- By Native News Online Staff
The Native American Media Alliance has announced their selection of twelve media fellows, who hail across Indian Country, to hone their craft of writing for television.
“We are proud of the dozens of fellows who have come through the lab and launched incredible careers now represented on every network and streaming service,” said Cara Jade Myers, director of outreach at The Native American Media Alliance, and an actress in the upcoming Killers of the Flower Moon. “This year’s lab will host twelve talented Native writers who will lead the way for the next generation.”
The Native American Media Alliance is an advocate group for Indigneous people in the entertainment industry. This year marks its seventh annual Native American TV Writers Lab— in partnership with big industry players such as: Netflix, Amazon Studios, Cherokee Nation Film Office, Kung Fu Monkey Productions, and Snowpants Productions—created to improve Indigenous representation in media and increase accurate portrayals of Native people in television shows.
The eight week program consists of daily workshops, seminars and one-on-one mentoring from industry experts. By the end of the program, each of the twelve writers should develop and complete a pilot.
The twelve fellows include:
Jamie Brunton (Colville/Spokane)
Jamie Brunton is a proud descendant of the Colville and Spokane people of eastern Washington state. She is a writer and performer most notably from The Ellen DeGeneres Show and Ellen’s Game of Games. The proud recipient of 5 Emmy awards for her work as a writer, Jamie is passionate about exploring the voices of women and social issues through comedy. She’s also a wife, a mom, and guess what? She wrote this. She hopes you like her.
Kristen Calderon (Acjachemen/Kumeyaay)
Kristen Calderon (Acjachemen/Kumeyaay) grew up in Southern California. She has
dreamed of becoming a writer since she was a young girl, first wanting to write novels, then discovering screenwriting, which she quickly realized was her passion. Kristen’s hope is to help tell Indigenous stories that resonate within our community and push forward a more modernized vision of Indigenous people to show we are still here and thriving. Kristen lives on the San Pasqual reservation, where she is a descendant, with her husband and two children, amongst her whole family.
Jena Carter (Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma)
Jena Carter (Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma) is a writer based in Los Angeles. As a member of the LGBTQIA+ community who hails from a mixed Native, Ashkenazi Jewish & Caucasian background, much of their work explores themes of gender roles, sexuality and orientation, femme identity and the complexities around a diverse background; they often weave pieces of mythology (both Native and non-Native) and animal imagery into their writing. In 2011, they received a BFA in Fine Art with an emphasis in Photography from the School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts University in Boston, MA. They joined the staff at the USC School of Cinematic Arts in Media Arts + Practice in 2013 where they worked on numerous high-level grant funded projects with collaborators from NASA, the U.S. State Department and Microsoft alongside industry professionals at the university. Before grad school, they cut their teeth in the industry as a reader for Intellectual Property Group (IPG) and worked on numerous web series and short films as an on-set photographer and PA, and in 2017 they earned their MFA from USC's John Wells Division of Writing for Screen & Television, graduating with a thesis in one-hour television drama.
Benjamin Flores (Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa)
Benjamin Flores is a writer, filmmaker, and performer from Idaho and a proud member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa. His comedy-horror short “One Gotta Go” was featured in the AV Club, his humor writing has been published in the New Yorker online, and his podcast “Please Save Me” is the world’s only recap show devoted to a nonexistent television series. He holds degrees from Yale and UMass Boston, and has worked on wilderness trail crews, teaching elementary school, and at an edtech startup. He produced a popular standup comedy show in Chicago while studying sketch and improv at the Second City Conservatory and iO Theater. In his screenwriting, Benjamin wrenches dark humor from sharp drama. His current projects include the pilots GOONS, about minor-league hockey players caught up in the US-Canada drug trade, RIDING TIME, about a collegiate wrestler grappling with a haunting affliction in the wake of his brother’s death, and the feature script REMOTE, a comedic workplace thriller that takes place entirely within a computer screen. Benjamin lives in Los Angeles with his family, parenting his rambunctious, curious toddler and crafting tweets that seem to go viral with alarming regularity.
Charine Gonzales (San Ildefonso Pueblo)
Charine Pilar Gonzales (San Ildefonso Pueblo) is a Tewa writer/director. She enjoys producing a wide range of artistic and impactful films, including live-action narrative fiction, short docs, and stop motion projects. She's currently in post-production for her short narrative fiction film River Bank, a modern interpretation of robin hood where a young Tewa woman gives to the River, and the River gives back to the Pueblo people.
Gonzales is the Lead Editor for Native Lens, a crowdsourced collaboration by Rocky Mountain PBS and KSUT Tribal Radio. She was a 2021 Sundance Institute Indigenous Program Native Lab Artist in Residence and a 2021 Artist in Business Leadership Fellow through First Peoples Fund. She was also selected for the 2021 Jackson Wild Media Lab Fellowship. Gonzales is a recent graduate of the Institute of American Indian Arts, where she earned a BFA in Cinematic Arts and Technology. She is also an alumna of Fort Lewis College in Durango, Colorado, where she received a BA in English – Communication. Her favorite foods are red chile stew, chicos, and oven bread. She resides on Tewa lands in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Kelli Jones (Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma)
Kelli Jones grew up in the Cherokee Nation in Tahlequah, Oklahoma. She joined the navy when she was 18 where she served as a master helmsman onboard the USS Ronald Reagan. During her service, Kelli was deployed twice to the Gulf of Oman and acted as a first responder to the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan. After her honorable discharge, she earned her bachelor’s degree in journalism from California State University, Northridge and subsequently worked as a commercial actor in Los Angeles. She is a proud member of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma.
Cole Randall (Muscogee Creek)
Cole discovered a love for writing after watching the performance of a one-act play he wrote in high school. He followed his passion to Emerson College where he graduated with a BFA in Comedic Arts. While attending Emerson, he had the wonderful opportunity to write a feature script, a pilot, a spec script, a web series, another one-act, and he even co-wrote a sketch for Emerson alumnus Norman Lear (which would later be performed for Lear at an event honoring his comedic legacy). After graduation, Cole was lucky enough to be accepted into the 3rd Annual Native American Feature Writers Lab where he and 7 other marvelous writers wrote and pitched their own original features. Currently Cole is co-writing a short film which is set to film this summer. Cole also has a love for performing. He has performed stand-up all across the globe (which is to say: Los Angeles, Boston, London, and his hometown of Norman, Oklahoma), and was an active member and Vice President of the Emerson improv comedy troupe, Swomo. After moving to L.A. during the fall of 2021, Cole was cast in an improvised mockumentary which is slated to come out later this year!
Justin Reed (Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes of the Flathead Nation)
Justin Hunter Reed is a Salishan writer and producer from the Confederated Salishand Kootenai Tribes of the Flathead Reservation. He was adopted at birth into anon-Indigenous military family from Kansas and grew up there and in other partsof the Midwest, East Coast and Germany. In 2005 he received a NationalEndowment for the Arts grant for a theater production. Reed lives in northernCalifornia on lands historically home to the Pomo, Miwok and Wappo.
Sabrina Saleha (Navajo)
Sabrina Saleha is a Navajo (Diné), Todích’íí'nii clan and Bangladeshi-American storyteller. She is a screenwriter, who’s written and produced short films. Sabrina is also an actress whose credits include upcoming Netflix, Sony Original TV series and several indie films. Sabrina’s life experience as a Native American and South Asian woman, raised in a small town in North Carolina and transition to becoming a Van-lifer in the arts, is featured in the regional Emmy-nominated documentary, The Story of US: A PBS American Portrait story Today, Sabrina is a screenwriter and actress based in Atlanta, Georgia. She is currently a Screenwriting MFA candidate at the Institute of American Indian Arts (IAIA) in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Sabrina’s writing focuses in the fantasy and sci-fi genres. Sabrina’s inspiration as a storyteller is to tell stories that her little brother would’ve loved. She lost her young brother when he was 17, and through her grief and passion for storytelling has cultivated her strong purpose. It’s her core drive to tell stories that reflect her love of her culture and an inspiration to show younger generations that they’re loved and can dream to be whoever they want to be in this world.
Eagle Smith (Tsimshian)
Eagle had the good fortune of growing up in her hometown, Metlakatla, and her school years in the Seattle area. As she puts it, "one foot on the reservation, one foot off."
Eagle became the first person in her extended family to attain a Bachelor's Degree, which was one of the final B.A. 's in Theater and Drama Arts offered from Washington State University. Formerly, a short film she produced originally for the Los Angeles 48 Hour Film Festival also became a selection in the Monaco Film Festival. Currently, in pre production is a short film titled "Scream for Your Mommy" in which she will star, write, and produce. She is also developing a feature with former fellows, which they aim to produce in the coming years. In 2021, Eagle wrote a pilot which helped win her a position in the Inaugural Native American Media Alliance Seminar. Eagle is working to be a multi-hyphenate talent, and a contributor to the expansion of Native American representation in Hollywood and in the best case, globally. Aside from representing her people, she aims to also set an example for survivors of abuse and sexual assault. In essence, a survivor who thrives.
Kaili Y Turner (Nipmuc)
Kaili Y. Turner is a Black Indian (Nipmuc), comedian, actress, writer, producer, and puppeteer whom received her MFA from the Actors Studio Drama School. Kaili’s pilot Fk’d Up & Fabulous is streaming on the Tenoir TV app, and her play Indian Country was a semifinalist for the Eugene O'Neill playwrights conference. She’s also creator of Rock the Bells Comedy, a variety show that is a platform for BIPOC comics and musicians. She was a participant of the Walt Disney/ABC Pilot Prep Program for Native Americans, and a recipient of the SNL/Second City Scholarship.
Meilani Wenska (Native Hawaiian)
Growing up in Hawaii, I attended the Kamehameha Schools, where Hawaiian culture, music, writing, and dance are an integral part of the curriculum. Later, I got my BA degree in painting, worked professionally as a Graphics Designer and have been selling my art prints online for years. Expanding my horizons, I've found a passion for screenwriting, directing, and acting. My written work includes two feature length screenplays, two pilots, five shorts and a book of poetry. I'm so thrilled that my second screenplay was a semi-finalist in Final Draft's Big Break Contest. I have also directed five short films and a music video; my latest won Best Sci-Fi Short on its debut. Another film has been an official selection in 17 film festivals, including the LA Skins Fest and the Wairoa Maori Film Festival, winning 8 awards, including Best Director. In acting, I've used my Hawaiian Pidgin accent for voiceover in Cameron Crowe's "Aloha," had an exciting baseball bat duel with Arden Cho in a feature, played a troubled woman solving a murder mystery, and an evil scientist. Throughout it all, I've loved the experience of telling stories, making artistic decisions, and collaborating with amazing people .
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