Nev Nnaji, 22, has a trait in common with leaders such as Harriet Tubman, Sojourner Truth and Rosa Parks. Like these women, Nnaji is a fighter—she doesn’t give up.
Two years after a failed attempt to raise $20,000 through an IndieGoGo campaign, Nnaji and her film company Yello Kat Productions are set to release her documentary, “Reflections Unheard: Black Women in Civil Rights”. The film highlights the marginalization of Black women between the “I’m Black and I’m Proud” Civil Rights movement of the early ‘60s and ‘70s and the predominantly White feminist movement.
“We go to jail. We get beaten. We’re doing the same thing you do. So we have as much right to determine the direction of this movement as you do,” Gwendolyn Simmons of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, a student-led civil rights organization, said in the film’s trailer.
Nnaji started the documentary while studying film at Boston University, and was inspired by Elaine Brown’s book “A Taste of Power: A Black Woman’s Story,” a memoir detailing Brown’s childhood and advocacy in the Black Panther Party.
“I felt so ignorant and so deprived about the experiences we had during that time period that no one talks about,” said Nnaji about her new perspective after reading the novel. “The Civil Rights movement was sexist and the feminist movement was racist towards women of color.”
The film was initially aimed to discuss racial misogyny through present day hip-hop culture and a journey through the past of the Civil Rights movement, where most of the marginalization towards Black women began. But Nanji said she soon decided to focus solely on the Civil Rights Movement because it captured the heart of the inequality towards Black women.
The film highlights the experiences of nearly 10 women from the Civil Rights Movement, including members of the Black Panther Party, the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee and other lesser known organizations.
The Black feminist ideologies discussed in the film are special to Nnaji. After changing her major to film following a visit to her school by legendary Black filmmaker Spike Lee Nnaji said she experienced backlash and misogyny toward her and her ideas from professors at the university.
In an interview with The Feminist Wire, Nnaji recalled battle with her feminist principles in the male dominated film industry.
“Most of my professors were male, and many of them did not respect female students–partially because they are so accustomed to working in an environment where the only women on set are thought to be “beautiful” actresses, not people with creative control or agency,” Nnaji said
Nnaji completed the film in early March, and hosted a pre-production screening at Tulane University alongside MSNBC host Melissa Harris-Perry for her course “Black Women and Politics in the South.”
The film is slated to premiere April 24 at the Smith College Conference Center in Northampton, Mass. A subsequent screening in Brooklyn, where Nnaji currently resides, is scheduled for May 16 at the Museum of Women’s Resistance.
“I want to show the film to diverse audiences and organizations to screen it who are committed to diversity,” said Nnaji. She said she hopes to bring the film to countless film festivals, universities and cities across the country.
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