Browse Category: Afrofeminism

Making It In Media, Accidentally: One Queer African Writer’s Journey to Paradise

I recently spent some time reflecting on my work as a media activist and advocate.

This reflection came partly in preparation for my feature at New York University’s “Making it in Media” panel, a lunchtime panel series that provides an opportunity for students interested in careers in media to connect with media professionals of diverse backgrounds.

I had been looking forward to sharing my experience as a media activist with students, and hopefully, making a case for the importance of alternative media as a tool for advocacy as well as a worthwhile career path. But as the event approached, and I tried to think about what I’d say to students who were just starting out, I realized I wasn’t quite clear on what I would say exactly.

My career path in media hasn’t been linear or conventional by any means.

I went to MIT to study Mathematics, which I thoroughly enjoyed before realizing that I really enjoyed writing and had to “come out” to my parents as an artist hoping to end up with a liberal arts degree from a science school. (It went well, considering…)

In an effort to earn my stripes as a certified nerd (and rid myself of immigrant parent guilt — “you mean we sacrificed so much for you to attend the best science school just for you to be a “writer”?), I worked in the software industry for about five years. I hated it. Yes, hated it. So I channeled all the frustration that came with working 60-70 hr work weeks into my passion for new media and social justice, which culminated in my founding and growing a social networking organization for Queer Women of Color in Boston, then later on, QWOC Media Wire, a media hub for LBTQ women of color and the Diaspora.

When the recession hit and I lost my job, I realized I still had a reason to get up every day and ‘go to work.’ My organization had grown, and was receiving national exposure due to our social media campaigning efforts. So, even though I wasn’t getting paid for my work (whether as a writer or activist) the show had to go on.

With new media as my focus, I continued down the path of social justice, and very quickly, the successes in my community work earned me a reputation for “applying” what I knew about media and diversity. People started inviting me to come speak, train, coach on how to use social media for thought leadership, community outreach,  and online fundraising. I couldn’t work with everyone that asked, so I relaunched this blog, and began writing about the issues I was working on, sharing my ideas.

What Does Success in Alternative Media Look Like?

Flash forward a few years, and here I am with an international blog readership, a few more accolades, and the privilege of making a decent living through various writing, consulting, and media projects for good.

I raised over $15,000 in less than 30 days for my Africans for Africa project this year; I was just offered a contract position to advise a prominent foundation on how to re-write their site’s content to make it snappier, more engaging, and reflective of their brand; and I’m constantly invited to sit on panels that indicate people think I know a thing or two about “How to Make It In Media.”

I know my parents are proud of me, but I’m also pretty sure that this isn’t quite what they had in mind when they dropped me off at college. They hadn’t banked on my tendency to strive to be the best at nearly everything I did to manifest as my becoming the “gayest Nigerian ever” (seriously, my site stats report that this is what someone searched for one day and found my blog). And, to be honest, this isn’t what I’d imagined my life would be like either. Thus, when people ask me, “How does one make it in media, exactly?” I’m not quite sure how to answer.

I get emails all the time from younger people who want to know how it is that I get to do what I do. What did I study? What courses would I recommend? How do they get started in their own media careers?

What to tell them when my own “career path” (it feels so weird to even think of it that way!) hasn’t been straight-forward? I don’t have the answers. I’m not even sure I can say that I’ve actually “made it”. I posed the question of #howtomakeitinmedia on Twitter followers and got a few great responses. I’ll share my favorite one from Soli Philander:

“I think what’s most important is to define what “Making It In Media” means for you.”

Because I’ve felt like an outsider most of my life, “Making It In Media”, for me, has meant using media to connect with “my people”, whether African women, Nigerian feminists, LGBTI Diaspora, queer bois, and more, for the purpose of affirming each other’s experiences, growing and healing together.

“Making It In Media” has meant being able to build for myself and others, a support network, so we all can feel less alone, using my voice to advocate for people who don’t have as much access to resources as I do, filling the spaces between the black and white of political agendas with the personal stories that are often missing from policy implementation, a result which when botched, impacts marginalized communities the most.

“Making It In Media” for me means nurturing a younger generation of women (and other marginalized people) to claim their right to their own histories, by writing it; equipping them with one of the most powerful ideas I’ve ever received — that we do not need to sit around waiting to be written about; we can write our own histories, influence policy, and change the world from where we are.

And yes, “Making It In Media” means, also, one day, being interviewed by Ellen. Maybe for winning a Pulitzer.  That’s obviously nowhere near happening yet, but I’m working on it. ;)

So You Want to Make It In Media: Now What?

I don’t know what “Making It In Media” means to you — you who are still reading this, and I might guess, are interested in doing the same. I don’t know where you should begin or where you are. But, I do know this: regardless of who you are, or what your parents wanted you to be, irrespective of what you studied or didn’t study in college, whether or not you event went to college, if you can’t find your ideal job description at your school’s career fair or on Craigslist, you absolutely possess the power, more now than ever, to transform what you love into what you do for a living.

I’m more fulfilled in my work as a writer and media activist than I ever would have been as just another ivy league consultant on wall street. I’ve met smart, passionate, inspiring people from all walks of life who have taught and given me so much. The passion and drive I have for helping others has been so rewarding, and I know it will continue to be as long as I remain true to myself, and lead from within. Maya Angelou puts it best: “Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.”

So I offer this to you: Don’t drive your career with someone else’s rear view mirror. Don’t tailgate an externally constructed ambition or let someone else’s version of success distract you from the most important driver on the road… you. 

This is especially true for people you look up to. It’s easy to compare yourself–especially in media–to others who may seem more visible (more press mentions), more influential (more followers), more “successful” than you. Resist the urge to veer off your path chasing someone else, whose destination you do not know.

Be the center that guides your trajectory. Shine brightly enough from within and your path will become clearly illuminated ahead of you. And when that happens, follow it.

Follow it even though it feels endless and like you’re headed nowhere. Follow it when you’re the only one on that road and you see no other cars next to you. Follow it when the voices in your head tell you that it’s time to give up, admit that you’re wrong and turn around. Don’t turn around. Follow it, and one day you will arrive at your very own version of paradise.

I have spent years navigating awkward relationships with my parents, who couldn’t understand why I would invest so much time and energy into something that wasn’t helping me pay my bills. There were times when I went weeks with just eating ramen noodles because I couldn’t afford to go grocery shopping. I worked jobs I hated, took gigs that paid me a fraction of what I was worth. I doubted myself whenever a classmate, or a close friend got a promotion, bought a new car, or took an expensive vacation; whenever my straight friends would ask me why I write so much about LGBT issues all the time, “Isn’t it pigeon-holing you?”

I would ask myself over and over again each morning, “What are you doing?” But what’s most important is that I could always answer, “I’m doing what I love. And I’m doing it as me.” When you are down in the trenches of your own epic movie, and there’s no one to look to for inspiration (for fear of jealousy, envy, or that they’ll see that you’re not quite so sure of yourself), all you have is your own voice. Make sure it’s always honest. Make sure it’s always true to you. Listen to it. Lead with it. And you’ll make it, not the right way, but your way, and find all the love, fulfillment, and pride you were denied in your journey, waiting for you at your destination.

I haven’t “made it”. But I’m proud to say that the gains I have made came with authenticity and integrity; all of me. I’m relieved to know that I will never have to fragment myself to fit into anyone else’s narrow lane, because from the very beginning, I promised to find my own way. I wish for so many of you, the same exact thrill.

Safe journey.

Now, because I do feel strongly about giving out practical advice, I’d also like to share some grounding principles I’ve acquired and tweaked during my “career” that have helped me gain the visibility and influence I do have in my own lane. Check them out via the post “Social Media for Social Change: 10 Tips from a Queer African Media Activist“. I hope you find them useful.

But hey, before you go, leave a comment so I know you’re listening, or relate. It’s always good to know that I’m not the only crazy driver trying to find my way off the main road. :) 

In Honor of Nina Simone: Why Black Women Must Re-Frame the Conversation about Racism in Hollywood

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the internet’s sensationalized debate over Zoe Saldaña playing Nina Simone in a Hollywood biopic: How the Light- vs. Dark- Skinned Debate Misses the Point about Black Women in Media.

In summary, my post called for marginalized communities–especially, in this instance, black women– to be more aware of the way the mechanism of racism and colorism in Hollywood too often keeps us sensationalizing debates about Hollywood’s perception of our beauty (and even, as in this case, pits us against each other), rather than embracing the opportunity for us to affirm our collective power as both media producers and consumers.

For me, this debate was yet another moment in the cycle of abuse between the black community and the gatekeepers that control white media; the fact that Zoe Saldaña, another woman of color was getting a lot of backlash (via comments that suggested she was hijacking a role meant for black women, dismissing her self-identification as a Black Latina, not to mention personal attacks against her character etc), was discouraging, to say the least.

It’s one thing to criticize the white supremacist media machine that is Hollywood; it’s another thing entirely for us to let that criticism distract us from seeing how that machine is designed to keep us fighting each other over scraps (e.g. debating over who gets the few lead roles written for women of color) more often than we brainstorm how we can work together to grow and harvest enough seeds to keep nourishing us all.

As long as we keep Hollywood and mainstream media at the focal point of our discussions (and criticisms) around media representation, we will remain stuck in a very unproductive cycle.

Same Ole’ Mainstream Media vs. Nuanced Alternative Media

Case in Point: The New York Times published a story this week, summarizing the debate around Zoe Saldaña’s casting for the lead role of Nina Simone. (Please note: My comments are based on the article published online, and not what made it into print, as I’m currently in South Africa).

Despite being interviewed by the reporter, and sharing my thoughts about the importance of black communities recognizing the ways in which alternative media–and initiatives to produce more black-owed and -directed content–could lead to  better representation in the future, the article didn’t do much at all to move the conversation forward. In fact, it maintained the status quo.

The NYT article‘s framing of the issue was barely nuanced. In a nutshell, here’s how it went: black people are angry because Zoe Saldaña doesn’t look like Nina Simone, here are other examples of black people protesting the casting of light-skinned actresses, Hollywood is racist and will always prioritize profit, oh well.

Panelist, Salamishah Tillet
Source: Wikipedia

Conversely, Huffington Post Live was able to expand the conversation beyond the sensationalized polarity because black women actually led the conversation.

The segment, titled “50 Shades of Black,” featured an impressive panel of five black women commentators, including Ann Daramola, Michaela Angela Davis, Salamisha TilletTiffani Jones, and Gayla Burks.

Further, this lively panel was facilitated by Dr. Marc Lamont Hill, an academic, activist, journalist, and television personality (i.e. the male version of my idol Melissa Hill Perry). Hence, the collective response to the messy biopic debate was way more nuanced, poignant, and thought-provoking.

Marc Lamont Hill, Huffington Post Live Host

In this case, black women’s voices didn’t just play a supporting role; the panelists had more control over the conversation, the media through which they were sharing  their perspectives, and thus, the outcome.

Even though I wasn’t particularly thrilled with the way the conversation was framed (or even the way it ended), the segment, for me, proved that the more ownership we take of media, the better we have of ensuring that our stories and perspectives are authentic, complex, and representative of the plethora of issues we care about.

Black Women Must Re-frame (Then Lead) the Conversation

In the NYT piece, Cynthia Mort, the director, of the biopic is quoted as dismissing the historical implications of her casting choice by stating, “It’s a Biopic, not a Documentary,” and thus, a creative take on Nina Simone’s life. Her response offers more proof (as if we needed any at this point) of how rampant white privilege is in Hollywood; that a white director gets to use an African-American socio-political icon as formidable and celebrated as Nina Simone as creative fodder with no consequence should be scaring folks into finally moving beyond these cyclical conversations that aren’t getting us anywhere.

So, for instance, instead of a segment titled “Why Does Hollywood Light-Wash Blacks?” (’cause, seriously, we already know the answer to that), how about we as media professionals and activists get into the habit of tackling more action-elicit questions e.g. “How Can Black People Combat White-Washing of Our Images in the Media?”, especially when we have five brilliant black women social commentators on standby? Just a thought.

Cynthia Mort, Nina Simone Biopic Director
Source: NYDailyNews

When I was interviewed by the reporter for NYT, she revealed that she’d spoken to a high end stakeholder in the biopic, who said, and I quote, “Listen, Zoe is hot right now,” as justification for the casting decision.

Need I elaborate? This is — and always will be — about money. This movie will be made, online petition or not. Per my rant on Tumblr,  Hollywood will not suddenly wake up one day and prioritize our authentic histories over their capitalist projects. The situation is not going to change. So, we need to change our strategy. Thankfully, there are others in the media sphere calling for this as well.

Yaba Blay, Africana Studies teacher, scholar, and consultant to CNN Black in America recently commented:

… although I think casting Zoe is a bad move (and disrespectful to Nina’s image and estate), I also think we have to hold “us-folk” accountable. Why haven’t any Black filmmakers made a film about Nina yet? Doesn’t the late, great High Priestess of Soul deserve more than one movie? Or is it only now that a White filmmaker is doing her own thing with Nina’s image that we recognize/remember her legacy? Rather than (or in addition to) complaining, we need to be creating.

Similarly, amidst the familiar stagnant critiques of racism and colorism in Hollywood that were saturating the Huffington Post Live segment, Ann Daramola , stated repeatedly, “Why are we surprised? Why should we continue to expect that Hollywood will tell our stories for us?”

In her post, Zoe Saldaña as Nina Simone is a Reminder to Keep Telling Your Story, Ann offers more than just a fluffy call to action, but calls for strategic investment in black media infrastructure that will give us more autonomy over the creation, curation, and distribution of our stories.

we have so much work to do to get our stories spread. We need to build a media infrastructure as formidable as Hollywood’s that can distribute these stories and support those at the margins who are telling and creating them.  We need to create platforms that we own, community-owned media centers that are not at the mercy of funding cycles or internet service providers.

To Ann’s point, if we can accept that we are actually not surprised, and we know that Hollywood won’t change, I think we’d naturally focus more of our efforts on highlighting and supporting solutions, of which there actually are many.

We Need More Than Black Media Producers; We Need Black Media Consumers, Too

Source: Madame Noire

During the Huffington Post Live segment, Michaela Angela Davis highlighted a few of these solutions: AFFRM, an African-American film distribution company dedicated to diverse cinematic images; Image Nation, a film production company nurturing a strong local film industry in the United Arab Emirates; Nollywood, Nigeria’s thriving film industry (and the 3rd largest in the world), which produces and distributes films made with very small budgets.

Still, what good are black-owned film production initiatives if we as a community don’t call for more strategic consumption and critique of the media produced by them? What value are we assigning these solutions in the media if we ourselves reduce them to being one-off mentions, tangents in the larger conversation about racism and colorism in Hollywood?

Source: Wikipedia

In a 25 minute segment, a total of about 3 minutes (yes I timed it) was dedicated to highlighting solutions already in place, before getting right back to criticizing Hollywood.

It isn’t enough to simply mention that there are minority film professionals already contributing to part of the solution (i.e. by creating more media). We need more discussions around their work’s value and potential to subvert the power structure in the film industry.

I don’t doubt for one second that criticism of Hollywood plays an important role in keeping Hollywood accountable. I just question how often that phrase (“keeping Hollywood accountable”) keeps our voices restricted to being reactive, when we are way more powerful when we use our voices in service of others; young black women, for instance, who need to know that there is hope for them to have flourishing careers in film and media; older black women who are tired and frustrated with Hollywood’s chronic appropriation and alteration of our histories.

We owe it to each other to more frequently use our voices to highlight our resistance, and use our collective power to increase support and visibility for the projects that will get us closer to the future we wish to see, because it is possible. Here’s how:

  • Black People Are Repeat Consumers of Blockbusters, Why Not Redirect the Dollars?: A quick scan of this study on black movie-goers from BET Networks shows that the black community has way more power than it’s using e.g. African-Americans go to the movies 13.4 times a year vs. 11 times for general market, they’re repeat movie-goers for films they like, and are heavy consumers of alternative media. However, in this same study, when listing the top films supported by black audiences, only 3 out of 19 films featured a prominent African-American character. What would happen if we changed that? What would happen if made it a priority to only support the films we want to see? Think on that.
  • Hollywood Taps into Their 1% and So Should We: When I published my call for more creation and support of black media, the most popular attack at the plausibility of profitable black media infrastructure was limit to capital. That is certainly an obstacle to contend with, but from the recent successes of the Tyler Perry franchise, Steve Harvey’s Think Like a Man, and other projects, not one that’s insurmountable. There is a black middle class and elite in the entertainment industry, creating and leading their own projects, raising millions of dollars for Obama. Let’s not erase their accomplishments by continually perpetuating the idea that there is no capital for projects we’d like to see at all.

There are so many other avenues to explore when it comes to black alternative media, even if for the purpose of mainstreaming that media eventually. So why do the most vocal commentators on this issue keep reverting to the same old conversation i.e. the “problematicness” of Hollywood?

Michaela Angela Davis,
Image Activist and Consultant

As one of the panelists, Michaela Angela Davis noted, the colorism evident via this casting decision is very triggering for black women, who constantly have to defend their right to feel beautiful, appreciated, and respected. I imagine that’s part of the reason it’s been so challenging for us to break this cycle; our feelings regarding the media’s (mis)representation of our beauty and aesthetics have been either continually invalidated, or worse, ignored.

Still, we cannot let our pain keep us lingering outside of Hollywood’s gates, hoping for an apology, expecting retribution, or worse, throwing stones at the few of us who have managed to make it inside. We must embrace the idea that we can be gamechangers, that our collective power is formidable, that we can create media that’s better and more representative of who we are, for the sake of young black girls everywhere, for the sake of  Nina Simone herself. Time to change the game.

Gabby Douglas, Olympic Gold Winner, 16-Yr Old Role Model

Food for Thought: When the facilitator stated that he didn’t want his daughter growing up to think Nina Simone looked like Zoe Saldaña, it would have been incredible to have all those brilliant minds put their heads together and offer, from their various perspectives, ways in which we as community could ensure such a thing never happens.

Instead, via a vote about who each panelist would have liked to see play Nina Simone, the conversation ended with these black women on the bench as spectators of Hollywood’s game.

After such a lively conversation, I couldn’t think of anything more disempowering to end on a note that ultimately suggests to young black girls that Hollywood will always be upheld as the ultimate validation of their voices, their stories, their work. Can we please change this?

Here lies an opportunity for us to commit to handling the next conversation like this differently, to frame future conversations around racism, colorism, and media around solutions, which tap into our power as a community, and send the message to future generations that change is indeed possible

Even though we have very far to go, I believe this conversation was a solid start. Take a look. And let me know what you think.

 

Spectra Speaks on “The Power of Storytelling: LGBT History, The Media, and the African/Black Diaspora”

Dear Readers,

Here’s a brief synopsis of one of my talks, “The Power of Storytelling: LGBT Rights, The Media, and the African/Black Diaspora” in case you (or someone else you can refer me to) would like to bring me to your high school, college or university campus, or conference. It’s the very first talk based on my Africans for Africa project traveling through southern Africa and supporting African women and LGBTI women in their use of social media. Please share, forward, disseminate!

Due to your continued support of my work, I’ve been able to maintain my status as a frequently requested speaker at schools, universities, and conferences around the world. I couldn’t be any more grateful to you, and have recently committed to consolidating/packaging information about my work to make it easier for you to advocate for my presence in your spaces. So, sign up for my mailing list to receive information about more talks, presentations, and workshops, and of course, my appearances near you!

As nearly 100% of my speakers fees gets re-invested back into community projects, such as my latest, Africans for Africa, by booking me, you’ll not only be bringing smart, insightful, thought-provoking, and engaging conversations to your space, but supporting my work overall which aims to amplify the voices of marginalized communities.

If you have any questions at all, click the Contact Me button on the right! Or, send me a message.

Warmly,
Spectra


The Power of Storytelling: LGBT Rights, The Media, and the African/Black Diaspora
an informal talk/presentation on the Africans for Africa project, by LBGT and media activist, Spectra Speaks  

There is an African proverb that goes, “Until lions write their own history, tales of the hunt will continue to glorify the hunter.”

If one were to go by the media’s portrayal of LGBT rights in Africa, the queer history of an entire continent would most likely be reduced to a series of atrocities, with a speckle of sensationalized triumphs as determined by the west. This phenomenon is far from trivial, as the relationship between what the media says and what policy does is entrenched in government. Hence, it is important to ask not only, “Which stories are being told?”, but also, “Who are the storytellers?”

As a counterpoint, in the US, queer people of color, who have historically been erased from LGBTQ narratives, are steadily, yet aggressively reclaiming their chapters in history, producing media that more authentically portrays their complex lives, and weighing in more loudly than ever during national discourse about LGBT rights.

The growing popularity of new media has contributed to the leveling the playing field; from independent indie films that have been funded via crowdsourcing platforms, to YouTube web series offering eager audiences alternative narratives, new platforms are emerging through which the LGBTQ Diaspora can tell their own stories.

As a queer Nigerian writer, and new media consultant, I have made it my responsibility to cover the progress of LGBTI Africa at the grassroots level; to document our history as told by us (vs. through the eyes of western imperialists or saviorists); and to amplify the voices of changemakers in our communities who are leading the way.

As a juxtaposition to white-/western narratives about the LGBTQ Diaspora, this interactive presentation will take a look at a few of those stories, with a special focus on emergent narratives challenging western depictions of LGBTI Africa.

The talk will also share some findings from my Africans for Africa project, a crowd-funded initiative to train and support LGBT African activists and nonprofits to harness the power of social media in telling their stories, and in so doing, amplify their work, and thought leadership.

Format: Talk/Presentation featuring highly interactive slides w/ media (i.e. photos, videos, quotes).

Duration: Ideally, 1.5 Hrs (w/ Q&A), but can be reduced to a 45-60 min talk without slides.

Audience: General / All Levels, High School or College Students, Student Identity Groups (GSAs, African Students Association, Women’s Groups etc), Activists, esp. for “Allies”

Possible Venues: Keynotes, Conference Presentations, Sessions, Classroom Visits

Departments: Women’s and Gender Studies, Media and Communications, Black/African Studies, History Departments

 


Spectra Speaks, Bio:

Spectra is an award-winning Nigerian writer, women’s and LGBT activist, and thought leader behind the afrofeminist media blog, Spectra Speaks (www.spectraspeaks.com), which publishes global news, opinions, and stories about gender, culture, media, and the Diaspora.

She founded Queer Women of Color and Friends (QWOC+ Boston), a grassroots organization that creates safe spaces for LGBTQ women of color, including immigrants and the African diaspora. Six years later, she launched the QWOC Media Wire, a national media hub run for and by LGBTQ women of color, in order to strategically address the dearth of voices represented in mainstream media.

Spectra speaks widely on diversity, movement building, and a media as a tool for social change. She’s currently travelling through southern Africa collecting untold stories from women and LGBT communities for an upcoming anthology. Follow her blog at www.spectraspeaks.com, or her daily musings on Tumblr (http://spectraspeaks.tumblr.com/) and Twitter @spectraspeaks.

Note: Downloadable press kit coming soon. 

 

“I Dare to Say” Book Review: A Lesson in Hope and Resilience from African Women

I first learned about “I Dare to Say”, a new anthology of African women sharing their stories of hope and survival, after I’d recently decided that, when it came to writing about Africa, I would only ever highlight stories of struggle alongside resistance.

Incidentally, I’d also just published a response to the Kony 2012 campaign about the need for more African women’s voices in the media. Needless to say, the publication of this anthology by FEMRITE, the Ugandan Women’s Writers Association, was timely.

When my copy arrived in the mail, I felt a sense of pride staring at the glossy cover, a sepia photo of two older African women dressed modestly in old garments. Something about the woman in the foreground felt familiar, wrinkles on her bare forearms, wearing the kind of smile that only follows after a really good laugh.

A month later, I realized it had been the memory of both my grandmothers that the image had invoked; they too masked a lifetime of pain and perseverance behind bright white smiles in the sepia photos of my family’s history, their stories held captive within fading images of moments when they temporarily forgot their burdens.

I had once felt I could never know what my grandmothers (and even my own mother) suffered at the hands of poverty, the unforgiving hand of patriarchal traditions, and Nigeria’s bloody civil war. I’d for a very long time resented my mother for her matter-of-fact way of moving through life, never stopping long enough to share the details with an eager first daughter who yearned for a deeper connection with the women in her family; I spent my childhood yearning for stories that lived beyond the slew of parental commands that came infused with generations of gendered duty.

My mother was the kind of woman that would casually toss harsh truths at you from the other end of the dinner table, right before asking you to pass the salt. “I Dare to Say” captures the reality of that kind of resilience – the kind that has learned to live in the next second, the next minute, the next day, never having had the luxury of sitting on a rock for timed introspection; the kind that’s learned to convert detachment into the instinct to keep breathing despite the suffocating feeling of hopelessness.

Reading the book itself was a lesson in perseverance; the longer I paused between stories, the harder it was to bring myself to brave the next one. So, onward I would press on, carrying all the pain, anger, frustration, and chest-heavy burden from being triggered by these women’s experiences, reliving their trauma with them.

Through tears and turning pages, I would question everything I believed: whether I was truly grateful for the life I was currently living or gorging my ego with self-pity, whether or not the work I was currently doing as an activist was meaningful, given how few of these women it touched. I would feel myself shutting down, wanting to close my heart to further pain by closing the book, and in essence, silencing these women’s voices.

But when African women facing overwhelming hardship and circumstances, re-live their trauma to share their journey with us, in order to engage us, educate us, even heal us, we owe them more than a few brief moments of empathy; we owe them our undivided attention, our gratitude, and our commitment to holding on to the voices and their stories as though lives depend on it; because they absolutely do.

“I Dare to Say” not only reveals to the reader, the unrelenting burden of resilience that comes with living in some of the most impoverished areas and under the most debilitating circumstances in Africa, but its first-hand accounts by Ugandan women offer poignant insight into some of the most prominent issues facing women all over the world today.

Here are a few reasons why this groundbreaking collection should be gifted, purchased, and read by every women’s and gender studies department, every single African feminist, every human rights activist, every father, brother, and uncle, everywhere:

1) Concise, Clear Focus on Concrete Set of Issues: Rather than attempt to cram the myriad of issues facing African women into a dense and overwhelming product, this anthology focuses on the ones tied to culture and tradition, and thus are often stigmatized, making their exploration more powerful. The editors organized the collection into four distinct sections:

  • Tears of Hope: Surviving Domestic Abuse
  • Farming Ashes: Tales of Agony and Resilience (Post-Conflict)
  • I Dare to Say: Facing HIV/AIDS
  • Beyond the Dance: The Torture and Trauma of Female Gential Mutilation.

2) Stories Remain Powerful When Read in Order or At Random: I read the stories in order, from start to finish. I must confess, however, that even though I initially believed the sections would prepare me for what was to come, each story felt like a different emotional expedition, raw and unexpected. So, I’m not sure how different the experience would be for a reader who opted instead to select stories at random. Nonetheless, the modular way in which the narratives were presented, certainly made the context around some of the issues a lot easier to learn and digest.

3) Ethical Curation: This Anthology Honors the Storyteller, Not Just the Story: Each story pays homage to Africa’s long tradition of oral storytelling, by acknowledging the power in both the listener and the person doing the storytelling. In every chapter, the moments leading up to the initial meeting between the writer and the subject are described in first-person and italicized. The interviewer literally holds our hands as they travel on overcrowded buses, walk through villages, and get their subjects to start speaking. When this happens, the narrative voice of the African woman, jolts you into the main story; its rough edges and insights feel raw and uncensored  in verbatim, and you can ‘hear’ her, and experience her story as you would if you were right there with her in the room.

Every so often, I meet a book that opens up itself to me in a way that, in turn, encourages me  to be more open with the world about who I am. “I Dare to Say” is one of those books; after reading it, I am forever changed. I feel stronger and prouder than ever to carry the weight of these inspiring women’s stories on my back; their bravery has encouraged me to keep telling my own story, keep fighting for a future in which all our voices are heard, and live from the same place of hope and resilience as the women who have walked this path before me.

The London Feminist Film Festival Seeks Submissions from African Women Filmmakers

Dear Readers,

I was contacted by the London Feminist Film Festival committee to help share some very exciting news. Not only are they receiving great film submissions from all over the world (from as far as Sudan and Burkina Faso!), but they seem very committed to making sure African women and the Diaspora are represented in the festival’s programming, including the films themselves and post-screening panel discussions.

If you’re an African woman filmmaker (or know of any) who identifies as a feminist or has produced a film exploring feminist themes, please submit! The deadline for submissions is August 31st, so you still have time to prepare your reel.

I may actually submit something myself; I’ve been in a feminist erotica filmmaking mood of late. On a more serious note, I’ve been casually collecting footage of African women having conversations (or proclamations) about feminism for the past few months via my Africans for Africa project. The London Feminist Film Festival (LFFF) committee is interested in seeing it, so perhaps their impending deadline will serve as enough motivation for me to edit the first round of footage so that I can send them a short on African feminism. We shall see.

Meanwhile, here are some quick-hit submission criteria:

  • Women directors can be from any country
  • Films should deal with feminist issues and/or be feminist in their representation of women
  • Films can be of any length or genre, and from any year
  • Non-English language films must be presented in English-subtitled versions

NOTE: Submissions by mail will still be accepted as long as they are post-marked on or before that day. Read the full call for submissions here.

More info about the inaugural London Feminist Film Festival below:

The London Feminist Film Festival was set up as a response to the underrepresentation of women in the film industry, as well as to the lack of films addressing feminist issues and the fact that the representation of women on screen is often narrow and stereotypical. The festival aims to counterbalance the mainstream film industry’s narrow representation of women and its neglect of feminist issues by showing a season of feminist feature films, documentaries, and shorts made by women directors from around the world.

Festival Director, Anna Read, says “We want to celebrate women creatives whilst ensuring that this feminist ethos also extends to the films we show. The festival will be a celebration of feminist films past and present. Our aim is to inspire discussion about feminism and film, to support women directors, and to get feminist films seen by a wider audience”.

The festival’s first matron, writer, critic, and broadcaster Bidisha, released shared in support,“In a year when the Cannes film festival had no women in its official selection, when less than 10% of industry directors, writers, cinematographers, and leading characters are women, the London Feminist Film Festival is here to challenge, change, inspire, redress, entertain, and satisfy. I support it wholeheartedly as a women’s advocate and also as someone who has always loved film and sat in countless screenings watching the action and the credits and thinking, where the hell are the women? Well, here they are.”

Read / download their Full Press Release.

Incidentally, the LFFF has confirmed Jacqueline Williams, author of Out of the Shadows: Black Women in Film 1900-1959, a book which explores the contribution black women have made to movie making in the first half of the twentieth century. They are still confirming more speakers which they hope to represent a wide spectrum of feminist perspectives on film and the industry.

As with many feminist spaces, the emphasis on “women” almost always tends to universalize the experiences of the dominant group (e.g. straight women, white women, theorists/academics with class privilege and a macbook, etc.) so that over time the space becomes monolithic and unwelcoming to minorities. The organizers are aware of this and are working quite hard to get the call out to as many communities as possible.

I deeply appreciate LFFF’s effort to ensure diverse voices are represented in every aspect of the festival, including their decision to do outreach so that they can mainstream films from minorities (vs. create a separate track for them). Hence, I would love to see ALL kinds of submissions make it into their submissions pool, not just for the sake of sustaining their enthusiasm about working diligently towards diversity (however important), but so that the voices of African women and the Diaspora (including LGBTI people) will be heard in this very important forum.

So! If you’re an African woman who either identifies as feminist or would like to submit a film/short that explores feminist themes, read the full criteria, then submit!

If you have any questions about submissions, feel free to get in touch with LFF directly via info@londonfeministfilmfestival.com. Feel free to join the LFFF Facebook Group and/or Like their Facebook Page. You can also follow the LFFF on Twitter @ldnfemfilmfest for more information and updates.


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