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Hollywood heavyweights line up to mentor LGBTQ screenwriters

Ryan Murphy, Reese Witherspoon and Greg Berlanti’s production companies will shepherd finalists in the third-annual GLAAD List scriptwriting competition.
Ryan Murphy speaks at the 29th Annual GLAAD Media Awards on April 12, 2018 in Beverly Hills, Calif.
Ryan Murphy speaks at the 29th Annual GLAAD Media Awards on April 12, 2018 in Beverly Hills, Calif.Vivien Killilea / Getty Images for GLAAD

For more than 35 years, GLAAD, the nation’s largest LGBTQ media advocacy organization, has called on Hollywood to produce television shows and films that illustrate the breadth and diversity of the queer community. In recent years, the nonprofit group started a scriptwriting competition — and this year, the talent behind LGBTQ-inclusive screenplays will get mentored by Hollywood heavyweights.

On Tuesday, the group launched its third annual GLAAD List competition, a collaboration with The Black List, the screenwriter-focused organization renowned for its annual list of the best unmade screenplays.

Initially, the GLAAD List was a curated roundup of the most promising unmade LGBTQ-inclusive scripts hosted on or included on the year-end annual Black List. Now, those writing about the LGBTQ experience are invited to submit screenplays to The Black List website. The submissions are welcome through Sept. 20, with both feature film and original pilot submissions being considered for the first time.

Scripts provided by The Black List will be evaluated by GLAAD on overall quality and the boldness and originality of the content, according to organizers, as well as fair, accurate and inclusive LGBTQ representation. Finalists for the 2021 GLAAD List will be announced this winter. 

GLAAD President Sarah Kate Ellis said the list “provides Hollywood with new talent who leverage the power of storytelling to grow acceptance and understanding of LGBTQ people.”

“The genesis of this initiative was to create greater pathways of opportunity for marginalized voices who have not historically had pathways into the Hollywood ecosphere,” Ellis said in a statement. 

The competition opened just days after GLAAD released its ninth annual Studio Responsibility Index, tracking the quantity, quality and diversity of LGBTQ characters in theatrical releases from the eight largest studio distributors. 

While the 2021 index saw queer women outnumbering men for the first time, representation of bisexual, transgender, nonbinary, HIV-positive and disabled characters was lacking, according to the report’s findings.

This year, GLAAD List honorees will benefit from the backing of six top studios that have pledged to support underrepresented talent and LGBTQ-inclusive content: The inaugural “Founder’s Circle” includes Netflix; Ryan Murphy Productions; MGM/Orion Pictures; “Arrowverse” mastermind Gregory Berlanti’s Berlanti Productions; Reese Witherspoon’s media company Hello Sunshine; and the Village Roadshow Entertainment Group, which co-produced  “The Matrix” films, “The Lego Movie” and “Joker.”

In addition to covering submission fees for select entrants, representatives from the studios will read and provide insights on shortlisted scripts and meet one-on-one with at least 10 GLAAD List finalists this fall.

The studios will then have the opportunity to offer script deals to any number of GLAAD List feature or pilot writers.

“We’re thrilled to be joined in this important work by so many of the production companies whose work I’ve admired for as long as they’ve been doing it,” Franklin Leonard, founder of The Black List, said in a statement.

At least six scripts from the first two years of the GLAAD List are in various stages of production — including “Queen,” Harry Tarre’s screenplay adaptation, acquired by Red Crown Productions, about activist Corey Rae’s journey as America’s first transgender prom queen; and writer-director Jared Frieder’s “Three Months,” a coming-of-age comedy about a gay teen (Troye Sivan) who is exposed to HIV the weekend of graduation and nervously awaits the results of his test even as he starts a new relationship with someone from his support group. 

Another is Chris Basler’s “The Silence of Mercy,” a period piece about a woman who choses isolation and a life of prayer while turning her back on a lesbian relationship. The film wrapped shooting in Dublin earlier this year, with “The Runaways” filmmaker Floria Sigismondi directing actresses Agnes Born and Annabelle Wallis.

Billy Porter’s directorial debut, “What If?” is another GLAAD List success story: Acquired by Orion Pictures with Killer Films’ Christine Vachon signed on as a producer, the film follows trans high-schooler Kelsa (Eva Reign) and her classmate Khal (Abubakr Ali) as they navigate a romance they never expected. “What If?” reportedly began production in Pittsburgh on Monday. 

“It’s been an honor and a joy to work with GLAAD on an initiative that, in two short years, already has films in post- and pre-production despite the pandemic,” Leonard said. “They’re the first of many, many more.”

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