In a youth obsessed culture, and a queer scene where you often have to dig to find good representations of people of color, here’s a breath of fresh air: The Untitled Black Lesbian Elder Project. This new film collaboration is exactly what it sounds like — a feature length documentary on the lives of several black lesbian women in their 60s, 70s and 80s, talking about their experiences in politically important times.
This gem of lesbian history and documentary filmmaking is the brainchild of filmmaker Tiona McClodden and publisher Lisa C. Moore. If a publisher sounds like an odd accomplice for a filmmaker, have no fear: Moore is head of the fierce Red Bone Press, which publishes books by black gay and lesbian authors.
Red Bone’s mission is to cultivate understanding between black queer culture and black mainstream culture, and their roster has won of slew of awards. Moore herself edited the Lambda award winning anthology does your mama know? An Anthology of Black Lesbian Coming Out Stories, an important collection that documents the black lesbian experience. (Moore actually founded Red Bone Press after publishers told her there was “no market” for the anthology. The book is now in its fourth printing.) She’s also the Board president of Fire and Ink, a much needed organization that advocates for LGBT writers of African descent.
While written anthologies of personal stories are one way to capture queer history, there’s something incredibly powerful about capturing oral histories on film. Filmmaker and multimedia artist Tiona McClodden is the force behind the 2009 documentary black./womyn.: conversations with lesbians of African descent, which won the Best Documentary feature at the Philadelphia Gay and Lesbian Film Festival, and a Best Of award at the New Fest, New York’s LGBT Film Festival.
The film gracefully sewed together dozens of interviews with lesbians of African descent, each interview happening more or less as a conversation with McClodden herself. The film included conversations with artists and writers such as Staceyann Chin, Fiona Zedde and others. Writing about the film, McClodden has said of the project, “I hope this film will provide a way for Black lesbians like me to see each other and be affirmed in our existence as a powerful and strong social force with important opinions. We, as black lesbians, have something to say, and if given the opportunity can and will say it loudly.”
The Untitled Black Lesbian Elder Project is an unprecedented opportunity for these voices to be heard. In describing the project, it’s noted that the stories gathered will reveal underground black lesbian movements which will solidify the place of black lesbians in American black history.
To support the film, McClodden and Moore have rigorous fundraising plans, including a talk to launch the project this month at the LGBT Center in New York. Fans of this project can keep tabs as things progress through the project’s Tumblr. And hopefully soon we’ll be seeing the tales of these women on the big screen. It’s about time.