In the words of Audre Lorde, “If I didn’t define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people’s fantasies for me and eaten alive.”
Over the last few months, I’ve read countless critiques of Kathryn Stockett’s The Help, a creative work that falls short of providing an authentic black female voice. But unlike many of my peers, I never got upset. Stockett is a white woman, she can only write fantasies of black women’s truth. She owes us nothing. She’s a writer, and she can write as she sees fit. Despite this fact, thousands of powerful and intelligent black women have rallied to rip her work to shreds, signing petitions, writing articles, and catalyzing all sorts of intellectual hoopla in hopes that mainstream white audiences will recognize Stockett’s work as a failure. At the end of the day, we’ve failed. We’ve invested energy in critiques instead of empowerment. The book won’t change. The film will continue to draw acclaim. And thus, we’re back to where our focus should be: supporting black women telling our truths.
Below are ten women making moves in the film industry. In lieu of complaints, let’s pledge our money to fund their productions. Let’s tweet this article to spread the news. Let’s share these women’s endeavors on Facebook. Let’s use our blogs and media outlets to promote their work. Let’s be proactive in putting our stories on film instead of retroactively critiquing Hollywood’s failures.
We don’t need “more” black female filmmakers until we can support the women already here.
Ava DuVernay is the founder of AFFRM, the African-American Film Festival Releasing Movement, a new theatrical distribution entity that releases quality independent African-American films through simultaneous screenings in select cities. She directed the award-winning film, I Will Follow (2010), which tells the story of a black woman struggling with the death of a loved one as she moves out the home they once shared. DuVernay also directed and produced three network music documentaries: BET’s first original music documentary, “My Mic Sounds Nice,” a definitive history of female hip-hop artists, Essence’s two-hour concert film “Essence Music Festival 2010,” and TV One’s “Faith Through The Storm,” a documentary about women in New Orleans who have reclaimed their lives after personal devastation during Hurricane Katrina. Simply put, she’s a powerhouse, and needs your support. How you can help: Go to www.affrm.com and click “Join The Journey” for a variety of volunteer opportunities.
Nikyatu Jusu is a writer/director originally bred in Atlanta, Georgia, but pursuing a film career in New York. Fresh out of NYU with a MFA in Filmmaking, Nikyatu already touts a Director’s Guild Honorable Mention, HBO Short Film Award, and JT3 Artist Award for her short film, African Booty Scratcher. Her thesis film, Say Grace Before Drowning, premiered on HBO and tells the story of an 8-year-old black girl meeting her African Refugee mother–who is teetering on the brink of insanity–for the first time in six years. Currently, Nikyatu is working on a feature film about a suicidal man who assists others in completing their suicides entitled F*ck My Life. Sure to break many barriers and represent us in many genres, Nikyatu is a rising change maker in film. How you can help: Keep up with Nikyatu’s work at www.nikyatu.com and follow her on Twitter @nikyatu
Issa Rae is a graduate of Stanford University, where she produced and directed four theatrical productions, including two stage adaptations of Spike Lee Films. While at Stanford, she took time off to attend the New York Film academy to hone her filmmaking skills. Upon graduating, she produced various music videos and shorts. Her most popular web series, “The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl,” just raised $56,259 on Kickstarter and touts almost a million views on YouTube. A true Internet sensation, Issa Rae and her production team self-funded the series prior to Kickstarter. In order to improve the production quality of the show, they’re still accepting support. How you can help: Go to www.awkwardblackgirl.com and click the “Donate” button.
Dee Rees is the director and writer behind Pariah, a black lesbian coming-of-age film that premiered at the 2011 Sundance Film Festival. She’s also written and directed several short films, including Orange Bow (centering on a teenage boy) and Colonial Gods (a story about a Somali and Nigerian man’s friendship). Dee’s work has aired on the BBC, and earned her a fellowship with the Tribeca Film Institute. How you can help: Show your support for Pariah on Facebook and look out for its theatrical release.
Yvonne Shirley is a MFA candidate at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts graduate film program. She’s honed her talents and skills under the tutelage of Spike Lee and Sam Pollard, along with garnering various awards, including a Fox Television Scholarship and Warner Brothers Production grant. Yvonne is directing and producing a film entitled POSES, which tells the story of a picture-perfect black family that deals with an intersection of race, class, and sexuality. How you can help: Yvonne has raised $1,140 out of $15,000 to fund the film, but needs the support of women like you to complete it. Go to POSES’ IndieGoGo campaign to pledge your support.
Tracy Taylor is an award winning writer, director and producer from Chicago, Illinois. Her film, Walking Sunshine, won the 2004 BET Rap-It-Up/Black AIDS short film competition, was nominated for a 2005 NAACP Image Award, and won the 2005 Cable Positive award for “Outstanding Original Movie.” Tracy also directs and produces the web series “The New Twenties,” which examines the lives of 30-something-year old friends that are navigating through real world issues they had not faced in their twenties. How you can help: Watch “The New Twenties” and share the videos online!
Alexis Casson is a director, cinematographer, and editor. She was raised by a mother who has an undying love for the power of education and art. After graduating from Wesley College in 2008, she co-founded The Artchitects with DJ Mursi Layne, an artist collective that offers services such as videography, photography, and post-production. Currently, she’s directing Mix, Match, and Blend, a documentary about five female deejays and their experiences with sexism, succeeding in a male-dominated industry, and balancing family/relationships. How you can help: Show some love to The Artchitects on Facebook and follow their work on Twitter @theartchitects.
Maureen Aladin, Ella Turenne, and Jessica Hartley are the founders of SistaPAC Productions, an entertainment production company that focuses on film, television, new and interactive media. Together, the three women wrote, directed, and produced “Kindred,” a dramatic web series focused on three black women tackling life-changing issues such as sexual harassment, infidelity, drug abuse, deadly diseases, racism, and homosexuality. Like many writers, Maureen, Ella, and Jessica experienced a polite rejection from a major network saying “we like the writing, but the series just isn’t a fit for our network at the moment.” Determined to bring “Kindred” to life, the women launched the series online but haven’t been able to produce additional episodes in over a year. How you can help: Write and tweet your support for “Kindred” to SistaPAC on Facebook and Twitter @kindredseries. Stay tuned for production updates.
Know additional black female filmmakers that need support? Drop a shout out in the comments or share your favorites from the list above!