2020-21 Ebert Fellows announced

Roger Ebert illustration

In honor of the late Pulitzer Prize-winning film critic and University of Illinois journalism graduate Roger Ebert, three College of Media undergraduate students have been named as this year’s Roger Ebert Fellows. In addition to a stipend, the fellows will be mentored by Chicago Tribune film critic Michael Phillips, who will help develop their arts, journalism, and media criticism skills. 

The three Ebert Fellows include Casey Daly, Grace Johnson, and Scarlett O’Hara.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Phillips said he is rethinking the projects that were formerly in-person to consider how easily and fruitfully they can adapt online. Some instances, he said, will depend on where Illinois is with COVID-19 cases and the participants’ comfort level. In the past, Ebert fellows have worked with the co-host of the podcast Filmspotting, heard weekly on Chicago Public Radio, and attended the famous comedy theater The Second City.

“We're improvising as we go this year, but that is so true…of just everything, in every cultural undertaking going on in America right now,” he said. “It has to be approached as a lesson in improvisation.”

Phillips said he hopes the fellows will become better, more persuasive writers and thinkers through their fellowship experience, which is accomplished by way of what was important to Ebert through the world of film. With this being the Ebert Fellowship’s sixth year, he said it is clearer than ever to him that working with so many sharp, curious, adventurous U of I students has been continuing his education, not just theirs.

“Mentoring the Ebert Fellows, introducing them to new experiences and, I hope, new ways of thinking about critical thinking and critical writing—it makes me question my own perceptions, constantly. It’s not about teaching, or at least not only about teaching; it’s about listening, and thinking hard about how arts, culture, and entertainment landscapes have evolved, before and during the pandemic. The pandemic, with luck, will go. But the experiences the Ebert Fellowship offers all of us will stick with us, no matter where we go from here.”

Meet the 2020-2021 Ebert Fellows

Casey DalyCasey Daly is a junior studying journalism who is interested in pursuing a career where she can create meaningful content through her writing.

“As a journalist, this fellowship is a program in which I can exercise my craft through relevant mediums in a changing world,” Daly said. “As a college student, whichever skills you practice are meant to be ever-developing and growing. The Ebert Fellowship takes that one step forward.”

There are several aspects that excite her about participating in the fellowship, including working with incredibly talented people such as Phillips. She and the other fellows recently attended the Chicago International Film Festival to engage in film critique. 

“I’m excited to watch myself progress as a writer, reporter, podcaster, and editor,” she said. 

Her favorite movie: Heathers.

Grace JohnsonGrace Johnson is a junior in media and cinema studies who would like to create media that centers around marginalized communities, especially on Black girls and women. She would like to have the ability to tell authentic stories that are “oftentimes erased in popular media.” 

“I feel like this fellowship will help strengthen my storytelling skills using a variety of platforms,” Johnson said. “It also seemed like a great opportunity that would challenge me in reaching new levels as a media-maker.”

She feels “truly honored” to participate in the selective program and is excited to work with Phillips and the other fellows. Johnson said they recently held their first meeting and is looking forward to all the opportunities that will come through the fellowship.

“I'm so grateful, and I look forward to the amazing opportunities that are to come!”

Currently, her top three movies are The Photograph, The 40-Year-Old Version, and Girls Trip.

Scarlett O'HaraScarlett O’Hara, a senior in journalism, hopes to explore various avenues of journalism as an Ebert Fellow. Her primary interests are in the arts and entertainment, longform investigative work, and is considering documentary writing and production as well. She is excited by the open-endedness of the field that will allow her to learn new things in new places for a living.

“The projects that we will be working on as Ebert Fellows fit my vision of exactly what I see myself doing in the future, so having the opportunity to collaborate with such a small, focused group is exciting (and a bit overwhelming),” she said.

O’Hara, who is named after the main character in Gone with the Wind, said she “absolutely knew” she would watch their film for the first time and write about it. “I avoided it for 21 years for several reasons, but I always knew that I'd have a good reason to sit down with it eventually, and I didn't want to waste my first viewing,” she said. "I'm so grateful (and relieved) that I didn't waste it! Scarlett O'Hara was a spoiled brat, irredeemable in most ways, but strong, stunning, and flawlessly portrayed by Vivien Leigh. I love my name, and maybe fate is partially to blame for my love of film/writing about film.”

“I thought that people who genuinely love their careers are just lucky. I didn't give myself a chance to explore what I've always loved and felt most comfortable doing—writing—until relatively recently. In that time, and thanks to the [Ebert Fellowship], I've finally started to feel lucky, too.”

Her favorite movies: Her “cliché” answer is Goodfellas, though she can watch Die Hard and Clueless constantly without growing tired of them.

Congratulations to the 2020-21 Ebert Fellows!

Kimberly Belser, Communications and Marketing Intern