“When I got to goals, I realized that nothing was related to law. It was all about theater and film. I had these great ideas about how to revolutionize the film business and I wanted to give myself a chance to try.”
Throughout law school, Mashariki constantly went back and revised her personal statement, always trying to refine her goals and get a clearer sense of her dreams. When she heard about the Peter Stark Producing Program at the University of Southern California, which offers a master of fine arts in film, she added it to her list and promised herself she’d go. “I didn’t have a clue what a producer did, but I was told that they were a combination of business and creative,” she says. “I didn’t even know what that meant, but I was hoping it would be a way for me to merge my legal background with my creative interests.”
As her law school graduation neared, Mashariki applied and was accepted to the Stark Program, but when she also snared a high-paying corporate law job at Proskauer Rose L.L.P. in New York, she forgot all about her personal statement and “went with the flow.”
Before long, Mashariki was living a quintessential buppie lifestyle that included a Harvard classmate fiancé, a great apartment, a BMW, and an enviable job doing mergers and acquisitions work. While it may have looked like a natural next step on the outside, it all represented quite a departure for Mashariki, who grew up in a family that helped found The East, a group of African Americans who, in the ’70s, changed their names (Zola means productive, Mashariki means East in Swahili), started their own schools, and sought to create a self-sufficient, culturally authentic community.
“I remember riding the train to work with my fiancé, wearing our nice suits, carrying our nice briefcases, and feeling so disconnected from who I was, but so happy at the same time,” she says.
That feeling lasted about a year, when, one day, while transferring some computer files, she happened upon her old personal statement. “It was amazing to read it again and remember how I felt when I wrote it, and what I wanted to do with my life,” she says. “I realized I’d gotten too far away from that. Once I found it, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I knew I still had to try.”
So Mashariki applied to the Stark Program and was again accepted. Sure that destiny was calling and that this would be her last chance, she packed up and flew away from every sure thing-her job, her home, her close-knit family, and a lifestyle she enjoyed-to pursue something she knew almost nothing about. Her fiancé went along.
It quickly became clear that the move was a disaster. The Stark Program wasn’t what Mashariki thought it would be. For the first time, she was older and woefully less knowledgeable than her classmates, most of whom had grown up in and around the film world. Unfamiliar with