Sekiya Dorsett on capturing a QWOC poetry tour in “The Revival: Women and the Word”

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The Revival: Women and the Word is a new documentary that looks at The Revival Poetry Tour and the queer women of color at its center. The traveling salon-style performance art show hit seven cities across the country and brought some amazing spoken word and song to enthralled audiences. We recently spoke with the film’s director, Sekiya Dorsett. We talked about how she got involved with the tour, the importance of community, the challenges the women faced on the road and more.

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AfterEllen.com: How did you get involved with The Revival Poetry Tour?

Sekiya Dorsett: I met Jade [Foster] back in 2009 and that’s when she was doing something similar in an apartment in Brooklyn and I went to that. I had just been finding space. I’m from the Bahamas. Trying to find my space has always been a challenge, to find where these black lesbians are. At a club is not where you find community. And so when I saw the community she was building in that little apartment in Brooklyn, I thought, “Oh this is pretty cool,” and I wanted to be at the event she was having. So she approached me about being a sponsor. I mean, I don’t know why I would be the sponsor, but I guess I was the only one that she knew that had a job. I wasn’t making that much money, but I’m like, “Yeah, I’ll be your sponsor.” So I became a sponsor for that tour and then I was like, “You know what? I should shoot it.”

At the time, I had a job so I couldn’t get off. I went to two cities and I just was like mesmerized by what was happening, at the artistry, at the talent, at just–everything was just amazing. So I decided, “Great, I need to do something.” And so the following year we scraped together some pennies and [Jade] had raised $5,000 for the tour. I think we used like maybe $2,000 or so to rent some camera equipment and pay some people because, again, because I was working I couldn’t go to every single city. So we had two people cover Oberlin and I think it was Detroit. And it was just kind of putting this thing together. We came back with all this footage.

 

AE: You must have had so much footage.

SD: We did. It was just endless. We were just trying to be a fly on the wall and see what these women were doing and trying to tape all the performances. Luckily, we were able to cut it into something that became cohesive and that I think really reflects the magic that was captured during the tour, which was great. And there’s a lot we left out. But I think what we did capture was this whole idea of sisterhood. That’s something that we really wanted to show because I think so many times we see these documentaries where it’s like, “Oh these sad black people” story, “Oh the homeless black people” story. All those stories are important, but we just don’t see what people are calling now this “carefree black girl”–this happy, this joy that there is. So we wanted to capture a little bit of that.

But as you saw in Oberlin, as we tried to live a life that is joyful, because I think that joy was in itself a certain freedom, as we try and live a life that’s joyful, there will be challenges. And seeing how the ladies processed the challenge of being a black woman in America was really important to also bring up at the same time. So I was happy that we were able to have that moment, sadly, because we did get a dose of reality that we can’t all be happy all the time. I was also happy that we were able to incorporate a historical component because this revival thing was not started by Jade Foster. This is a continuation of the work of many people before her. And so just that whole idea of being on a continuum has been really powerful and important.

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AE: Staying with something you just mentioned, there’s a moment in the movie where the group gets into a bit of trouble with the cops. What was that experience like for you? You weren’t there, right?

SD: Someone else was filming that so in the moment I don’t know. I’ve watched the footage time and time again and I think that we were lucky. We were one of the lucky people that can survive a story that starts really simple: a boy going to the store to get a drink, ending up dead; a man standing on the street corner and the cops picking him up. You know, stories that start really simply. We were able to survive one of those stories.

 

AE: Had you spoken beforehand at all about this being a possibility? Or do you think it just completely caught everyone by surprise?

SD: I think it caught everybody by surprise, quite honestly. As t’ai [freedom ford] was saying, “Oberlin? Isn’t that where they have the Underground Railroad?” I think that there was not a discussion about what could possibly happen and how to handle that. So yeah, I think it came as a surprise.

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