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Students Unlock Creative Potential as Part of the Disney Storytellers Fund at Howard University

Disney Storytellers Image of Student Participants

WASHINGTON -- A narrative film about a culturally alienated college student and her encounters with magic, a short-film festival dedicated to Black female storytellers, and a visual poetry album are among the creative projects now underway in conjunction with the new Disney Storytellers Fund program at Howard University.

The Walt Disney Company and Howard University first announced the program last year in the hope of unlocking student creativity. The unique program supports groups of students in the Cathy Hughes School of Communications and the Chadwick A. Boseman College of Fine Arts with stipends as much as $25,000 to bring their creative ideas to life.

“Storytelling is one of the most powerful ways that we put ideas into the world and serves as a primary tool of learning and teaching. We are committed to providing an academic environment that nurtures and develops socially conscious leaders who can visually and verbally articulate their ideas through their various disciplines within the fine and performing arts,” states Phylicia Rashad, dean of the Chadwick A. Boseman College of Fine Arts. “The Walt Disney Company without a doubt, is an essential partner in our efforts to meet the needs of our students -- purposeful storytellers, artist-scholars who stand ready to change the world.”

“The Disney Storytellers Fund offers a blank canvas or digital platform for our student’s creativity and storytelling to grow,” said Gracie Lawson-Borders, dean of the Cathy Hughes School of Communications.  “The experiences students will have while working on their projects will enhance their artistic and digital skills and increase their marketability for their future careers.”

The selected projects are now in motion as student storytellers prepare, plan, budget, and organize to produce various creative and innovative pieces. Among the selected projects is an innovative dance-based short film highlighting the trajectory of Chadwick A. Boseman’s film career. In her proposal, Thalia Norwood, a sophomore studying theatre arts, pointed to research that showed the percentage of Black on-screen artists was at a low of 11%  between 2015 and 2019.

The share of Black directors, writers and producers is even lower, she found. 

“There was no surprise when finding out about these statistics because it is a known fact: Black artists are not represented in mainstream films as they should be,” Norwood said. “What makes the difference for us at Howard University is all of the astonishing successful Black alumni, including Chadwick Boseman, who remind us that we too can make it.”

Sajada Heard, a senior studying theatre arts, proposed  a new film festival, Meraki Film Festival to exhibit contemporary stories of Black women. The films in the festival will showcase stories with Black female leads and bring together industry professionals and the featured filmmakers to provide important industry networking opportunities.

“The festival will allow us to provide new Black, female filmmakers with a space to share their short films and build connections with industry professionals,” Heard said. “We are so thankful to the Disney Storytellers Fund for providing resources that allowed us to stimulate conversations surrounding the representation of Black women in the media to cultivate the need for diversity of stories centered around Black women.”

Students have 10 months to work on their creative projects, with the first cohort of Disney Storytellers Fund at Howard scholars on track to complete their projects by November 2023. Faculty and alumni mentors will coach, guide, and support students as they develop, produce, and create their work. As part of the program, Howard students will also have the opportunity to be matched with Disney mentors who will offer professional development, guidance and career exploration to mentees. Additionally, Disney is hosting talks featuring employees and creators across a variety of relevant topics for Howard students.

About Howard University

Founded in 1867, Howard University is a private, research university that is comprised of 14 schools and colleges. Students pursue more than 140 programs of study leading to undergraduate, graduate and professional degrees. The University operates with a commitment to Excellence in Truth and Service and has produced two Schwarzman Scholars, four Marshall Scholars, four Rhodes Scholars, 12 Truman Scholars, 25 Pickering Fellows and more than 165 Fulbright recipients. Howard also produces more on-campus African American PhD. recipients than any other university in the United States. For more information on Howard University, visit www.howard.edu.

About The Walt Disney Company 

The Walt Disney Company, together with its subsidiaries and affiliates, is a leading diversified international family entertainment and media enterprise that includes three core business segments: Disney Entertainment, ESPN, and Disney Parks, Experiences and Products. Disney is a Dow 30 company and had annual revenues of $82.7 billion in its Fiscal Year 2022. 

Media contact: Sholnn Freeman; sholnn.freeman@howard.edu