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Lena Waithe

FOUNDEr
 

Emmy Award winning writer, creator, and actress Lena Waithe has proven herself a talent to be reckoned with, who only continues to grow her body of work with diversity and charisma. As a triple threat, Waithe expertly taps into emerging cultural sensibilities with a sharp wit, speaking to myriad experiences from her unique perspective and challenging audiences to think outside of conventional norms.

Waithe first made headlines in front of the camera as Denise in the critically acclaimed Netflix series "Master of None." In the second season, Waithe co-wrote the "Thanksgiving" episode, for which she received an Emmy award in the category of "Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series" and an NAACP Image Award nomination. Waithe is also creator and executive producer of the popular drama "The Chi," on Showtime. As a producer, Waithe's credits include "Step Sisters," a comedic dance film and the Sundance darling "Dear White People." She recently signed a first-look deal with Showtime and will work with the network on comedy and drama projects that she will both write and produce through her company Hillman Grad Productions. Additionally, Amazon has picked up two seasons of the horror anthology series "Them" which Waithe will executive produce and she is in the process of developing a half-hour comedy series for HBO with Kid Fury. 

She recently joined forces with the Macro and The Blacklist to launch a TV script development contest for writers of color and entered into a partnership with Sight Unseen Pictures to find and develop projects that identify and champion emerging underserved voices.

One of VARIETY'S "Top 10 Comics to Watch" in 2014, Waithe was born and raised in Chicago and currently resides in Los Angeles.

 
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Racquel Baker

WRITER’S assistant, “TWENTIES”
 

Born and raised in LA, Racquel Baker began creative writing at six years old as a way to escape the dysfunction in her household and create worlds that brought her peace. When she wasn’t writing, she was watching way too much adult TV, unsupervised. The combination of these two led her to major in Media Studies at UC Berkeley for her Bachelor’s degree, and Communication at the University of Illinois at Chicago for her Master’s degree.

After grad school, Racquel experienced an unprecedented feeling of purpose while writing and knew it was her calling. Before quitting her job in advertising, she reached out to various television writers on social media for advice on breaking into the industry. The only writer who responded was Lena Waithe. From 2015 to 2016, Racquel formed a relationship with Lena as her intern. She initially impressed Lena with her strong script coverage skills and quick turn around in completing tasks. Racquel’s tenacity for learning from Lena while supporting her was unmatched, and in 2017 Racquel became Lena’s full time assistant. 

 
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Mandana S. Ighani

1ST assistant to lena waithe
 

At age 10, Mandana S. Ighani immigrated from a war-torn Iran to Washington, DC. At an age where most girls worried about what to wear, Mandana worried about cultural assimilation and how to fit in while remaining out of sight. Mandana was able to find solace in the arts. Whether it was painting, poetry, music, or storytelling, she would lose herself in her imagination, with the hopes that if she tried hard enough, perhaps reality wouldn't find her. As Mandana got older, she realized that the stories we tell, whether it be through words, pictures, or sound, not only free us from the burdens we hold but help rescue those that take in what we share.

In 2001, Mandana began to work as an editor and camera-woman at a DC-based satellite TV station. As her skills grew, so did her responsibilities and she was eventually able to produce and direct an hour-long talk show on a daily basis. Once she moved to LA, she used her previous experience to attain work shooting and editing red-carpet footage for major entertainment networks. In her current position as second assistant to one of TV’s trailblazing writers Lena Waithe, she has been given the opportunity to learn and truly hone her craft.

 
 
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Kendra Jordan

director, hillman grad mentorship
 

Kendra is from the country in Virginia: born and raised in a city where boredom was invented. After graduating from Hampton University with a degree in Public Relations, Kendra began to realize her interest the field went beyond designer suits and sharp edge business cards. She related to people deeply: encouraging, empathizing, listening, and of course, writing about them. Humanizing all of our idiosyncrasies and peccadilloes that connect us and make us resilient.

As an educator, it was Kendra’s job to cultivate the dreams of her middle and high school students. In pushing others towards their destiny, she lost the thunder for verbalizing her own importance. After teaching for 13 years, Kendra retired unexpectedly and moved to Los Angeles in 2017. As Lena Waithe's former second assistant, Kendra aided fellow budding writers in the Hillman Grad Network. Today, Kendra is the Writer’s Assistant for the upcoming BET show, Boomerang. She is also co-writing an episode of the future hit.
 
Kendra has a daughter named Milan and she delights in watching the high school senior become a derivative of her being. Kendra is happy to continue her partnership with the Hillman Grad Network and assist in bringing to life more dreams that lead us to tell stories that will never die.

 
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Rae Benjamin

DIGITAL CONTENT MANAGER
 

Rae was born in Los Angeles and raised on a steady diet of cartoons and classic television. Her mother encouraged her writing from a young age, even compiling homemade booklets of Rae’s poetry and short stories to hand out as Christmas gifts each year. This gesture was either super cute or super cheap, depending on whom you ask. Although Rae has always enjoyed storytelling, she did not consider a career in screenwriting until after she graduated from Loyola Marymount University with a degree in Political Science.

One day, while sitting at work (and secretly scrolling through the ‘gram) Rae saw Lena Waithe post about her mentoring program. She promptly messaged Lena’s assistant Racquel and thus began her journey in the Hillman Grad Network. In addition to creating and managing digital content for Hillman Grad, Rae is a writer’s assistant for the upcoming Bridgerton TV project for Shondaland/Netflix. She also hosts the Stuff I Don’t Like Podcast.

 

 


 

Production Team

 
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Rishi Rajani

vice president, development


Born in London, raised in upstate New York and Portland, Oregon, Rishi Rajani discovered his love of producing while attending NYU. He went on to work for 20th Century Fox, UTA, Paradigm, and Studio 8 where he rose through the ranks to become a development executive working in both film and TV.

Rishi joined Hillman Grad Productions in June 2018 as VP of Production and Development. As a passionate advocate for diversity in storytelling he could not be more excited to be working for a company that continues to provide opportunities, break down barriers, and push the culture forward. 

 
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Alex Phillips

DEVELOPMENT EXECUTIVE, HILLMAN GRAD PRODUCTIONS


After graduating early from The College of William and Mary, Alex Phillips spent what would have been her final semester working across the country at film festivals. After six months of volunteering with Tribeca Film Festival, Toronto International Film Festival, New York Film Festival, and Sundance Film Festival she relocated from her native New York City to Los Angeles to pursue television producing.

After completing a development internship at Weed Road Pictures, she landed a mailroom desk at The Gersh Agency and worked her way up to a desk in the TV Lit Department. From there, Alex has gone on to work as a Writers’ assistant and Showrunner’s assistant on hit television shows like THE CHI (Showtime/FOX21) and CHICAGO FIRE (NBC/Universal). As a producer, Alex’s goal is to bring diversity to high concept content.