How Do You Change the Face of the Entertainment Industry?

In her role as the programming director at Diverso, Columbia College junior Shailha Alam is trying to do just that.

Eve Glasberg
March 25, 2021

The child of Bengali immigrants, Shailha Alham is a 20-year-old junior at Columbia College, studying Computer Science and Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies. She also devotes a lot of time to her role as the programming director at Diverso.

Diverso is a student-run nonprofit organization dedicated to changing the face of entertainment by empowering the next generation of underrepresented storytellers. The group is focusing on systemic industry issues like diversity and accessibility, which  need to be addressed earlier at the student level in order to build real, long-term solutions.

Alham elaborates on her passion for Diverso with Columbia News

Q. How did you get involved with Diverso, and how long have you been its programming director?

A. During my first year of college when I was still at Columbia Engineering, I was in the middle of reevaluating my entire academic life, planning to transfer out, and I was desperate to do things that I actually enjoyed. I was also an anxious little freshman overwhelmed by everything and too nervous to join any clubs. However, I did sign up for a bunch of newsletters and mailing lists, so I saw an advertisement for Diverso in a random email.

Diverso was then just an idea—a student-run nonprofit that would democratize filmmaking. I was hooked immediately, and wanted to be a part of Diverso.

I have been obsessed with movies and TV shows since I was arguably too young to watch them, and I am drawn to entertainment for the same reason I was drawn to STEM: both of those spaces have a huge diversity problem, and I want to be the one to fix it. I applied for the programming director position because one of the responsibilities was to work on the website, and I thought that was close enough to computer science for me.

Now it's been over two years since I've joined Diverso, collaborating with people in Hollywood that I never thought I would have access to. 

Q. Are you interested in pursuing a career in the entertainment industry, or is Diverso separate from your career goals?

A. Yes, the kind of work I do at Diverso is something I hope to continue doing professionally. I'm not sure exactly where I'll end up, but as long as I am amplifying marginalized voices and diversifying a space that so desperately needs it, I know I'll be on the right track. 

Q. Can you discuss the Minority Report that Diverso recently announced?

A. Established in 2020, the Minority Report is a six-month-long fellowship program designed to help talented, yet underrepresented writers break into the entertainment industry. We have an extensive selection process that consists of multiple rounds of reading, evaluations from a jury filled with big names in the industry, and interviews conducted by the Diverso team.

We're big on building a community—we set up our fellows with mentors, host weekly panels with movie professionals, and send the fellows to general meetings with different production companies and executives.

This year, we have seven amazing fellows from different schools and backgrounds. More information about them can be found here:

Q. What is the new Black Writers in Focus initiative?

A. Our newest project, Black Writers in Focus is a 10-week paid internship program for Black student screenwriters in partnership with Rideback and The Writer's Guild Foundation. Vetted by a committee of all Black readers, four talented students will spend the summer fine-tuning a writing sample with a personalized mentor, attending panels and classes with industry leaders, and learning from the best by shadowing in a writers' room. The application was open from January to February, and we got over 440 submissions from 160+ colleges across the country. We announce our fellows soon!

If you are an underrepresented student screenwriter, you should apply for our 2022 Minority Report, which will open submissions in the summer.