The Disney+ original show Diary of a Future President follows the story of Elena Cañero-Reed, who one day hopes to become the president of the United States. Until then, she’s navigating friendships, family relationships, and middle school. Diary of a Future President Ccreator and showrunner Ilana Peña spoke to YEM about where the inspiration for the show came from.
“Elena is very much inspired by me when I was younger, but we also have incredibly diverse writers that bring their own stories to the table,” Ilana said. “A lot of these stories, if not all of them, are inspired by something that either happened to me, a writer, or a friend. We approach all of them [the stories in the show] from a place of honesty, and I think that is what makes it so universal.”
Ilana shared that swapping stories with other writers about fears, traumas, and victories of being in 7th or 9th grade was something that she enjoyed. Another thing that all the writers related to was the idea of the “summer reset” or middle school summers.
“Everything just vastly changes. People look different, they like different things, they’re wearing different clothes, because that’s when everyone’s really coming into their own. Everyone kind of had a story about what a summer reset looked like for them,” Ilana explained.
Besides her own personal experiences and stories, Ilana also drew inspiration for the show from Lizzie McGuire.
“I grew up watching Lizzie McGuire, and it very much influenced Diary of a Future President. f I could work with the creator Lizzie McGuire and maybe have cartoon Lizzie giving Elena advice, I think that would be really great,” Ilana said.
Ilana also worked as an assistant on the CW show Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. Ilana said that the two writers, Rachel Bloom and Aline McKenna, supported, nurtured, and loved everything that she brought to the table and were not expecting Ilana to be anyone but herself.
“They didn’t see me as an assistant, but as a person, as a writer, and as somebody with stories to tell,” Ilana said. “So, I made it my mission to do the same for others,” Ilana said.
Ilana also gave some heartfelt advice to people interested in pursuing writing for a tv show.
“Embrace the stories that you have to tell. It doesn’t have to be autobiographical, but tell them from a place of honesty,” Ilana said. “Then people will be saying, ‘no one else can this story like you.’ You are the only person who can tell your stories.”