The annual selection of the most promising production-ready screenplays has previously included scripts by Cathy Yan (Dead Pigs) and Chloe Zhao (The Rider)
New York University’s Purple List—an annual selection of the best production-ready screenplays from Tisch School of the Arts graduate film students and recent alumni—announces its picks for 2019. The screenplay initiative is now in its eighth year and was inspired by Franklin Leonard’s the Black List, an annual survey of Hollywood executives' favorite unproduced screenplays.
The 2019 selections include Dry Summer by Lakshmi Simhan, The Starling Girl by Laurel Parmet, and Two Sisters by David Moragas. The three screenplays were handpicked by a panel of industry judges and explore poverty, racism, religion and violence in an isolated Ukrainian Pentecostal community; sexual abuse and power dynamics within a patriarchal Christian community; and sexual awakening and familial entanglement through the story of three siblings in New York.
The three screenwriters join a growing group of gender diverse Purple List alumni making strides in the film industry. Cathy Yan (Dead Pigs), Chloé Zhao (Song My Brother Taught Me), and Desiree Akhavan (The Miseducation of Cameron Post) all premiered films at Sundance in 2018; Dead Pigs and Songs My Brother Taught Me were both early Purple List selections. Yan has since been tapped to direct Margot Robbie as Harley Quinn in Warner Bros.’ Birds of Prey and Zhao will direct Marvel’s The Eternals starring Angelina Jolie.
Twenty-three of the 37 screenwriters from the past eight editions of the Purple List are women; 20 are from black, Asian, or other minority ethnic backgrounds; and five identify as LGBTQ. The 2018 Annenberg Inclusion Initiative report showed that the film industry still lags in terms of female and minority representation behind the camera—but the Purple List figures reflect the gender breakdown of the NYU Tisch graduate film community and the school’s ongoing commitment to elevating underrepresented voices.
“We don’t do anything to manufacture diversity. We have a blind read process so if the judges love a script, it goes on the Purple List. Roughly 60 percent of Purple List selections are female-authored, which demonstrates the importance of ensuring women writers and directors have the same opportunities to tell their stories and get their scripts in front the right people. The Purple List shows the range of excellent untold stories we can access when the playing field is leveled,” said Ashim Bhalla, a Tisch alumnus who co-founded the Purple List with classmate Shandor Garrison in 2012.
This year’s scripts were chosen by a panel of esteemed industry professionals including producers, screenwriters, casting directors, writers, and editors from Fox Searchlight, Sony Pictures Classics, Sundance Institute, and other leading film organizations.
Since its inception, Purple List judges have selected 35 screenplays. Thirteen are now finished films, including 12 top-tier festival selections and 11 theatrical releases, with more films in development. The Purple List screenplay initiative has helped unrecognized talent form connections with key industry contacts who can help bring projects from script to screen. The Adderall Diaries, Songs My Brothers Taught Me, Appropriate Behavior, Manos Sucias, Those People, Yosemite and Newlyweeds are all official Purple List selections.
“The Purple List is an amazing collaboration between the NYU Graduate Film Program and the film industry. More than 60 industry professionals—agents, managers, writers, producers, and executives—serve as judges each year. Not surprisingly, our judges have an incredible ability to spot rising talent,” said John Tintori, Purple List faculty advisor and associate arts professor at NYU Tisch.
On April 24, Simhan, Parmet, and Moragas will present staged readings of excerpts from their screenplays at NYU Tisch School of the Arts with a keynote by Purple List alumnus and director of Noah Land, Cenk Erturk. Noah Land will premiere at Tribeca Film Festival on April 25. Purple List screenplay selections for 2019 are accessible on the Hollywood Black List’s script database.
About the 2019 Purple List Selections
Dry Summer, by Lakshmi Simhan, follows 17-year-old Leela who moves to a small town on the Columbia River Gorge. As her parents’ relationship disintegrates, Leela is torn between her love for her wicked, irrepressible father and her difficult but loving mother. By befriending a kid from the local but isolated Ukrainian Pentecostal community, she finds excitement and newfound knowledge of poverty, racism, religion and violence. Simhan, who grew up in Kuwait, India, the Philippines, the U.S. and Japan, said “Oregon was founded with the intention of being a whites-only state and Portland, despite its reputation for progressiveness, is one of the nation’s whitest cities. I lived in Portland, Oregon from 2014-2016 and I have never felt more like an outsider. It was this pressing feeling of xenophobia in a place that claimed to be inclusive and enlightened that inspired me.”
The Starling Girl, by Laurel Parmet, takes place within a patriarchal Christian community in rural Oklahoma, where men’s words are the words of God, and women’s sexual desires are considered devilish. When 16-year-old Jem enters into an affair with her pastor, her chaste life is thrown into turmoil. To keep the affair hidden, Jem is driven to do things she never would have considered before. The film asks difficult questions. Sexual abuse is clearly taking place, but at the same time, Jem pursues and manipulates her youth pastor and the power dynamics are occasionally reversed. Parmet, who attended the 2019 Sundance Screenwriters Lab Intensive with the project, said “It’s about a girl who wants to feel love, but needs to find it in herself. Although it’s set in an extreme environment, it’s an incredibly universal story. And with everything in our world today—#MeToo, church abuse scandals, religious extremism wielding huge power—I feel that now is the right time to make this film.”
Two Sisters, by Catalan writer-director David Moragas, is the story of three siblings struggling to navigate their everyday problems over the course of one New York summer six years after their mother’s death. The comedy explores sexual awakening, claustrophobia, and the complications of familial entanglement. Moragas, who lives in New York, identifies as a queer filmmaker and said the screenplay emerges from his own sense of identity. “Everyone has personal, unresolved traumas that haunt us at night or manifest in weird and hilarious bursts of irrationality. Some of those traumas we actually confront and solve and feel like superheroes. This script is an ode to forgiving ourselves and trying our very best despite the many challenges that life surprises us with.”
About the NYU Tisch School of the Arts
For over 50 years, the NYU Tisch School of the Arts has drawn on the vast artistic and cultural resources of New York City and New York University to create an extraordinary training ground for artists, scholars, and innovators. Today, students learn their craft in a spirited, risk-taking environment that combines the professional training of a conservatory with the liberal arts education of a premier global university with campuses in New York, Abu Dhabi, Shanghai and 11 academic centers around the world. Learn more at www.tisch.nyu.edu.