Black History Month Spotlight: Queer Black women behind the camera

During the month of February, AfterEllen.com highlights the queer black women who continue to overcome obstacles in the entertainment industry and society, ultimately finding success. These women not only face discrimination for being queer in such an image-oriented profession, but for being black as well. Regardless of how you sexually or ethnically identify, let’s celebrate these bad-ass individuals!

This week’s spotlight: queer black women behind the camera.

Pariah filmmakers Nekisa Cooper and Dee Rees

The official Sundance selection and award-winner for 2011 has garnered incessant buzz not only from AfterEllen.com, but across the nation as well — and rightly so. The semi-autobiographical film from writer Dee Rees has screened at more than 40 festivals all over the world and won 25 Best Short awards. The film features a glimpse into the life of a struggling Brooklyn teenager, Alike (Adepero Oduye), who desperately tries come to terms with her sexuality and identity, while facing backlash from friends, family, and lovers.

Despite the film’s current critical acclaim, director/writer Dee Rees and producer Nekisa Cooper faced a great deal of what Cooper refers to as “production challenges,” comprised of financial and organizational difficulties to get the funding and crew together in order to make the film. Nonetheless, each of the dynamic duo has come a long way and is well-deserving of the film’s success.

Hailing from Brooklyn, Rees is a graduate of NYU’s film program and has interned for Spike Lee, as well as having written and directed a host of short films. During the time she was writing Pariah, Rees was struggling with coming out, not speaking to her family, and the feeling of not belonging anywhere, especially in the binary of butch/femme. Her struggles turned into a script, and she used improv and mock group therapy sessions to flesh out the cast and make the film organic. A fan of Friday Night Lights (woot woot!), Rees wanted to mirror the camera styles of “eavesdropping” on conversations, only catching bits and pieces. Pariah made its worldwide Sundance debut this past month, snagged the award for Excellence in Cinematography, and was picked up by Focus Features. So pumped for when it hits theaters next year!

A woman with many hats, Cooper, producer of Pariah, has produced several other of Rees’ projects, including Eventual Salvation and Colonial Gods. Currently in post-production on her own award-winning feature documentary, La Muñeca Fea, Cooper told Queer Film Review that her influences stem from “any piece of media that gave voice to the voiceless,” whether that’s a Spike Lee film or a literary work.

Prior to being a producer-extraordinaire, Cooper worked in brand management for multinational corporations and coached high school basketball. It wasn’t until she discovered the film world and Rees that she felt fulfilled. Sounds like a movie match made in heaven.

Campbell X

The powerhouse behind her first feature film Stud Life and BlackmanVision Film Production, Campbell X is a London-based  filmmaker, committed to pushing the boundaries of gender, identity, race, and aesthetics. Starting out as a filmmaker for UK television, Campbell shed light on stories of black lesbians, female Ragga Music fans, and the psychological legacy of Transatlantic slavery.

Stud Life depicts the friendship between a lesbian and a gay man in the setting of the urban gay scene, characterized by nonchalant attitudes toward casual sex, drugs, and gender-blurring. On BlackmanVision, Campbell has tackled issues like black actresses’ hesitation toward playing queer and genderqueer characters, and an inclusive, diverse and awesome list of powerhouses in film in response to that created by The Guardian. Campbell makes it clear that sexism, racism, classism, and homophobia are not absent from the queer community.

Angela Robinson (left)

Writer, director, and producer Angela Robinson deserves another nod for the work she’s done on her film, Girltrash: All Night Long, in the last year. The web series-turned feature film (starring Clementine Ford, Rose Rollins, Gabrielle Christian, Mandy Musgrave and Kate French) is finally in post-production.

At the helm of the wildly anticipated film (at least among queer women), Robinson hopes to screen Girltrash: All Night Long at film festivals in the coming months of 2011. Known for her success with D.E.B.S. and The L Word, not to mention the Girltrash web series, Robinson is sure to deliver another lezzie hit. Follow her blog for updates on all things girly and trashy.

We’ll bring you more profiles of out black women the entire month of February.

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