Fellow: Awarded 2012
Field of Study: Film - Video
Competition: US & Canada
I am a documentary filmmaker whose work focuses on illuminating issues of race, space, and power. I grew up in Harlem, New York City, and for the first part of my life, I traveled between that community and the upper east side of Manhattan where I went to school. My hour-long commute starkly illustrated the differences between those neighborhoods—one black, working class and increasingly voiceless, and the other white, wealthy and politically powerful. Those experiences have shaped my life journey; from a young age I have been consumed with questions of race and access and how constituencies gain power and often are forced to compete for limited or dwindling resources. Early on I became keenly aware of how marginalized communities are often left out of the media and their voices and concerns misrepresented or ignored.
I studied political science and theater at Brown University and went on to receive a master’s degree in City Planning at UC Berkeley. Soon after, I began to look for a way to combine my passion for social justice with my desire to tell stories and engage audiences. It was after graduating that I made the decision to pursue documentary filmmaking. I worked on documentaries for HBO, BET, and A&E and co-produced a film about welfare reform called Take it From Me, which aired on the PBS series P.O.V. in 2001. I then took a job as a producer for the investigative unit of ABC News where I was able to hone my reporting skills and produce programs for all platforms of the network. Documentary remained my true passion, however, and I felt increasingly stifled by the kind of stories that the network focused on. It was then that I received an international journalism fellowship and I began work on my documentary Promised Land. Promised Land follows two black communities in South Africa that are trying to recover land that their ancestors were removed from during apartheid. The land is currently owned by white landowners and the film follows the multiyear struggle of both groups to get and keep possession of the land. The film received a Diverse Voice co-production grant from P.O.V. and premiered on P.O.V. in July 2010. It has played at festivals across the globe. In 2008, I received a Fulbright award to Brazil and made a short video examining the oldest African women’s organization in the Americas, called Sisterhood of the Good Death. And in the last few years I have directed film projects for nonprofits and government agencies in the U.S. and abroad. My current film is called The New Black and it uncovers the complicated and often combative histories of the African-American and LGBT civil-rights movements. It will be released in 2013 and broadcast on PBS.