The Blackhouse Foundation, a nonprofit organization focused on the development of African American creative talent, has formed a unique partnership with Strayer University, to identify new screenwriters to develop content on the criminal justice system. As such, the two organizations have unveiled ScriptED, a competition—which includes a $10,000 grand prize, among other awards—designed to identify content creators who can produce screenplays to be used as part of the curriculum for the for-profit school’s Ethics in Criminal Justice course.
Through ScriptED, Blackhouse and Strayer Studios, a division of the university, is seeking pitches and sample scripts for a series that will explore topics such as police misconduct, corruption, and racial profiling. The contest is seeking applicants—the deadline is Monday, Dec. 23, 2019, at 11:59 p.m. ET—who are U.S. residents over 21 years of age and have not yet earned more than $60,000 in a single year for screenwriting or directing.
“For us, it was an exciting opportunity to provide an additional platform for the creators we work with. We are passionate about creating career pathways for content creators [and] it was a great idea about education-focused entertainment platforms,” says Brickson Diamond, chairman of Blackhouse. “Number two, we were all about Blackhouse bringing new audiences and new creators into the fold. So this competition was an exciting way to expand that even beyond where we’ve been before.”
According to university spokesperson Elaine Kincel, Strayer Studios was launched in 2016 “to make our online education more engaging using entertainment and documentary-style films.” To achieve that end, it has hired Emmy Award-winning producers to keep “our busy working adult students coming back to the content every day and it’s been hugely successful.”
Strayer University has more than 50,000 students — roughly 11% of whom are in enrolled in its highly sought-after criminal justice program. Most of its students take online classes. In fact, more than 60% of Strayer’s online students are African American.
Kincel adds that the use of storytelling is extremely important for high engagement of the criminal justice curriculum among its students.“The stories are broken up throughout the course so they really bring the course content to life and we find that it really helps make things more relevant for our students,” she says, sharing that students will still gain regular accredited academic content in which they will be tested.
Submissions can be made at the ScriptED website and will be evaluated by a five-judge panel that includes Diamond; Karl McDonnell, CEO of Strategic Education Inc. (SEI), the parent company of Strayer University; Nicole Cattell, co-founder and head of Strayer Studios; Judge Victoria Pratt, former chief judge in Newark Municipal Court and a nationally-acclaimed advocate for criminal justice reform; and Aaliyah Williams, founder of Just A Rebel Productions and executive producer of the upcoming Netflix series, Gentefied.
The top five finalists will pitch their scripts at the Sundance Film Festival, where the winner will be announced. In addition to $10,000, the winner will receive a six-month virtual artist-in-residence at Strayer, working with Strayer Studios to produce the concept into a series to be screened in the Ethics in Criminal Justice course each week.
In evaluating the entries, Diamond says, “I’m looking for a piece that just exhibits a great piece of writing and the ability to tell a story. So we’re looking for folks that tap into their raw talent and then the ability to really tailor that to the topic.”
“This is fiction so we want to see imagination enliven the course material, adds Diamond, who will also moderate a Strayer University-sponsored session at Sundance on the power of storytelling in the education sector. “We want to see examples of a broad story that’s going to be compelling, exciting and engaging for students and very true to the outcomes because Strayer’s coursework is so outcome-focused. We want to find a great writer, who understands the concept and can shape stories in a way that creatively enlivens this course curriculum.”