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Where Genre Has No Limits: Spotlight on Screenwriter Jordan Simon

Screenwriter Jordan Simon shares with Script his ambitions to shake up the industry as a Black sci-fi writer and overall creative, his love for storytelling in specific worlds and time periods and more.
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In this series, we talk to screenwriters about their works in progress and what drew them to screenwriting. This time around, we got a chance to sit down with up-and-coming screenwriter Jordan Simon.

A born and bred New Yorker whose sense of wonder spans higher than the city’s tallest skyscrapers, Jordan revels in telling emotionally resonant, grounded, Amblin-esque sci-fi stories where Black people come in contact with extraordinary beings and circumstances. “For Black boys and girls who’ve considered the past when the present isn’t enough, I specialize in carving stories where Black people do the one thing we were told we can’t do: travel back in time.” Through his extensive knowledge of American history, Jordan creates avenues where Black people revisit our past and rewrite it. Through sci-fi, Jordan hopes to use the commonality of the human condition to engender empathy and enrich one’s inner child. When he’s not writing sci-fi, Jordan is busy amplifying fellow Black indie storytellers as a Film & TV News reporter for Shadow and Act.

Who or what inspired you to become a writer?

I would say my high-school English teacher, who recognized my abilities as a writer before I realized I had any. As far as screenwriting, I would say my first big inspiration was Shonda Rhimes. Seeing a Black woman at command three big shows Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal and How to Get Away with Murder, on a major network like ABC is awe-inspiring beyond words. I aspire to her level of success, as far as TV writing goes. My other inspirations include Octavia Butler, Matthew Cherry, Mickey Fisher, Ava DuVernay, Shonda Rhimes, Steven Spielberg, James Cameron, Jordan Peele and JJ Abrams.

Jordan Simon

Jordan Simon

Tell us about the very first story you ever wrote and what inspired it.

As far as screenwriting, I will say the first story I wrote was a pilot called Bandits of Kensington Place. It was meant to be sort of “a brokedown version of Melrose Place”, showing the difficulties first-gen Black and POC millennials have once they get out of college. There’s this misconception that “college” is the straight ticket to success from older generations, especially immigrant parents, so I kind of addressed that.

What story, film or novel has left an indelible impact on you as a writer?

Kindred by Octavia Butler, who is one of my all-time favorite authors.

What current show or movie do you wish you were in the writer's room?

There are so many! For All Mankind, Station Eleven and Lovecraft Country are the ones that come to mind. I definitely wish I was in the writer’s room for Noah Hawley’s television adaptation of Alien. I would also love to be in the writer’s room for Victoria Mahoney’s TV adaptation Octavia Butler’s Dawn and Wildseed, or even both.

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What keeps you motivated as a writer?

The discourse surrounding this country, in regards to both critical race theory and the historical depiction of Black people on film and TV keeps me motivated. There’s a lot of efforts to erase not only this nation’s history of white supremacist violence and racism, but also a lot of Black history and Black achievements are swept under the rug. As far as the historical depiction of Black people on film and TV, it seems Black stories are only glorified and incentivized when it deals with racism or racial trauma. Black people are more than our racial trauma. We laugh. We go on adventures. We are diamonds, rubies and beacons of joy and deserve to be treated as such, both on and off TV and film. I use writing as a means to engender empathy and enrich one's inner child, instill wonder in the spirits of Black people in a world, create imaginative worlds for Black children and force America to confront its national pastime and present-day sin: racism and white supremacy. All of it stems from a place of rebellion.

Tell me about your current WIP.

I have plenty, but I’ll give you two. One is called No Place Like Harlem. It’s a whimsical sci-fi story set against the backdrop of The Harlem Renaissance and present-day Harlem. In many ways, it’s intended to serve as a love letter to our LGBTQIA elders who lost decades in the closet. The other one is called So You Wanna Time Travel…But You’re Black. It’s one I’m desperately perfecting at the moment. Without going too much into it, the story does deal with Black kids time traveling in the past and having fun while doing so. And the conflict is not rooted in racial trauma. There’s this old idea that there’s nowhere Black people can time travel. I’m dispelling this notion. Boundless bombastic Black joy and nostalgia are plentiful and abundant in this one.

What’s your favorite genre to write?

No surprise, science-fiction. However, I prefer "small scale sci-fi" over blockbusters. I love when otherworldly cosmic moments of wonder are grounded in intimate everyday settings. I’m also a drama guy.

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What is your favorite script you have written thus far and why is it your favorite?

I would say the most recent pilot I wrote, The Boy Who Promised the Moon. It explores the racial dynamics of NASA in the 1960s through the lens of science fiction and deals with the intersection of spaceflight and civil rights. I love history. I love anything that has to do with the ’60s. So much Black history happened in that decade, from the music, movies and fashion alone. I love anything that has to do with NASA and spaceflight, but there is an undercurrent of racism and misogyny that has been swept under the rug that needs to be addressed. So, it was fun to combine all three into a story that is, from what I’ve gathered based on feedback, fast-paced, tense, cinematic and adventurous.

What would you consider as your "brand" as a writer?

Emotionally resonant, grounded, Amblin-esque sci-fi dramas and adventures where Black people come across extraordinary beings and circumstances. My characters tend to be resourceful only children who are not only self-sufficient and introspective, but underdogs. I love underdogs, because you never see them coming. If Steven Spielberg and Octavia Butler had a kid who was raised on Stephen King and The Twilight Zone, it would be me!

Where do you hope to see yourself in this industry in the next 5 to 10 years?

I hope to have my own production company and studio, one that rivals Pixar, Bad Robot, Amblin, Monkeypaw and A24 in terms of prestige, excellence, influence and stellar storytelling. I want to write, direct and produce my own films and TV shows. The way that Jordan Peele has revolutionized horror with films like Get Out and Us, I want to do the same thing in the field of science fiction in both film and TV. I really want to take the film and TV industry by storm the way Steven Spielberg did in the '70s and ‘80s. I see making films and television to be my primary source of income, and a prosperous one at that; and abundant, happy and fulfilled in all areas of life while doing so! I don’t know If I’m jinxing it, but for manifestation purposes I’m going to put it out there: I want to be the first Black person to win the Academy Award for Best Director. Just putting it out there! Manifesting it all and doing the work!

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What advice would you give novice screenwriters?

Write the story you want to see. Toni Morrison said “If there’s a book you want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” The same rule applies for screenplays.

What's next for you?

I would love to shoot proof of concepts for both The Boy Who Promised the Moon and So You Wanna Time Travel…But You’re Black. Keeping my fingers crossed they all come to fruition and are masterful in execution!


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