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macOS Monterey & Toon Boom Harmony

macOS Monterey & Toon Boom Harmony
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Apple M1 Chipset & Toon Boom Software

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Black Write Edition’s organizers on supporting emerging Black storytellers

Promotional Image for the Black Write Edition incubator project

In September, Nelvana, a leading international producer, distributor, and licensor of children’s content, and Kids Can Press, an acclaimed children’s book publisher, announced a collaborative talent incubator: Black Write Edition. 

The incubator invites Black storytellers and illustrators to submit their work and ideas. The initiative’s mission: Discover, support, and mentor emerging Black creators. Black storytellers and illustrators within Canada can submit their story proposals or illustration portfolio through the blackwrite.ca website before November 30.

We caught up with Athena Georgaklis, Head of Development at Nelvana, Natalia Williams, Director of Internal Communications at Corus Entertainment, and Naseem Hrab, Associate Publisher, Creative at Kids Can Press, to learn more about the initiative. 

Promotional banner for Nelvana and Kids Can Press’ Black Write Edition talent incubator.

The idea for the incubator began over a year ago, when Athena and Natalia worked on a panel that highlighted lack of representation in children’s content. Athena says that from the panel, they learned that while there were significant improvements in diverse representation, children’s content was still far off from achieving actual equity.

According to preliminary data provided to The Associated Press by the CCBC, which has been tracking statistics on children’s book representation since 1985, children’s books written about racially diverse characters or subjects grew by only 1% in 2020. Lack of diversity and representation persists in animated kids series, too. According to research from Ryerson University’s Children’s Media Lab, white characters continue to make up the bulk of who is shown on screen in animated series aired in Canada.

Athena and Natalia were surprised to learn how slow moving the progress in equitable representation was, because both of them understand how important it is to work toward that equity. Natalia says that in raising a bi-racial son, she sees first hand the lack of content that includes Black characters, and she sees how impactful it is for her young son to engage with content which shows characters he can identify with. 

Nelvana previously launched a program for diversity and inclusion, oriented around development. Athena explains that the Black creator program (which is still active today) provides opportunities, but they find that they don’t receive as many projects or concepts submissions as they hoped. Athena believes that this may be because the program targets more established creators, with the expectation that they already have experience pitching. That started the idea for the new incubator. 

According to Athena and Naseem, breaking into the animation and literature industries can be overwhelming. Many artists have no experience or mentorship when it comes to pitching, which creates a barrier for joining development programs, or working with studios and publishers. They wanted to create a program that would “open the door” to the industries, and amplify underrepresented voices. 

Kids Can Press joining the incubator was important, as the publisher wants to diversify the stories they list. According to Naseem, it’s important to think about the famous “windows and mirrors” metaphor, as explained by Emily Styles. Styles argued that curriculums in schools should be both windows and mirrors, because students and teachers need to see both others and themselves in the content they engage with. Naseem says Kids Can Press wants the books children read to offer a reflection of the world around them, rather than a narrow view.

The goal of the incubator is to address initial barriers of entry, by inviting Black creators in Canadian with an idea to apply. Black Write will match promising creators with industry professionals from two of Canada’s leading children’s content companies in order to develop original work. It gives budding creators who may have little-to-no experience the chance to develop their project and make essential industry connections. That way, when they complete the incubator, the creator has the skills and connections to sustain a continuing career. 

Natalia explains that they put together a very broad outreach approach for the incubator. It was important to consider how best to reach the right community groups, which meant looking beyond formal avenues. For Black Write, they wanted to reach as many people as possible, so they looked at organizations like the Jamaican Canadian Association to get the word out.

Candidates who are selected for the incubator will be paired with creative advisors in animation production or book publishing to develop and fully realize their work. The goal of the first edition of the incubator is to develop at least one original concept each for TV and book publishing, as well as to foster community between emerging voices and industry professionals. By fostering these connections, the incubator can support ongoing mentorship that will help lead to long-term professional relationships.

Naseem emphasizes that applicants don’t need any formal training or professional experience. For the publishing side of the incubator, an applicant should submit a story on paper. Applicants may have experience submitting to short story contests, or perhaps they’ve written for a local newspaper, but they should have no experience in traditional publishing. 

According to Naseem, what’s most important is that the submission shares a strong story or has a strong character. She says that what especially stands out are stories which only that person can tell. Rather than trying to fit into trends, she suggests going for something original and surprising. Aside from that, applicants to both the animation and literature sides of the incubator should demonstrate a willingness to hone and craft their story. 

Athena says that submissions to the TV stream should present a clear and concise concept, and should show who the applicant is. Ideas can be presented in whatever format an applicant wants, whether that’s a video, a presentation, a storyboard, or written document, anything goes. The team behind Black Write hopes that artists apply, even if they feel intimidated, or that they don’t have what it takes to publish a story or create a series. They emphasize that this is the moment for creators to take a chance on themselves. 

Black Write Edition is the first iteration of Nelvana and Kids Can Press’ incubator. In the future, the incubator will invite other marginalized and underrepresented voices to apply. Athena explains that even as new waves of the incubator are launched in the future, the existing programs will continue to grow. The participants in Black Write will have ongoing support and mentorship, so that they can continue to grow their careers, even after completing the incubator project. 

Applications for the incubator are due by November 30, 2021. To apply to Black Write Edition: