When you think of a director, the first thing that probably pops into mind is a white man standing on set, wearing a cap, folding his arms.
For a long time, these cap wearing white men were the only ones carving out narratives for black women. As a result, we existed on screen as either the ‘angry’, ‘single’, ‘downtrodden’, ‘strong/hardened’ black woman.’ These tropes were unlike the women I saw growing up. I witnessed strong, but sensitive, beautiful but beastly women in my lifetime and I understood that what was reflected on TV and Film, was only a fraction of what a black woman is.
However, there has been a recent shift in the industry which many are calling a modern-day ‘black renaissance’. We are witnessing the rise of the black female storyteller.who are reintroducing the black woman as the multifaceted, complex human being that she is.
The archives of black women in film are stereotypical and rigid. Our bodies have been policed in ways that we had no control over. The likes of Ava DuVernay, Issa Rae, Michaela Coel and Zadie Smith rejuvenates the storytelling slate across film, tv and literature by portraying honest and dynamic experiences of black women. The first episode of Insecure aired in October 2016 bringing to the forefront an imperfect black woman who deals with insecurities, bad relationships, and who isn’t so ‘strong.’ Watching Insecure at home was like being in a room of friends and family that I recognised, it was familiar and easily accessible by audiences because Issa Rae created a real character and not one based on unrealistic tropes. In a similar vein, Michaela Coel created Chewing Gum, a TV series about 24-year-old shop assistant Tracey Gordon, a restricted, religious virgin, who wants to have sex and learn more about the world.
Ava DuVernay is the first black woman to direct a film with a budget over $100 million dollars, and in a recent interview on The Breakfast Club, despite being the first, she criticised Hollywood for taking so long to let us through the door. Perhaps Hollywood did not grant us a seat at the table, perhaps we have just demanded it. Women are rebuilding the fixtures of the patriarchal society and we are living in times where sensitivity and new perspectives are needed to move generations forward. The climate we are existing in makes it imperative for women to speak out and have a voice. From the #MeToo Movement to the Here We Are campaign, women around the world are rising and being open about their stories to fight injustice.
In the interview, DuVernay ends by saying “if you have a platform, raise your voice.” Ava DuVernay helped me to actualise my dreams of becoming a director. Prior to seeing her, I would study Martin Scorsese and Quentin Tarantino, etc and although they are excellent directors, they do not represent me. Enter Ms. DuVernay, a brown woman who wears dreadlocks, and is intelligent and black AF. I knew then that I could go as far as my dreams could take me. Witnessing her move from strength to strength in a male-dominated field is such an empowering feeling. It’s the same feeling I got when walking out of the cinema after watching Black Panther, the feeling of acceptance, of validation, from its highest form. A black female storyteller telling a black female story is the equivalent of someone saying “I see you, in all your glory, and I feel you.” It’s liberating.
Representation matters. Being able to see yourself reflected back to you is crucial for young girls growing up in a society that would inevitably condemn them. Black women telling their own stories means there would be no blurred lines of fetishisation. For instance, when Lupita N’yongo won her first Oscar for 12 Years A Slave, many people were concerned that the industry’s arbitrary love for a dark-skinned, nappy haired woman was simply a fetish. Others commented on the fact that she won an award for depicting a story of a slave, whilst films, where black women are not in subservient positions, go unnoticed by the academy.
But we are now the author of our stories. We narrate how the story ends. We will decide how to create longevity in this black renaissance, and create and support art that is timeless. Black women, kinky hair and melanin-rich skin are not trends. Trends fade away, but we are here to stay.
So mothers take your daughters, and sisters to A Wrinkle in Time, a hopeful story of a black girl told by a black woman.
Article by Naomi Grant