2022 Jurors

Mira Nair Award Jurors

Denise Burse


Denise Burse has performed in most of the regional theaters in the country.  Some of her credits include “Brownsville Song…” at Seattle Rep. (a Gregory Nomination).  She has also worked on Broadway, Off Broadway and Off Off Broadway.  Some of her credits include: Woodie King’s New Federal Theatre production of “Robert Johnson Tricked the Devil” (Audelco Award); Elsa Davis “Angela’s Mixtape” directed by Liesl Tommy; a co-production by Kenny Leon’s True Colors Theatre and The Billie Holiday Theatre, of Coman Domingo’s “Dot” (Audelco Nomination); Will Eno’s “The Underlying Chris” at Second Stage.  Her TV credits include: Manifest; New Amsterdam; Greenleaf; the Emmy Award winning Black Mirror episode “San Junipero” on Netflix; and as Claretha Jenkins on reruns of Tyler Perry’s House of Payne. Others credits include: “Vacation Friends” on Disney Plus; “The Last Days of Ptolomey Grey” starring Samuel L. Jackson on Apple TV Plus; the 2023 release of “The Home”/Miramax and the Independent Sequel “Becky2.”

Photo by Art Streiber



S. Epatha Merkerson


Merkerson a native of Detroit, Michigan has won critical acclaim for her work in theatre, television and film. She is best known for her 17-season run as Lieutenant Anita Van Buren on NBC’s “Law & Order” (three NAACP Image Awards for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a drama) and has currently teamed up with producer Dick Wolf for the Chicago One series where she plays Sharon Goodwin, the hospital administrator on CHICAGO MED now in it’s 7th season.

Her role in the HBO film “Lackawanna Blues,” earned her an Emmy, Golden Globe, SAG Award, Gracie Allen Award, NAACP Image Award and a IFP Spirit Award nomination. Other credits include “Radio,” which garnered her a Cammie Award, “Black Snake Moan,” “Terminator II: Judgement Day,” “Random Hearts,” “Navy SEALs,” “Mother and Child,” “The Six Wives of Henry Lefay” “Peeples,”   Steven Spielberg’s “Lincoln” and the independent films: “The Challenger” with Michael Clark Duncan; and “Year by the Sea” opposite Karen Allen.

Her theatre credits include the 2008 Broadway revival of “Come Back Little Sheba,” (Tony nomination); August Wilson’s “The Piano Lesson,” (Tony, Drama Desk, Helen Hayes Award nomination); “Birdie Blue” and “I’m Not Stupid,” (Obie Awards); “The Old Settler (Helen Hayes Award); “F*cking A”; “While I Yet Live” (Lucille Lortel  nominations); “The Roommate” (2017) and “ A Raisin in the Sun”  (2019 ) at The Williamstown Theatre Festival.

She lives in New York City and Chicago.





Justina Walford has dedicated her life to converging her skills and talents into a career in the performing and film arts. She is currently the Director of Programming at Oxford Film Festival in Mississippi and managing editor for Films Gone Wild. Most recently, Walford was the founder and festival director of Women Texas Film Festival, which celebrated a successful 5-year run from 2016-2020. Earlier in her career, Walford served as the artistic director of Split.Id Stage Performances in Hollywood. She is also a critically acclaimed writer and producer, including of the horror thriller, LADIES OF THE HOUSE (2014) and her two-person play, EVOLUTION OF SUNDAY.


Documentary Jurors



Gabri Christa makes original works for stage and screen and hails from Curaçao, Dutch Caribbean and is based in New York City.  As a choreographer/dancer she danced in companies such as the BIll T. Jones /Arnie Zane Dance Company and Danza Contemporanea de Cuba. Her own work has been presented at Central Park SummerStage, Lincoln Center, Dance Theater Workshop (now NYLA) and other venues.

Her work investigates post-colonialism, personal stories, experimentalism, and common humanity. Awards include the Guggenheim for Choreography, an ABC television award for creative excellence, Pangea Day Festival’s one World’s 100 most promising Filmmakers distinction.  Gabri Christa is Associate Professor of Professional Practice at Columbia University’s Barnard College where she teaches Screendance, composition, dance, directs the Movement Lab, and is the Founding Director – Curator of the social justice Screendance festival Moving Body-Moving Image.

She is a recipient of Awards including: a Guggenheim for Choreography, an ABC television award for creative excellence for “High School”, the Jerome Foundation, Pangea Day Festival’s one World’s 100 most promising Filmmakers distinction, Alzheimer Association, Prins Bernard Fonds.  Currently, she is a Senior Atlantic Fellow for Equity in Global Brain Health and serves on the Cultural Advisory Commission for the City of New York (appointed by Mayor Billde Basio in 2015).






Meital Cohen-Navarro is an award-winning narrative and documentary filmmaker, whose films often feature notable moments of womanhood and social challenges from unique and unexpected perspectives. Her films and screenplays have won awards at numerous acclaimed film festivals around the world. Cohen-Navarro is currently filming a feature documentary in Africa and in post-production on a new feature documentary and in Pre-production for her Narrative Feature film One Way.





Peter Jay Fernandez currently teaches acting in the MFA Theatre Program at Columbia’s School of the Arts. He taught for eight years in the MFA program in The New School’s College of Performing Arts, serving as Co-Head of Acting from 2017 to 2019.  Other teaching includes institutions such as: NYC Graduate Acting Department, Sarah Lawrence College and the Actors Center. He has also taught master classes at Yale MFA, Brown Trinity MFA, Berklee College of Music and NYU Tisch among others.

As an actor, he has appeared in six Broadway plays, most recently ‘All the Way’ starring Bryan Cranston and dozens of Off Broadway and regional plays, most recently ‘Socrates,’ ‘Othello’  and ‘Father Comes Home from the War’ at the Public Theatre and ‘Red Speedo’ at NY Theatre Workshop, among others. Television and Film work includes, ‘The Equalizer,’ ‘New Amsterdam,’ ‘For Life,’ ‘Luke Cage,’ ‘Shades of Blue,’ ‘Blue Bloods,’ ‘House of Cards,’ ‘Brawls in Cell Block 99,’ ‘Damages,’ ‘Royal Pains,’ ‘Law and Order(s),’ ‘The Good Wife,’ ‘Deception,’ ‘The Irishman,’ ‘Funny Valentines,’ ‘Fringe’ and more.

Narrative Jurors




Attending one of the nation’s premiere prep schools, yet coming from the streets of South Los Angeles, while also being the son of two professional actors, Derek Jennings often found himself careening against the incongruency of his trichotomous existence. Jennings’ first job out of college was teaching first-graders in his old stomping grounds of South LA how to read, embedding in them the love of literacy and the freedom that comes along with storytelling.

Jennings is passionate about dispelling media portrayals of people of color that are monolithic, choosing to explore the nuance that triggers a set of specific decisions and circumstances that lead to certain behaviors.  The intersectionality of identity with environment and purpose is a resonant theme throughout his work. Jennings enjoys writing grounded, gritty, character-driven, slice-of-life dramas that are infused with humor.  Jennings’ reputation of having a tireless work ethic, immense creativity, and level-headedness precedes him.

Most recently, Jennings staffed on ABC’s STUMPTOWN, featuring Cobie Smoulders, Michael Ealy & Jake Johnson. He co-wrote EP 110: “Reality Checks Don’t Bounce” guest starring Mike Epps. It was the first of only two scripts that season that the Studio/Network cancelled their notes call for and pushed straight into Production. Jennings also had the pleasure of co-writing the season finale with the Showrunner Jason Richman, which was a successful factor in granting the series a Season 2.  Jennings is currently repped at Thruline Management, and is developing & shopping his original slate of content.



Angela Lewis was born and raised in Detroit, Michigan, and received her BFA in acting from the University of Michigan. She began her professional career in New York carving a path for herself as a premier theater actress, pioneering new plays, created by some of American theater’s most brilliant artistic leaders. After making her way to Los Angeles, Ms. Lewis has found bounteous success across industry sectors, including commercial (on camera and voice over), animation, audio books, film and television.  Currently, Angela stars as Aunt Louie in, the late, great, John Singleton’s legacy series & FX’s highest rated show of all time, Snowfall. From the pilot to its fifth season and into its upcoming finale, Angela has molded her role into a legendary character and is positioning herself as a budding cultural icon.

In addition to acting, Angela is co-founder of the newly formed BlüRemedi, a company that creates, develops, and produces fresh, high caliber, and dynamic content, redefining cultural norms by illuminating the vast diversity within diversity. Committed to giving back and the uplifting of black and brown people, Angela has also co-founded the nonprofit Moon Child Collaborative, which houses its first initiative, Angela’s own labor of love – Birth Village.




As an actress, Najla has performed Off-Broadway, regionally and internationally, as well as in film and television. Favorite theatre credits include Heather Raffo’s Nine Parts of Desire (Seattle Rep), the London and New York premieres of Karen Malpede’s Prophecy, and Naomi Wallace’s The Fever Chart: Three Visions of the Middle East (Central Square Theater). In April 2010, Najla completed an eight-week Off-Broadway run of her solo show, Palestine. That same year, she was named one of “Forty Feminists Under Forty” by The Feminist Press. Since her Off-Broadway run ended, Najla has performed Palestine in over 25 high schools, colleges, and universities around the country and across the world.  In 2013 her memoir, Looking for Palestine, an expansion of her play, was published by Riverhead, a division of Penguin Books.

Najla is one of New York Theatre Workshop’s “Usual Suspects,” and has also worked at the Public, The Cherry Lane, New Dramatists, The Lark, and Second Stage, among others.

Najla also recently guest starred on NCIS: New Orleans (CBS-TV) and has a recurring role on NBC-TV’s New Amsterdam.

She is a graduate of Princeton University.