In the age of Trump, social movements have galvanized in response to the exacerbation of racial, gender and class divides. Black Lives Matter continues its uphill battle to combat racial police brutality, the “Me Too” movement adds voice to a growing campaign to challenge sexual violence following the courage of outspoken Hollywood women and men, “Fight for $15” continues to advocate for wage increases for the working poor, and “Black Youth Project 100” has tirelessly worked to combat Black criminalization and stereotypes. Marginalized groups have responded to the present social justice crises with vigor, commitment and mounting momentum in the face of adversity. The work of these organizations reminds us that the art of the visual has an important role to play in re-orienting audiences towards empathy and the arc of justice.
Award-winning and pioneer filmmaker Ayoka Chenzira has always known that we need stories that compel us to change our world — and to see it with renewed eyes. Part of Ayoka’s genius has been her capacity to tell stories that are timeless. Ayoka is a part of the first generation of Black filmmakers with formal training who helped usher in the Black Independent Film movement. Like her filmmaking peers Julie Dash, Charles Burnett, Billy Woodberry and Haile Gerima, who were part of the L.A. Rebellion, Ayoka’s work represents an early period when Black filmmakers were actively ushering in the concept of Black Independent Cinema in the post-Oscar Micheaux and Melvin Van Peebles era, and prior to the wave of commercial Black films in the 1990s. Collectively, these films blazed the trail for the present day commercial films by Black directors. As an independent filmmaker in New York, particularly between 1975 and 1990, not only was Ayoka one of a small handful of African American women making films in different genres, she often used different technologies within the same film. She also used her work to continuously challenge Black stereotypes and promote the belief that Black culture and Black icons are valuable nationwide as well as globally. “I was interested first and foremost in having conversations with Black communities worldwide. Later, I realized that the work had broader value including artistic value,” she says.
Not only does Ayoka’s work meaningfully impact the lives of those who have been marginalized and invisible on our screens, but it challenges existing social norms around race and gender and calls audiences to consider a radical reordering of our social, political, economic and cultural relations. Ayoka’s films may be historic, but they continue to occupy our collective consciousness. Though she has been courageously telling stories since the 1970s, the narratives she distills are more relevant than ever because they speak to the very core of the racism, xenophobia, sexism and classism we are currently facing. With every shot she captures, Ayoka meaningfully impacts the lives of those who have been marginalized and invisible on our screens. She is a courageous warrior with powerful truths to reveal.
February 2018 marks the much anticipated re-release of Ayoka’s iconic collection of the Black Indie Classics (Volume I) for educational institutions now as a DVD collection. With her films already available for viewing in a number of colleges, universities, libraries and museum collections across the country such as the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Museum of Modern Art, Ayoka’s work is already drawing in a new generation of emerging artists and viewers. Not only does her critically acclaimed work connect in important and intriguing ways to currently relevant stories, but they give voice to the complex Black experiences that span many histories.
AYOmentary Productions’ beautifully assembled two-disc boxed set contains the work that cemented her title as a pioneer filmmaker impacting the lives of women around the world. The Black Indie Classics set contains four of Ayoka’s early critically acclaimed and award-winning films including one of the first 35mm feature films to be written, directed and produced by an African American woman filmmaker, Alma’s Rainbow (1993), a coming-of-age story about a teenage girl growing up Brooklyn navigating conversations around standards of beauty, self-image, and the rights Black women have over their bodies, and satire short Hair Piece: A Film for Nappyheaded People (1984), considered the first animated film by an African American woman, that taps into how identities are mediated, the politics of the natural hair movement, and growing up Black in urban America. Through Ayoka’s exploration and critique of self-image and self-esteem issues, audiences will benefit from her ability to unapologetically capture the complexities of historic and contemporaneous conversations about beauty standards, female agency, and the lived experiences of marginalized women.
With a lengthy and committed history to independent and experimental cinema, Ayoka’s work reaches across generations into the present day in a way that will excite, intrigue and move new viewers to a renewed sense of compassion. In these dangerously unkind times, audiences who explore the worlds Ayoka has created will recognize the value of breaking boundaries that segregate, building communities that are under threat, and nurturing a collective consciousness in order to generate greater compassion.
To learn more about AYOmentary Productions or to purchase the Black Indie Classic Collection visit ayomentary.com