Nicole Ballivian – 2022 Pilot Winner


Emma, a 9-year-old New Yorker with a genetic polyglottal superpower, loses her entire family on 9/11, so she decides to kill Osama Bin Laden. Emma travels by land down through Latin America, then sails over the Atlantic, treks all across the Muslim World, meeting girls and women who fight their own lives' struggles, forming a lifelong sisterhood. After 10 years, Emma accomplishes her task in Abbottabad.

The entire story of the Yemma series came to me in a quick succession of images. I was lying in bed in my San Francisco apartment that was built in 1890. This had never happened to me before, so I figured I should give the story credit to my apartment ghost.

But what I think actually happened was that I had a latent need to say something as an American Muslim who was a young adult on 9/11.

While the terrorists attacked American citizens of every faith and ethnicity, they also took Muslim-American identity hostage.

9/11 was a day when many Americans first came into contact with a Muslim.  After this day, we witnessed retaliatory hate crimes while many other Americans instead bought up shelves of books on Islam in the bookstores. Most Muslims overseas watched 9/11 on their television screens through our eyes because they knew about this kind of trauma firsthand.

The spiritual evolution that occurs from these shared traumas is that we come closer together as a world. From this concept, the story behind Yemma shows that people can form bonds with strangers as strong as – and sometimes closer than- blood family.

Having lost her mother, father, and little sister in the attacks on 9/11, Emma’s goal is to kill Osama herself. But what she didn’t know was that she’d be meeting a new family that spans across half the globe. This new family are mostly women and girls who love Emma and support her like she’s their own sister or daughter.

Arabic-speaking characters in the script laugh when they call out for Emma: “Yemma! (Oh, Emma!)” as this is the same exact pronunciation when one calls out for their own mother. “Emma” is “Mother” in Arabic.

Nicole Ballivian is a Sundance Screenwriter Fellow and Director.  Her screenplay, Sleeping on Stones, was selected for the Sundance Screenwriters Lab.  Her most recent film was the comedic short, Joe & The Shawl, that was the 2021 Grand Winner at New York Women in Film & Television Festival. Nicole’s directorial debut was the comedic feature, Driving to Zigzigland, shot in Los Angeles & Palestine, which won international festival awards. Nicole’s production background includes work for Warner Bros, Universal Pictures and in independent film.

Nicole was born and raised in Washington DC and is a Fifth Culture Kid who finds herself writing mostly about the confluence of identity and emigration.

Yemma Pitch Bible

Contact Nicole Ballivian: nicole@bintfilm.com