Shayan Asgharnia

A short film written by Brittany Menjivar ’21 will premiere today in Los Angeles in association with AT&T Hello Lab, a mentorship program headed by Lena Waithe.

Menjivar’s screenplay, titled “Fragile.com,” was selected as one of five finalists to be financed and produced by AT&T. The company called for screenplay submissions exploring the theme of “growing pains,” which Menjivar — who is also a staff reporter for the News — heard about in May. Menjivar’s short film depicts a teenage girl’s experience working for a website that pays women to livestream themselves crying, and explores her relationship with the manipulative man who runs the website.

Menjivar came up with the idea for the film while watching “Requiem for a Dream.” In one scene, Jennifer Connelly’s character, Marion, is crying in a club while performing and the men watching do not appear concerned.

“It made me consider how women’s pain is represented on screen,” Menjivar said. “It shows a woman in a very vulnerable position. It gave the viewer an opportunity to look into her perspective and hear her voice.”

According to Menjivar, the screenplay was inspired by a desire to “do a better job of portraying women’s vulnerabilities and the ways in which that is exploited on screen.” Furthermore, she found that a lot of teen films idealized the high school experience and wanted to explore rejection, something that she found was rarely accurately portrayed.

The mentorship program launched in 2017 and has an ongoing partnership with Fullscreen, an entertainment and production company. The program features writers and directors from underrepresented communities. In the summer of 2019, Menjivar was the youngest program participant at 20 years old. The second youngest participant was 27.

In addition to receiving guidance from Waithe — a screenwriter, producer and actress known for her work on the shows “Master of None” and “The Chi” — mentees received advising on the ins and outs of the film industry.

“What I consider activism, and what I consider my craft, are one and the same,” Waithe said in a press release for the program. “Telling black stories, telling queer stories, working with up-and-coming talent — that’s my way of dismantling the homogeny of Hollywood. And mentorship is essential for underrepresented creatives. Their stories are necessary for our culture and our collective growth.”

According to UCLA’s Annual Hollywood Diversity Report, people of color comprise 12.6 percent of film writers and 7.8 percent of directors. Female film directors amount to 12.6 percent of all directors.

The screenwriters selected by AT&T Hello Lab are paired with directors chosen by Waithe. Menjivar’s director, Alison-Eve Hammersley, works in the horror genre.

“At the moment, there aren’t a ton of female writer-directors in the horror genre that people are seeing,” Hammersley said in a video on AT&T Hello Lab’s Instagram account. “I think that this is just such a generous program to start our own careers and use our own creative abilities.”

Throughout the process of revising the screenplay, Menjivar received feedback from Hammersley and Waithe, along with executive producers at AT&T and Fullscreen. Hammersley helped push the screenplay toward the form of a “full-blown thriller film,” according to Menjivar.

Both Hammersley and Menjivar have emphasized how nurturing and supportive the mentorship program has been.

“It’s the first time that I’ve been in a creative environment where everybody’s so genuinely supportive of each other,” Hammersley told Vanity Fair.

For Menjivar, an English and film major at Yale, the program has helped solidify her career aspirations to continue filmmaking.

The Hello Lab films will be available on Nov. 8 on YouTube.

 

Serena Lin | serena.lin@yale.edu