Jameel Saleem has made his mark in entertainment as an animation writer and executive producer. He boasts work from shows that include “Bob’s Burgers” and “South Park,” among others.
Journey To The Top
His entry into the industry started with landing an acting role for an episode of “The Wire.” From there, Saleem ventured from Baltimore to Los Angeles to pursue acting in 2007. He started carving his own pathway by tapping into YouTube and creating a web series.
However, when the right doors didn’t open, he knew it was time to pivot.
“When I first came out here, it was 2007. It was when YouTube first started popping off,” Saleem told AfroTech. “Everybody was making shorts and sketches and web series and actually me and Issa Rae used the same camera. It was just an exciting time for everyone. I was out here with a bunch of people from Baltimore. We were all out here trying to be actors, producers, and writers. After a few years on the acting grind, I realized nobody was going to give me the opportunities that I wanted. So, I started writing and directing.”
The journey to the top wasn’t overnight. Saleem attended writing workshops every Saturday for three years while also educating himself about everything related to the film industry. Then, he found his footing as an independent filmmaker.
The Obstacles Ahead
By 2012, Saleem made his way to the big screen through his brainchild “Exit Strategy,” which featured Kevin Hart. Despite the achievement, Saleem’s time in Los Angeles almost came to an abrupt end because he was still struggling to make ends meet.
“I spent four years sleeping on people’s couches, you know, ‘homeless,’” he explained. “Then there was a time when I made this movie ‘Exit Strategy,’ wrote and starred in this movie. Kevin Hart was in it. [It] came out in theaters, was on Netflix, Redbox, Amazon, all that. And I was still broke. I remember I was about to go to the Santa Monica Promenade and start filling out applications and I was very close to going back to Baltimore.”
His big break: Saleem decided to give himself a final shot. He dedicated two weeks to crafting his best script. Fortunately, his effort led to his first writing job in New York, working for ABC’s “Manhattan Love Story.”
“It made me feel good to know that I was going to create this amazing thing that maybe nobody would ever see. My advice to anyone is to just always go back to the work. Just do the work. It’s kind of like that movie ‘Field of Dreams.’ If you build it, they will come. Just focus on building whatever your thing is,” Saleem expressed.
Emmy nominee: His hard work has not only been met with opportunity, but with recognition, too. Saleem became Emmy- nominated for his involvement as a supervising producer in “Bob’s Burgers,” which received a nomination at the 2022 Emmys for “Outstanding Animated Program.”
Now, Saleem has over ten years of experience under his belt and he has achieved many of his career milestones. Yet, he doesn’t take his accomplishments lightly because it is increasingly difficult to break out in the industry as a Black animation writer.
The Philly native states each script he creates has to be nearly perfect to even be considered. What’s more, he recalls this feeling when he was hired to write for “Disenchantment.”
“Out of those 600 scripts, they only liked three of them and mine was one,” Saleem said. “Out of the three people that they met, they only hired two, me and someone else. That’s after eight years of me just grinding and writing scripts and developing my talents and going to workshops because as a Black writer, if my stuff isn’t the best of the best, I’m not going to get an opportunity. Like they say with us, you gotta be twice as good to get half the recognition sometimes. So, I knew that I had to position myself as one of the best writers in town for me to even get a shot.”