Racquel Baker - Writer


Racquel Baker started writing at six years old as a way to bring her imaginary friends to life. When she wasn't writing, she was watching way too much adult TV, unsupervised. The combination of the two led her to a Bachelors in Media Studies at UC Berkeley, and a Masters in Communication from the University of Illinois at Chicago. After grad school, Racquel worked in advertising as a strategic planner where she constantly read scripts for NBCUniversal. She was captivated by this form of storytelling and began to obsessively read TV scripts.

Before quitting her job, Racquel reached out to writers on social media for advice, but only one writer responded. In 2015 Racquel became Lena’s intern. She impressed Lena with her strong script coverage skills and quick turn around when completing tasks. In 2017 Racquel became Lena's full time assistant and was responsible for providing creative feedback on projects in development. While employed as her assistant, Lena gave Racquel the opportunity to co-write an episode of the BET series Boomerang. In April 2019, Racquel transitioned to a Writers Assistant role on the BET series Twenties. Once Twenties wrapped, she served as Writers Assistants on Season 2 of Boomerang,  where she was granted the opportunity to write the season premiere episode. Racquel is currently represented by 3-Arts management company and is currently staffed on Season 3 of Freeform’s Good Trouble.

Malakai - Director


Malakai is an artist, director and philanthropist who has made it her mission to be a disruptor; telling world-building fantastical narratives that turn archetypes of the black diaspora on it's head. Malakai is a desert born afropunk with a deep love of technology/afro-futurism. She received her start in 2016 as one of the Sundance Horizon Award Winners, where she was mentored by Cassian Elwes, Christine Vachone and Lynette Howell for her short film, Suffering. Her short film Souls (Executive produced by Anna Hashmi & produced by Stephen Love & Marquita Bradley), has gained critical acclaim in festivals such as American Black Film Festival,  Reel Sisters & The Pan African Film Festival. Souls premiered in 2018 at the Phoenix Art Museum where Malakai was a recipient of the Contemporary Forum Artist grant.

Malakai was one of the 2019 ATT Hello Lab Directing fellows where she developed her short film, Postmarked (which was later distributed by Direct TV). The film, which was written by Angela Carbone, was produced by Lena Waithe and Rishi Rajani and starred Loretta Devine, Rob Morgan and Jaylin.

Malakai is the founder of the 501(c)3 non-profit, Made In Her Image. A movement based on social equity within film, media and technology for young women of color. Made In Her Image launched in 2018 in Los Angeles & Phoenix, AZ. MIHI has partnered with CAA, Sundance, ATT, Panavision, Disney, Universal, Ford, Paramount and many others. Made In Her Image was awarded for their work within the fields of diversity and creating a pipeline of learning and educational empowerment at SXSW in 2020. Malakai is repped at Gotham and is currently working on the development of her first show inspired by her short film Souls.

David Tripler - Filmmaker


David is a Mexican-American writer/director from Los Angeles, CA and studied Film and Television Production at Loyola Marymount University. As a mentee in Lena Waithe’s Hillman Grad Mentorship program he has produced and directed two commercials for the Los Angeles Tourism Board featuring Diego Boneta and Sonam Kapoor.  

In the summer of 2019 he won the Amazon Studios All Voices Diversity Contest with digital comedy pilot South Of Sunset (episode 1) “FAKE MEXICANS.” The comedy short is approaching a million minutes streamed and currently has a rating of 4.9 with over 200 reviews. 

Currently David is developing the cable TV series South of Sunset and a coming-of-age heist film Hypebeast.  

Watch the “Fake Mexican” episode of South of Sunset on Amazon Prime Video here

Aris Mendoza - Writer


In 2018, Aris was hired as Will Smith's personal writer on an animated feature film, a job she landed through her connection with Hillman Grad Productions. In 2019, Aris was selected by Imagine Entertainment to participate in an eight-week writing incubator with her pilot script BLASIAN. Since then, Aris has landed a high-profile open writing assignment (that she can't tell you about… yet) and she also sold a show (that is also underwraps for now). 

Aris is repped by Ari Lubet at 3-Arts Entertainment and is committed to telling stories that center underrepresented groups with heart, truth, and dimension.

Deonte' Staats - Writer


Deonte’ Staats, a native of Philadelphia, was raised in Baltimore. Staaats is a lover of gritty character-driven television and movies. Before working in tv/film Staats worked in commercial production for restaurants; an experience that helped him transition into scripted works.

Deonte’ worked on Showtime’s, The Chi created by his mentor Lena Waithe. Staats was a Writer’s Assistant for Showrunner Ali Leroi  (Everybody Hates Chris) and worked as a Writer’s Assistant for Ali’s directorial film debut (The Obituary of Tunde Johnson) premiering in 2020. He also worked as a Writer’s Assistant on Michelle Amor’s 2020 CBS pilot order The Honorable. 

Deonte’ is currently managed by Trevor Engelson and Josh McGuire at Underground Films. His one-hour drama pilot, SEND 2 RECEIVE and feature horror film, SUCCUBUS (co-written writing partner Bryan Terrell Clark) is currently being shopped for development.

Proof of Concept Link: SEND 2 RECEIVE - TV Pilot Proof of Concept

Shooter - Filmmaker


Reigning from Mobile, Alabama, Cierra Glaude is a southern belle whose heart & hustle have taken her across the country and back working on features & TV shows including Selma, Girls Trip, A Wrinkle in Time, Queen Sugar, and TWENTIES. 

She made her directorial debut at Urbanworld in 2017 with her short 'Last Looks' starring Rutina Wesley (Queen Sugar, True Blood) which is featured on Issa Rae's Youtube Channel as apart of the #ShortFilmSunday lineup. In 2019, she went back to back directing Chika's High Rises music video then followed up with her AT&T Hello Labs film 'Spilt Milk' starring Dascha Polanco (Orange is the New Black, When They See Us) and Zuri Adele (Good Trouble) racking up over a million views combined.  

Like the multifaceted black women writers, directors, and show runners she has been blessed to work with, Cierra aims to build cinematic worlds where people of color, women, and the queer community can see themselves represented without due cause. To keep up with her latest adventures as she navigates the film industry, follow her on IG @sh00ter_

AT&T Hello Lab Film - Spilt Milk
AT&T Music Video | Chika - High Rises
Website: shooterdidit.com

Julian Johnson - Writer


Julian is a former athlete, actress, and a member of Lena Waithe’s Hillman Grad network. She is a retired semi-professional soccer player and former All-Atlantic Coast Conference Division 1 scholarship athlete. In 2015, she won the Triple Crown Title (weapons, kata, sparring) in Virginia as the all-around Adult Women Black Belt Champion. She was ranked 6th in the World in Tae Kwon Do. She loves telling authentic, nuanced stories that are inspired by her vast experiences. 
In 2018 Johnson graduated from UCLA's Professional Writers Program with a concentration in Television Writing. She interned for Greg Berlanti Productions in 2019 and is currently a Writers’ Production Assistant on Fox’s PRODIGAL SON.  
Julian studied acting at the William Esper Studio and appeared in HOUSE OF CARDS and several INVESTIGATION DISCOVERY shows. She is currently completing an MFA in Screenwriting from UCLA. 
Pulling from her life, Julian is in the early stages of development for a sports-related drama. She is represented by The Cartel.  

WEBSITE: officialjulianjohnson.com

Rae Benjamin - Writer


Rae Benjamin is a Los Angeles native. Prior to joining the Hillman Grad Network Rae was a graphic designer until she decided to quit her job and turn her screenwriting hobby into a career. 
Rae got her first job as PA on, Twenties through the Hillman Grad Network. She went on to be the Writer’s Assistant for “Bridgerton,” the highly anticipated production from Shonda Rhimes. 
She is currently the Script Coordinator for the international hit show, The Witcher on @Netflix. Rae is also the co-creator and executive producer of the animated web series Julisa, Who? (@julisa_who) and founder of In The Cut (@inthecutla), an online and live event series dedicated to helping black creatives and other marginalized communities gain access to the entertainment industry.

Vishnu Vallabahen - Filmmaker


Born in India and raised in Texas, Vishnu is obsessed with the idea of expanding Brown representation beyond turmeric lattes and chicken tikka masala. After graduating from The University of Texas at Austin's film production program, Vishnu's thesis film SUNSHINE AND RAIN screened at New Orleans Film Festival, and Dallas International Film Festival before acquiring distribution on DirectorsNotes & BOOMTV. Vishnu was the showrunner & director’s assistant to Justin Simien for the production of BAD HAIR and the third season of DEAR WHITE PEOPLE. While working with Justin, Vishnu was the head writer and producer of the NPR podcast, Don’t @ Me, a creative conversation series with guests like Ava DuVernay, Zazie Beetz, Boots Riley, Barry Jenkins and Issa Rae. He also was a part of New York Film Festival’s 2019 Artist Academy, and is a nominated director for Alma Har'el’s artist discovery platform, Free The Work. His most recent short film, 1 OUT OF 30, was shot last summer in New York as a part of the 2019 AT&T Hello Lab with Lena Waithe as the EP, and currently has a feature film in development with Lena’s production company, Hillman Grad. 1 out of 30 short film link: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=Z1SqFd2cvD8&t=14s

Bri Williams (Brianca) - Writer/Director


Writer and Director, Brianca Williams is one the newest additions to the Hillman Grad family. Brianca started out in TV production in Atlanta. While there, she also developed entertainment platforms for Women of Color to celebrate sexuality unapologetically through artistic expression.  After making her way to LA, she was accepted into the Hillman Grad Intensive TV Writers class and landed an immediate position in Literary Management. Since then, Brianca has written a half hour Dramedy TV pilot that she is manifesting to develop with Hillman Grad in the future.  Check out her dope short film that is now streaming on Revry: revry.tv/channel/idea-of-me/

Check out her platforms on IG:
She Deep Entertainment (@shedeep_ent)
The Muse Clique (@themuseclique) 
Brianca Williams @theebrizzy

Jhanvi Motla - Producer


Jhanvi is a Los Angeles based filmmaker that was born and raised in Mumbai, India. Jhanvi moved to the United States of America in 2011 to attend Emerson college. She went on to receive her MFA in Producing from the American Film Institute Conservatory in 2017.  Jhanvi has produced shorts that have premiered at Cleveland international film festival, Los Angeles Asian pacific film festival, LA shorts, Rhode Island flickers fest and many more. She also has extensive experience producing Music Videos and Commercials with credits on  ERYS visual album (artist:Jaden Smith) and ERYS Coachella Visual. In 2017 she was the Associate Producer of the G-Star Raw Commercial “Forces of Nature”. In Spring 2019, Jhanvi was selected as a Producing Fellow for Film Independent’s Project Involve.  Jhanvi began her feature documentary (which she is directing and producing) in 2019. The project is currently in post production. Jhanvi currently works at Five Towers as a producer. 
Instagram - @jhanvimotla

Sean Frank - Director


Sean Frank is a London raised, LA based filmmaker. His interests are rooted in real, relatable environments, situations and subcultures that combine cinematic compositions with inspirational stories. Since graduating Goldsmiths & Central St Martins, Frank’s films have been nominated and screened internationally. Some of Frank’s work to date include the short film Further Away, 'Every Kind Of Way' (A Visual E.P for H.E.R), the documentary; Mas Fuerte, Nowness short; Crazy Legs, and an episode of Boomerang Season 1. Sean is currently writing and developing his first feature film and TV series. 
IG: @seanfrank_
Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/seanfrank

Shylo Shaner - Writer/Actor


Shylo Shaner hails from Pine Hills (an area you aren’t supposed to make it from) in Orlando, Florida. From a young age, Shylo loved to create and perform stories. Determined to oppose her imposed trajectory, Shylo auditioned for a fancy high school’s theatre magnet program and was selected. Her life was forever changed.  

Honing her skills under Karen J. Rugerio who taught the likes of Wesley Snipes, Shylo went on to win multiple theatre awards at the state level and a full ride to college where she got her BFA in theatre acting performance. 

After college she spent time in New York where she booked a national children’s theatre tour and quickly learned New York wasn’t her speed. Shylo moved to Los Angeles in 2006. After years of hitting the pavement with auditions and odd jobs, Shylo found out quickly just how rough Hollywood was for a black queer woman who wasn’t a size three. Disenchanted, she went back to school and gained her MSN in Nursing.  

The arts kept calling though and with her first feature, based on her life story, landing in the top 20% of Academy Nicholls and the second round of Sundance Screenwriters lab, she was reaffirmed about writing the stories she wanted to see. 

Shylo continued to hone her craft as a writer which led her to be selected for Lena Waithe’s Hillman Grad Mentorship Program. As an intern she was given the opportunity to shadow the writer’s room for TWENTIES. There just so happened to be a role that had yet to be cast. Lena Waithe heard of Shylo’s acting background through Racquel Baker, another Hillman Grad. Waithe gave Shylo an opportunity to audition for the role and she landed the role as Idina on the hit show TWENTIES.  

Shylo is currently writing and voicing characters on an up and coming animated series JULISA, WHO? Shylo is also pitching an original pilot about Labor and Delivery nurses (loosely based on her experience) and working on her second feature, a queer love story about two women. 


Hillman Grad Mentorship provides opportunities for creators to connect, grow, and start their career in tv/film. By amplifying these voices and talent we hope to infuse new narratives and perspectives in front of and behind the camera, bringing more people from diverse backgrounds into the entertainment industry.

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Reigning from Mobile, Alabama, Cierra ‘SHOOTER’ Glaudé is a southern belle whose heart & hustle has landed her on crews of features & TV shows including SELMA, Girls Trip, A Wrinkle in Time, Queen Sugar, and Twenties. She made her directorial-debut at Urbanworld in 2017 with her short 'Last Looks' starring Rutina Wesley (Queen Sugar, True Blood) which is featured on Issa Rae's Youtube Channel as apart of the #ShortFilmSunday lineup. Like the black women writers, directors, & showrunners she has been blessed to work with, Cierra aims to build cinematic worlds where POC, women, and the LGBTQ community can see themselves represented without due cause.


Mechi Parada Lakatos is an Argentinean-American writer and filmmaker born and raised in Los Angeles. She holds a BFA in Screenwriting from Emerson College and is currently pursuing a masters degree in divinity at Harvard University. She is passionate about writing as a vehicle to represent imperfections and complexities in women, and her writing is most often focused on themes surrounding sexual assault, gender, feminist politics, cultural and socioeconomic intersectionality, and sexuality. Her screenwriting has been recognized by the Austin Film Festival, the National Young Arts Foundation, Blue Cat, and Page International. She has written and directed for the stage as well as the screen, and her original play, Seventeenth, premiered at the Boston Center for the Arts in 2015.


Alison received her BA in film production from Emerson College and MFA in directing from AFI. She was hired as the first female staff producer/director at the media company, All Def Digital, and has been featured in digital publications including Voyage LA, The Reel Women, and Free the Bid, which highlights female filmmakers. Her short film, YOU'LL ONLY HAVE EACH OTHER, won the Women in Horror Film Festival Night Mare award and was nominated for Best Director Short and Best Thriller Short at the 2018 Nightmares Film Festival as well as Best Short Film Screenplay at the 2019 Crimson Screen Horror Film Festival. She is continuing to develop various projects that utilize horror as a means to explore character.


Brittany Menjivar is a junior at Yale University studying English and Film. In 2018, she wrote, directed, and acted in McDeath: An American Play, an original Macbeth adaptation about high schoolers in the 1990s; the show debuted at Yale’s Lighten Theater in November. This year, she wrote, directed, and acted in original children’s play Library Pirate at Yale’s Nick Chapel Theater and served as the cinematographer for short films Pródigos (dir. Chayton Pabich Danyla) and It’s Me Again (dir. Carrie Mannino). She has been a music journalist for pop culture website The Young Folks since her senior year of high school, which means that you can often find her photographing shows and interviewing rock bands. Her creative inspirations include Damon Albarn, Madeleine L’Engle, S.E. Hinton, and Jordan Peele.


Reigning from Mobile, Alabama, Cierra ‘SHOOTER’ Glaudé is a southern belle whose heart & hustle has landed her on crews of features & TV shows including SELMA, Girls Trip, A Wrinkle in Time, Queen Sugar, and Twenties. She made her directorial-debut at Urbanworld in 2017 with her short 'Last Looks' starring Rutina Wesley (Queen Sugar, True Blood) which is featured on Issa Rae's Youtube Channel as apart of the #ShortFilmSunday lineup. Like the black women writers, directors, & showrunners she has been blessed to work with, Cierra aims to build cinematic worlds where POC, women, and the LGBTQ community can see themselves represented without due cause.


Jasmine Johnson has a BFA from NYU and a law degree from Georgetown. She interned at Saturday Night Live and at the ACLU. She has taken classes at UCB and represented juveniles in court. Jasmine and her student loans currently live in Los Angeles, working in law firms by day while devoting nights and weekends to writing.


Born in India and raised in Texas, Vishnu's work often regards the repercussions of being a body stuck between ethnic and social identities. While at UT Austin’s Film program, Vallabhaneni wrote, directed and edited the short film, “Sunshine and Rain”. The film played at festivals around the nation before acquiring distribution online and is now a part of a feature incubator program with David Patrick Lowery as a mentor. Vishnu currently works at Justin Simien’s production company, Culture Machine, is the head writer and producer of the NPR podcast, Don’t @ Me, and continues to make films with a focus on pushing Indian representation beyond chicken tikka masala and chai lattes.


Malik Aziz is an award-winning actor, writer, producer, and director whose work in front of and behind the camera has garnered critical and audience acclaim. In 2009, Malik wrote, directed, and starred in ‘Lady In My Life,’ a popular short film that has been featured on several major showcases, among them BET’s ‘Lens on Talent’, the nationally syndicated show ‘African American Short Films’, and most recently Aspire/ABFF Independent's Short Film Showcase. His script ‘American Muslim’ was selected as a semifinalist for the 2011 Sundance Screenwriters Lab, and 'Mo and Jess' achieved the same distinction in 2012. In 2014, he returned to working behind the camera with his first holiday short film, 'Santa's Third Wheel'. He was also the Associate Producer on 'Trojan War', the popular documentary by Aaron Rahsaan Thomas about the Pete Carroll Era of the USC Trojans football program. Malik is a native of Kansas City, Kansas and currently resides in LA.


Malakai is founder of the non-profit, Made In Her Image, which educates girls and young women of color within media and technology. They’ve collaborated with the likes of giants such as Disney, Paramount, Universal, and the Sundance Institute. By providing opportunities of exposure, the girls emerge from the program curating their own films, scripts & content and more. Malakai directed the documentary Black Girls Code that has showcased at the Cannes Film Festival Short Film Corner and tech spaces such as Google and Facebook. Additional achievements include being a 2016 Horizon Award winner at the Sundance Film Festival, a Contemporary Forum Artist through the Phoenix Art Museum grant, and a recipient of the Adrienne Shelly Foundation grant. Her most recent short film, Souls, will have its premiere at the American Black Film Festival in 2019. Malakai is a graduate of SCC Film School and holds a BA in Communications from Grand Canyon University.


Inexhaustibly curious and a native New Yorker, it is only natural Angela started her film career when she was discovered as an actor in Rome, Italy. Since her start, she has collaborated with dozens of filmmakers from international backgrounds as both an actor and producer. As a writer, Angela has always sought to explore and expand topics surrounding diversity, cultural identity, inclusion, and the female experience. She is a contributing writer for activist Eileen Kelly's blog Killerandasweetthang and her stories have been featured in Lulu Yao Gioiello's Far Near, a curated cross-cultural book series broadening perspectives of Asia. Her screenwriting has garnered multiple festival accolades (Screencraft Film Fund Shortlist 2018) and she is currently developing several projects, including a radio play on the Asian American lens with comedian Brian Park (CollegeHumor), and a pilot, The Labors of Lulu, with Camrus Johnson (the Sun is also a Star, Batwoman) and Evan Shapiro (former Sundance TV, IFC and NBC executive).


Angela Johnson
“The Hillman Grad Writing Mentorship has allowed me the opportunity to work on my craft as a writer (THANK YOU Micheal Svoboda) while learning business of this industry. By connecting me with industry professionals, working writers, job leads, and networking opportunities Lena and Hillman Grad Productions has opened the door for me in so many ways. I am truly grateful to Lena and the entire network of creatives that is Hillman Grad Productions for creating this space."
Cadienne Obeng
“Hillman Grad's pilot workshop was a safe space for me, a young writer, to have the burning questions I had about the industry answered. My first pilot was created in this workshop and the feedback I've gotten from it has boosted my confidence ten-fold. Each week I could count on my mentor to give me tangible feedback and pitches to help pull out what I was really trying to say. I can't be thankful enough.”
Candace Patrick
"Learning about the steps and skills required to work in a writer's room has been transformational and Michael is an excellent teacher! He was attentive, helpful, provided insightful answers to our plethora of questions, and was great with providing feedback on my pilot throughout every step of the process."
Chase Michael Torrence
"The Hillman Grad Mentorship program has made me a better creative. From writing, to ideation, to acting, to producing I now approach my work through a different lens. I have had the pleasure of taking a handful of courses, attend Q&A screenings, and industry mixers to learn more about the world of writing and how I can use my voice in that world. I do not believe I would be where I am today, or be on the path that I am on, without the Hillman Grad Network."
"I received an opportunity to apply for the job after a posting within the Hillman Grad Network, but the ball was set in motion long before then. I met Lena Waithe, while I was working as a Restaurant Manager at The Grove. She carved out time in her schedule to sit down and ask what I wanted to do as a writer, and would I make time to take classes in the areas that my skills need work. Through HGN I have been apart of numerous Writers Groups that have helped me not only create new works, but gave me a tribe of people that also offer support and opportunities to work and collaborate."
"The Hillman Grad Mentorship empowered me to dream BIG while, giving me the tools to ensure longevity in an unpredictable industry."
Jenny Koreny
“Working full time in television production, it's hard to find time to write and work on my own craft. Through HGN I joined an organized and deadline driven writers group to keep me meeting my goals. After the writers group finished I was offered the opportunity to workshop a script for 6 weeks with a working television writer, receiving one on one notes and useful direction at an individual level I have not received in other classes. Because of these experiences I've written more than I ever have in a period of a few months as I was supported by creative peers all while learning from a pro.”
Juice Harris
“I'm proud to say that Hillman Grad is definitely kinfolk! Being apart of Hillman Grad has been nothing short of amazing! Not just because of the people, but because of the opportunities that I have access to just by being a Hillman Grad. They root for your success as much as their own. I love it.”
Justin Riley
"The Hillman Grad Network is a true extension of Lena – passionate, hard-working, and committed to helping others find their light in Hollywood. The network provides valuable opportunities to meet and work alongside other aspiring entertainment professionals and industry leaders, exposing you to a myriad of opportunities you won't find anywhere else. I secured two positions within the first year of joining."
Kim Alsup
“I took the pilot writing class and that was the best class, I learned more than I did in my very expensive schooling. It showed me how to go from pitch to pilot. Michael's methods made it so easy and it is the way that I write all my pilots since then. His feedback on my the whole process is invaluable. The Series Bible class was just as good and it forced me to dig deeper into my pilot. It has taken my writing to another level. The skills I learned in both these classes were priceless.”
Rodney Clifton
“Being apart of the Hillman Grad Mentorship Program has exposed me to a lot of things creatively. I've gained new collaborators/friends, and I also gained new mentors. One of my greatest highlights while in the program was taking the TV Pilot Workshop Class with Michael Svoboda. This experience has taught me a lot about the art of writing, and it has pumped more creative fire in my veins. Before taking this workshop, I've never completed a draft of any script. But thanks to Michael, I'm now finished with the first draft of my television pilot.”



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