It’s no secret that pathways to success for Black women in comedy haven’t always been the simplest. That’s generous— they haven’t really existed. Thankfully, the industry is finally making space for those voices, and Kevin Hart’s production company Hartbeat is making sure that emerging talent in the demographic get their shot.
Teaming up with the Sundance Institute, Hartbeat CEO Thai Randolph, alongside Candice Wilson Cherry, Jennifer Kushner and Michelle Satter of Sundance Institute, created the Women Write Now fellowship. The program champions the next generation of Black women in comedy, giving them the tools and resources they need to get their projects across the finish line.
“We’re cultivating collaborators in this process,” Randolph explained during a sitdown with the Women Write Now team and fellows. “We aim to treat them as such from ‘hello.’”
It’s not just about giving them Black women in comedy one opportunity, it’s about opening up the floodgates and setting them up for a long, successful career. The fellowship does so by providing the writers with an arsenal of seasoned advisors, including Leigh Davenport (Starz’s Run the World), Kay Oyegun (NBC’s This Is Us) and Yamara Taylor (ABC’s black-ish).
When it comes to directing their projects, Women Write Now pairs them up with experienced actors who are interested in directing. The fellowship gives them a chance to do so and jumpstart that side of their career.
Mayanna Berrin, Kiana Butler Jabangwe and Danielle Solomon were named this year’s fellows back in April, and their work— Berrin’s Power Dynamics, Jabangwe’s Night Off and Solomon’s Hey Boo— premiered at Sundance this year. Power Dynamics is directed by Nicole Byer, Night Off by Tika Sumpter and Hey Boo by Logan Browning.
Hey Boo completely rejects the rules of reality to capture how annoying an MIA hairstylist, and Solomon nails it. She tells us that has happened to her on more than one occasion, and she wanted to share that experience from a different perspective while leaning into how funny those situations can be. The short is whimsical, full of life, and introduces characters you want to see more of.
Speaking of characters you want to see more of, Power Dynamics is stacked with those. The short follows a dominatrix that takes on an executive assistant 9-5. The twist? More than a few of her new coworkers are her subs. Power Dynamics is confident and hilarious, and you can tell Byer encouraged its actors to ad-lib (she confirms this later during the Q&A). That playfulness translates on screen, and you only want to see more.
Content about parenthood can fly over the heads of the childless, but Night Off is engaging and relatable to all. The short, which follows two parents who decide to celebrate their first night without their newborn with a certain green substance, embraces magical realism and makes it its own. Plus, Snoop Dogg makes a delightful and memorable cameo.
When talking about what this program has meant to her, Jabangwe tears up, and shares that the program changed the way she saw herself as a creative and a writer.
That’s why programs like these matter, because, simply put, our stories do.
As of Feb. 21, the films are streaming on Peacock.