Sundance and Hartbeat spotlight Black female comedy writers with Women Write Now

TheGrio caught the three hilarious comedy shorts directed by comic legends in their own right: Nicole Byer, Logan Browning and Tika Sumpter.

A collaboration between Kevin Hart’s Hartbeat Productions and the Sundance Institute, Women Write Now provides an opportunity to female writers of color, a fellowship that is, “designed to champion the next generation of Black women in comedy through mentorship, advocacy, production, and exhibition.”

In its second year, the fellowship chose three writers, Mayanna Berrin, Kianna Butler Jabangwe and Danielle Solomon, after hundreds of submissions. In the fellowship, they develop and produce their own original comedy scripts and are paired with first-time directors who have worked in the comedy space before.

This year the women were paired with Nicole Byer (“Nailed It!,” “Grand Crew”), Logan Browning (“Dear White People”) and Tika Sumpter (“The Haves and the Have Nots,” “Ride Along”). TheGrio caught up with Browning and the creators of the shorts, breaking down the exciting opportunity, their shorts and the power of collaboration.

Acura Festival Village At The Sundance Film Festival 2023 – Day 3
(L-R) Candice Wilson Cherry, Tika Sumpter, Thai Randolph, Kiana Butler Jabangwe, Danielle Solomon, Logan Browning and Mayanna Berrin of ‘Women Write Now’ attend Acura Festival Village during Sundance Film Festival 2023 on Jan. 22, 2023, in Park City, Utah. (Photo by Vivien Killilea/Getty Images for Acura)

Hartbeat CEO and co-founder of Women Write Now Thai Randolph shared the importance of fostering talent behind the camera. “This is really about creating a cascade of opportunities beyond this program, and this isn’t just goodwill for us… these are brilliant and really, really funny women. We talk a lot about the composition, but that have really interesting stories to tell that aren’t being told otherwise, and really reflective experiences to bring to the screen.”

For Danielle Solomon, who wrote the first screened short, “Hey Boo,” her story was inspired by her own experiences. The short follows one of the top braiders in Atlanta who is “notorious for canceling on her clients, but finds herself in a situation where she has to braid her way out of being canceled,” she explained to us. “I just thought it would be relatable and it’s the first short film that I ever wrote!”

Kiana Butler Jabangwe’s short “Night Off,” directed by Sumpter, is also pulled from the writer’s life, inspired by her “night off” as a first-time parent with her husband. Exploring “mom guilt,” she told us, “I never in a million years thought that I would be writing about being a mother. Just to be able to do that … I’m so grateful for the opportunity.”

Mayanna Berrin’s “Power Dynamics,” while not inspired by her life, is perhaps the spiciest short. Directed by Byer, the short follows a moonlighting dominatrix who, for her day job as an executive assistant finds out her boss is one of her submissive clients. “I was thinking back when I was an executive assistant, I was thinking, ‘What would be a situation where an assistant would immediately have the upper hand over her boss?”

While Byer and Sumpter attended the screening, theGrio spoke specifically to Browning and the actress shared her experience diving into directing, helping to tell Solomon’s story and more.

“This whole process has been the most magical, perfect, pinch-myself experience,” she gushed. “It’s a wonderful fellowship for these writers, but I am also in this incredible mentorship and learning process. All of the producers have been so collaborative, they’ve pushed me and invited me to take up space.”

“Everyone was eye-to-eye throughout this entire process,” she added. “As someone who is an actor first, I really appreciate that. As an actor sometimes people look at you and you’re kind of up on a mountain … I’ve admired the directors who show up to set and know everyone’s names.”

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