The month of June is a time to celebrate LGBTQ communities. It’s a moment to reflect on the rich history and culture of the queer community, as well as more recent advances made in the realm of civil liberties. This year, as the COVID-19 pandemic continues, many queer individuals are navigating greater risks to their health, safety, and livelihoods.
Cognizant of the need to stay connected and elevate queer voices amid uncertainty, Hyperallergic is commemorating Pride Month by featuring one queer art worker per day on our website and asking them to reflect on what this time means to them.
* * *
What’s your name?
Where are you based currently?
Describe who you are and what you do.
I’m a recovering journalist, non-fiction filmmaker, and the Producer of Workshops and Labs at UnionDocs, a center for documentary arts in Brooklyn. My work centers around mental health, specifically in Black communities. I really want to continue to unpack the moments where we stopped accessing what we needed, and instead allowed external forces to dictate and suppress so much of who we are.
I think what I’m grappling with in my work right now — why I’m a recovering journalist — is that so much of what I was taught in journalism school and training as a young reporter was to capitalize on Black trauma. All the things I was being asked to produce were trauma porn and you’re supposed to get the story by any means necessary, and thereby you sacrifice parts of your humanity. I have been in constant conversation with my friend and filmmaker Sophia Nahil Allison — we both come from a journalism background — and we’re both nascent in our nonfiction filmmaking careers. Shedding that journalistic skin, the layer of whatever it was — that just felt really disorienting. And when you look back to your body of work, you ask yourself “Who are these stories in service of?”
Tell us about your greatest achievement or something you’ve done lately that you’re proud of.
I woke up. I woke up and I continue to get up.
Favorite ways to celebrate your queerness and community?
I’ve been interested in reimagining worlds, exploring what is possible and how healing is paramount to that process. I’ve been re-reading the collected works of Octavia Butler and works that were inspired by hers, and looking to Audre Lorde’s writings on healing as a form of resistance. I hope to do this with the institutions that I work with. This is all a celebration of that.
What’s been top of mind for you lately?
This is really hard to answer during quarantine. What hasn’t been top of my mind? Essentially, I’m an immunocompromised Black queer person whose work is to connect artists and industry folks across disciplines to create generative and supportive spaces. And now, essentially that limb has been cut off and I’m having to rethink what is actually at the heart of the work that I do and who it’s for and how I can do better? This is an extremely hard time to create programming and situations where people feel like they can create or to provide a space where they feel like they WANT to create — but one still has to try.
Talk to us about your immediate queer community/support systems. (Feel free to shout out other folks or organizations you think are doing important work.)
I’ve bounced around to several different cities over the course of my adulthood and the main goal wasn’t about building community, it was about a job or an institution that brought me there. Now that I’ve returned back to my home state, I’m ready to find my tribe. There were folks I met who really spoke to me but I’m an introvert and I’m hard pressed to find folks about whom I can say “THOSE are my people.” I’ve become friends with many queer folks by happenstance, and I treasure them and those experiences.
How are you celebrating Pride Month this time around?
Since my options are limited, I’ve been watching a lot of Instagram conversations that are inspiring, specifically Kimberly Drew’s, who just released her book. I love the way she moves through spaces and institutions without compromising on her Blackness or queerness. I’m also in the midst of finishing a film about the Sirens Motorcycle Club, whom I’ve had the pleasure to be in celebration with during Pride over the past two years, along with my co-director Shirin Barghi. I’m hoping to maintain some of that joy, even virtually.
Are there ways you think queer artists and art workers could be better supported?
There need to be more initiatives for queer artist beyond those attached to a pointed moment in time. We can’t just have one or two organizations doing all the work; it needs to be industry-wide and across multiple fields. Right now, it feels like [Pride month] is a box to be checked off and that, in and of itself, creates countless limitations for artists.
In the communities that you’re part of, what are you hoping to see shift in the future?
I think a lot of the gatekeepers in the film industry specifically should step aside and start to center more folks that the work has been about. My hope is that we start to break down antiquated systems, and that the institutions that have traditionally wielded power begin to hire those folks [they’ve held power over] so that they’re in those rooms making decisions.
What’s the first thing you’re planning to do when it feels safer to physically gather again?
I’m going to hug my family. Some are essential workers, and I haven’t been able to so much as hold my mother’s hand or hug another human in four months.
Enjoying this series? Check out other entries here.