A Conversation With Yasmeen Alkooheji: Championing Inclusive Storytelling And Mentorship In Media

Yasmeen Alkooheji is a highly skilled writer and multimedia storyteller recognized for her exceptional work spanning various genres and demographics. She has a talent for creating engaging animated and live-action scripts tailored for children and adults. Her original feature script, “Brides and Goddesses,” has garnered international acclaim and numerous awards.

In addition to her creative pursuits, Yasmeen is deeply committed to mentoring aspiring media professionals, particularly those from underrepresented communities. Her involvement with the Children’s Media Association showcases her dedication to fostering inclusive storytelling and promoting diverse narratives within the industry.

Yasmeen’s significant impact on the media and entertainment field is evident through her innovative approach and dedication to amplifying underrepresented voices.

We extend our gratitude to Yasmeen for graciously sharing her insights with us.

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What inspired you to pursue a career in writing and storytelling, and who were your early influences in the media industry?

From a young age, I was captivated by the power of stories to transport, educate, and inspire. My passion for writing was ignited not only by the books, films, and shows that enriched my childhood but also by my observations of the world around me.

While DEI efforts in the industry have made strides over the last decade, there is still a lack of representation and, at times, a misrepresentation of certain people and cultures. This realization further motivated me to pursue writing and contribute to more accurate and diverse representation on screen.

My early influences in the media industry were shaped by Disney’s magical stories and Nickelodeon’s imaginative and quirky shows, which sparked my fascination with the limitless possibilities of animated storytelling. Additionally, writers and producers across various genres significantly impacted my creative development.

Nora Ephron inspired me with her ability to craft witty, wholesome narratives featuring complex characters and engaging plots, showcasing the intricacies of human connection. Shonda Rhimes also greatly influenced my writing with her visionary storytelling and dedication to inclusivity and diversity. 

Can you discuss the unique challenges and rewards of working on animated and live-action formats for children’s TV shows?

The best thing about animated content is that it allows for immense creativity and is incredibly fun to work on. However, one of the main challenges of working on animated formats is ensuring that the story and visuals are engaging enough to hold the attention of young audiences. 

On the other hand, live-action poses more challenges due to the additional factors that need to be managed. The first one is casting actors who can adequately connect with the young viewers and portray believable and inspiring characters.

Additionally, logistical challenges are more pronounced in live-action formats, such as coordinating shoots and schedules and adapting quickly to unexpected changes, which require meticulous planning and flexibility.

But at the end of the day, both formats aim to entertain and inspire, making the whole experience incredibly gratifying as we get to contribute to children’s development and spark their imagination through our work. 

What inspired your acclaimed script “Brides and Goddesses,” and how did it evolve throughout the writing process?

The inspiration for “Brides and Goddesses” stemmed from a desire to tell a powerful story about the resilience of girls and women fighting against oppressive regimes in pursuit of their freedom. The script aims to shed light on critical global issues such as child marriages and gender inequality.

We follow a young girl’s journey as she tries to emancipate herself from a child marriage, inspired by real-life stories of women who have endured the same fate. The script evolved as I incorporated elements of mythology, weaving in the influence of strong, multifaceted women from ancient tales who mirrored the strength and courage of the protagonist.

Through extensive research, the characters and their intertwined destinies became more nuanced, resulting in a story that celebrates the transformative power of unlikely friendships and the indomitable spirit of those who fight for justice and equality.

How do you approach developing a new story and balance creativity with the constraints of different genres and audiences?

When developing a new story, my approach begins with a deep dive into research and brainstorming – often accompanied by an existential crisis or two. 

To make the process less chaotic, I identify the core themes and messages I want to convey and then gradually build a world and characters that can effectively bring those elements to life. When necessary, I try to immerse myself in relevant literature, media, and real-life stories to gather inspiration and ensure authenticity.

Balancing creativity with the constraints of different genres and audiences involves a delicate dance between acknowledging each genre’s unique tropes and expectations while finding innovative ways to craft an original story. Understanding the audience and their preferences is crucial when introducing new elements or perspectives.

That said, we live in a time when people constantly look for new and exciting content. So, looking ahead, pushing the boundaries of different genres, and exploring new formats and storytelling techniques will keep audiences engaged and your content relevant.

What motivated you to mentor aspiring young talents through the Children’s Media Association, and what do you find most rewarding about this role?

My motivation to mentor aspiring young talents through the Children’s Media Association stems from my personal journey as a Middle Eastern woman in the media industry. Navigating this field has given me firsthand insight into the unique challenges and barriers faced by individuals from underrepresented communities.

This experience has driven me to offer the support and guidance I once sought, making the industry’s pathway more accessible and less daunting for aspiring young and diverse talents. The most rewarding part of this role is seeing my mentees grow in confidence and skill, watching their unique voices and stories come to life.

It’s incredibly fulfilling to help shape a more inclusive and vibrant media landscape, knowing that these professionals will go on to inspire and impact the next generation. 

How have your personal experiences as a Middle Eastern woman influenced your storytelling, and what role do you hope to play in advancing diversity in the media industry?

My personal experiences as a Middle Eastern woman have profoundly influenced my storytelling by instilling a deep appreciation for diverse narratives and the importance of representation.

These experiences have shaped my commitment to creating authentic, nuanced characters and stories that reflect the complexities of underrepresented and misrepresented communities. I aim to highlight voices and perspectives often overlooked, bringing rich, culturally diverse stories to the forefront. 

What advice would you give aspiring writers starting in the industry, and what essential skills or qualities should they focus on developing?

I advise aspiring writers starting in the industry to prioritize discipline and practice. Make writing a part of your daily routine, even if you’re just writing for yourself, because consistency is critical to honing your craft. Also, be open to feedback and willing to revise your work continuously, so don’t get too attached to any of your drafts or ideas.

Finally, focus on networking and building relationships within the industry, as it can lead to valuable opportunities and lifelong friendships. Most importantly, be kind, lead with empathy, and advocate for yourself, but make sure you advocate for others as you advance in your career.

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