'Vida' Screenwriter Nancy Mejía on The Disruptors Fellowship
April 1, 2021
Writer-director-producer Nancy Mejía (Vida, The L Word: Generation Q) knows firsthand how important a mentorship can be in Hollywood.
"I would not have access to the career I’m carving out for myself without the generous support and
mentorship I’ve been afforded," she says.
While Mejía didn’t have a specific formal mentor, her mentorship as a TV writer came in a variety of forms. "Some were indirect and I learned from the periphery," she says. "Sometimes, my mentors were my peers who motivated me, or people I admired from afar who provided an aspirational template, and a few were people who provided examples of footsteps I absolutely did not want to follow. It's all helpful."
Mejía says her own professional breakthrough came from people recommending her work to decision-makers. "A simple introduction or recommendation can go a long way. Having a community of
people rooting for me is what has helped me keep building and growing."
Which is why when Julio Salgado, the co-creator of The Disruptors Fellowship, an inaugural fellowship for emerging television writers of color who identify as trans and/or non-binary, disabled, undocumented and/or formerly undocumented immigrants, reached out and invited Mejía to be an instructor for a TV drama master class with the fellowship, she didn't hesitate.
Mejía says she thinks a great mentor is open and not apprehensive about sharing all aspects of their
journey. "We definitely learn more from our missteps and failures, so having someone willing to express their full experience is important. On a practical level, being organized and purposeful with availability is helpful."
On the flip side, Mejía says she believes what makes a great mentee is someone who's attentive and proactive with their opportunities. "It’s also helpful to be resilient and know how to absorb feedback in a
positive way. Like any worthwhile collaboration, I think what makes a great mentor/mentee relationship is honesty and vulnerability. Also, being curious and willing to keep learning — not just about the craft but about yourself."
Mejía believes a fellowship like Disruptors is critical and much needed in Hollywood because "any industry, especially a creative one, needs to be forward-thinking and relevant. The work we do has a great influence on culture. In order to maintain that legacy and respect that responsibility, we need a plurality of voices."
Having been a part of two TV shows like Vida and The L Word: Generation Q where inclusivity was at the forefront of the overall narrative, Mejía says she knows firsthand that "the composition of the team behind the camera directly affects the composition of the stories and characters in front of the camera." Ideally, says Mejía, the producers, writers, crew and cast would represent a multi-faceted range of backgrounds and experiences.
Unfortunately, Mejía says, "I think sometimes the focus is on the optics. And the inclusion of marginalized voices is performative or brought in as an afterthought for a 'cultural polish.'" Mejía recalls being "extremely frustrated" when in the same week she was asked to consider three projects, including two cartel series projects and a quinceañera movie.
"They were so problematic because of both the content and teams behind them," she says. "I had
my reps turn them down, but I wish I could’ve had an honest conversation with these producers and reflect on our complicity of tropes and mediocre storytelling. We need to do better."
Mejía says it's key to take multiple elements of intersectionality and positionality into consideration, such as economic class, faith practices, age, gender expression, and documented status when it comes to both staffing and content produced.
"The more we can learn from each other, the more we can enrich our storytelling practices," she says. "More importantly, we can create compassion and empathy as we build characters and worlds that at first sight may not feel like our own, but as we watch, we form a deeper connection to them."
As a writer, Mejía is drawn to characters and stories that have "cultural specificity."
"I like to explore people and communities that are unknown to me. There is so much of the world that we don’t get to directly experience in our lifetime. Our medium provides glimpses into those unknown worlds. When I see those kinds of stories, it really fuels my creativity and need to feel connected to something bigger than myself."
Additionally, Mejía would like to see more stories with POC characters where "the driving force isn’t solely about their racial and cultural identity. They too have dreams, flaws and interests that transcend whatever category dominant culture perpetually boxes them into."
She adds, "I’d like to think I’m part of a wave of storytellers who are enriching the landscape and widening the lens."
Written by: Brianne HoganBrianne Hogan is a freelance writer currently based in Prince Edward Island. A film studies graduate from NYU, her byline's been featured in Creative Screenwriting, ScreenCraft, The Huffington Post, among others. "Jurassic Park" is unashamedly her favorite movie (at this moment). You can follow Brianne on Twitter via @briannehogan