Ninth Graders Go Behind the Scenes With Screenwriter Selwyn Seyfu Hinds

Emerson Riter ’25 dreams of having a writing career in Hollywood.

So when upper school English teacher Lisa Green invited screenwriter/producer Selwyn Seyfu Hinds to speak to ninth graders on Thursday, March 3, it was kismet.

“Mr. Hinds is a really fascinating person, and honestly, I wish I could interview him one-on-one and learn his tricks of the trade,” Riter said. “I would love to work in movies/screenwriting after I graduate, so it was super insightful for me.”

Hinds is the showrunner, creator and executive producer of Hulu’s upcoming drama “Washington Black,” based on the novel of the same name by Esi Edugyan, which Green’s students have been studying since January. Hinds wrote the screenplay adaptation.

The novel is a coming-of-age story about identity and family, seen through the eyes of its narrator, Wash, an aspiring scientist and scientific illustrator, who begins his life journey as an enslaved child on a Barbados sugar plantation. “In Harkness discussions, students have explored themes related to Black scientists in history; the difference between tolerance and acceptance as it pertains to cultural and racial difference and the question of whose stories get told and why,” Green explained.

Gabriela Olay ’25 was drawn to the book, explaining that “It was raw, visceral, and captures the harsh reality of slavery in a way that made me think about humanity itself,” she said. “The storyline showcased the perseverance and grit that it took to exist, survive and remain whole for oneself during this difficult, dangerous and dehumanizing time of slavery.”

Hinds’ virtual visit from Los Angeles coincided with the students’ final writing assignment, which included an option to write a short screenplay, a short work of historical fiction or a short story about science. 

Green was thrilled with the lessons students learned from Hinds: “He modeled generosity and humility for the students and spoke of his own sense of excitement about reading and writing, and the personal connections he felt when he first read ‘Washington Black.’”

“He talked to us about the demands of being a screenwriter working in Hollywood. He walked us through his writing process and gave us advice that applies not only to screenwriting but writing in general,” Olay said.

Hinds, whose career highlights include writer/producer for “Twilight Zone” and editor-in-chief of “The Source,” shared unedited footage known as “dailies” from the first two weeks of shooting the drama, which stars Sterling K. Brown and Charles Dance. Olay confessed that her favorite part was getting a sneak peek of the Hulu clips. “I think we all felt privileged to see them,” she said. 

To those budding screenwriters in the room, Hinds shared a few tips: “Become an active observer of the people in your life, of nature, of the world around you. And carry a pad and pen with you all the time.”

“I'm always a little cautious of page-to-screen adaptations, especially when the book was first written with such mastery,” Riter said. “But I am excited to see how Mr. Hinds' vision comes through on screen, especially after receiving some background into the process!”

While the ninth graders will soon be reading “Romeo and Juliet,” Hinds will be working on a screen adaptation of a graphic novel called “Prince of Cats,” which he described as “a mash-up of ‘Romeo and Juliet’ and Japanese Samurai culture, set in Brooklyn and told from Tybalt’s point of view.” 

Upon hearing that, Green said it “felt like serendipity, and was an awesome way to set the stage for our upcoming study of Shakespeare!”