'Unnatural Selection,' Co-Written by Karlee Roberts '20, Finalist for Humanitas Carol Mendelsohn College Drama Fellowship

BY Amanda Breen, October 9, 2020

Unnatural Selection, a teleplay co-written by Karlee Roberts ’20 and her sister Marlee Roberts, is a finalist in the Humanitas Carol Mendelsohn College Drama Fellowship. 


Humanitas is a non-profit organization that celebrates and supports film and television writers “whose work explores the human condition in a nuanced, meaningful way.” Endowed by CSI: Crime Scene Investigation writer and producer Carol Mendelsohn, the $20,000 fellowship prize recognizes and rewards the talents of young writers, empowering them to tell important stories. 


Unnatural Selection grapples with the ethical, social, and legal repercussions of modifying DNA with emerging biotechnology. The one-hour drama pilot follows a single mom who is the CEO of a fertility clinic that gives its patients access to in vitro gene-editing technology. The science can eliminate preventable diseases, but it also comes with complex ethical implications.


In an interview with USC Annenberg Media, Karlee and Marlee, known collectively as the Roberts Sisters, discuss their show’s interests: motherhood, nature versus nurture, political division, healthcare access, and the media’s role in influencing public opinion. Roberts says, “We believe it is crucial to tell the gene-editing narrative, particularly in vitro, through a female lens, an extension of the debate over the rights women have to their bodies.”


The ethical concerns surrounding genetic modification in humans are particularly relevant today. CNN reports the Nobel Prize in Chemistry was just awarded to Emmanuelle Charpentier and Jennifer A. Doudna for the development of a genome-editing method. CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing tools facilitate advancements in plant breeding and cancer therapies, but they have also been used for controversial purposes. Last year, Chinese scientist He Jiankui was jailed for creating the world’s first gene-edited babies. 


The Roberts Sisters, direct, produce and write for film and television. Their critically-acclaimed debut feature film, Little Miss Perfect, had its Los Angeles premiere at the TCL Chinese Theatre in Hollywood and its New York City advanced screening at the Director's Guild of America. The film, which was released domestically and internationally following its festival run, has won several awards including Best Screenplay, Best Actress, and the Grand Jury Prize at festivals nationwide. It was also invited to screen in the Soho House Cinema Program. 

Roberts developed the teleplay during her time at the School of the Arts, and the MFA Film Screenwriting Faculty selected it for the Guy Gallo Memorial Screenwriting Award. 


Karlee Roberts '20 during Fox interview