or About Women”. Nathaniel’s screenplay for Dukhtar has been invited to be a part of the Permanent Core Collection of the Library of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences.
Nathaniel graduated from Columbia University with an MFA in Film Directing (Dean’s Fellow). She is an alumnus of IFP, TFI, Film Independent and Berlin Talent Project Market.
Nathaniel teaches directing and screenwriting at Temple University and has also taught at Princeton University (Peter B. Lewis Fellow), Columbia University’s Graduate Film Division and NYU’s Tisch.
Nathaniel is in development with several projects. She is adapting the novel “Watched” by Marina Budhos into a TV show.
She is represented by Echo Lake Entertainment.
Kay Oyegun – This Is Us
Kay Oyegun is a co-executive producer and writer on NBC’s hit drama series This Is Us and has been with the show since its launch in 2016.
Previous TV writing credits include Queen Sugar on Oprah Winfrey’s OWN network. On the film side, she’s adapting the novel Children of Blood and Bone for Lucasfilm, Fox and Disney and the novel On The Come Up, the follow-up novel from the The Hate U Give author for Paramount.
Oyegun also recently sold a feature to HBO Max titled The Ancestor and last year sold one to Paramount titled Assisted Living.
For her work on This Is Us, Oyegun is a NAACP Image Award winner as well as a Humanitas Prize and Writers Guild of America Award nominee.
She is represented by Underground Management.
Pratibha Parmar – Law & Order: SVU
Writer-director-producer Pratibha Parmar has directed numerous award-winning documentary films for BBC, Channel 4, PBS and European broadcasters.
Her credits include Alice Walker: Beauty In Truth,” a feature-length documentary on the life of Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “The Color Purple” and includes interviews with Steven Spielberg, Danny Glover and Quincy Jones. The film garnered several awards including the Jury Award at the Napa Valley Film Festival.
Recognized as a pioneering filmmaker, Parmar directed the ground-breaking film Khush, one of the first films to give visibility to and highlight the experiences of LGBT people in India. Parmar made her debut as a narrative director with her award-winning film, Nina’s Heavenly Delights.
Parmar made her US debut as a director of scripted television in 2019 when she was invited by Ava DuVernay to direct episode 12 of Season 4 of Queen Sugar.
In 2017, Parmar was awarded the ICON award presented by Bagari London Indian Film Festival in Association with the British Film Institute for Outstanding Contribution to Indian and World Cinema. She is the proud recipient of the Frameline Film Festival Award, presented to an individual who has made a significant and outstanding contribution to lesbian and gay media.
Parmar is attached as a director of the feature film, My Name Is Andrea featuring Amandla Stenberg, Soko, Ashley Judd, and Andrea Riseborough.
She is a member of the Directors Guild of America, Film Fatales (SF) and a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences.
She is represented by APA.