Rotten Tomatoes and Chicago Film Critics Announce Winners of ‘Emerging Critics Grant’

Rotten Tomatoes, entertainment fans’ go-to resource for movie, TV and streaming recommendations, and the Chicago Film Critics Association (CFCA) announced today the inaugural recipients of the “Emerging Critics Grant” program, designed to support diverse aspiring critics from the Chicago area. Award recipients can be either college students pursuing a career in journalism or up-and-coming entertainment critics with three years or less experience in their career development.

The two Chicago-area award recipients will each receive an all-access pass to attend the 9th Annual Chicago Critics Film Festival (May 13-19) at the historic Music Box Theatre, as well as invitations to receptions, press junkets and other events. Recipients will also receive career support through one-on-one mentorship with CFCA members, an opportunity to work with Rotten Tomatoes’ editorial team and publish a Festival-related article for the site, as well as a $2,500 grant and a $100 Fandango gift card. 

“At Rotten Tomatoes, we place high value on supporting the next generation of journalists and remain committed to fostering inclusion in entertainment criticism,” said Jenny Jediny, Rotten Tomatoes Director of Critic Engagement. “We are excited to partner with the CFCA to create a program that provides opportunities for industry experience and mentorship to rising voices as they take the next steps in their professional journey.”

The first two grants have been awarded to B.L. Panther (they/them; pictured left) and Shelli Nicole (she/her; pictured right), emerging writers based in the Chicagoland area, each with distinct critical voices whose early work impressed the selection committee, consisting of representatives from both Rotten Tomatoes and the CFCA.

Film critic B.L. Panther

A Pisces by nature and Folklorist by training, B.L. Panther has been studying human culture for decades. Their work looks at film, media, and performance through the lenses of gender and empire and can most often be found at Honey Literary Journal and The Spool. Their most recent venture is as co-host of The Meh-thod Podcast, exploring great acting in less-than-great films.

Shelli Nicole is a queer Detroit-born freelance writer currently living in Chicago. Her work is often personal narratives on race, sexuality, and pop culture and has appeared in AutostraddleVogueThrillist, and many others. She is also terrified of mermaids and teenagers.

“A depth of talent in film journalism exists in Chicago,” said CFCA President and RogerEbert.com Managing Editor Brian Tallerico. “We are elated both to partner with Rotten Tomatoes to make this program possible and to award the first emerging critics grants to B.L Panther and Shelli Nicole, two writers with compelling and essential perspectives deserving of support and exposure.”

Grant winner Shelli Nicole

The Chicago Film Critics Association will host a pre-festival cocktail reception on Tuesday, May 3, an event open to the public, to celebrate the Emerging Critics Grant recipients and preview this year’s Chicago Critics Film Festival.

The “Emerging Critics Grant” is part of Rotten Tomatoes’ Grant and Scholarships program, established several years ago to increase inclusion in entertainment criticism and support the next generation of critics through donations to educational programs, film festivals’ inclusion initiatives, and other industry efforts.      In 2017, Rotten Tomatoes established a multi-year Rotten Tomatoes fellowship with the USC Annenberg School of Journalism and Communications. In 2018, Rotten Tomatoes was a founding sponsor of the press inclusion initiatives for both Sundance and Toronto International Film Festivals, and in 2019 began its support of the LA Film Critics Association’s Ruth Batchelor Scholarships for female and minority students attending LA-based junior colleges​. Most recently, in 2021, the company launched “RT Labs,” a free online educational resource program designed to support aspiring critics through recorded expert panels, interviews, how-to guides and more.

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