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The Voice of the Black Community

Arts and Entertainment

Black Girls Film Camp inspires participants to dream in cinema
Holistic approach to industry process
Published Monday, May 17, 2021 9:00 pm
by Ashley Mahoney

The inaugural Black Girls Film Camp exposes young people to mentors and coaching about the film industry's creative process.

Black Girls Film Camp inspired confidence, dedication and patience in high school students.

The inaugural camp, which includes 10 participants, a series of speakers, mentors and organizers, concludes May 22 with a free virtual community screening of the students’ short films and awards event from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. Actress and singer/songwriter Ryan Destiny, known for her performance in the musical drama “Star” and “Grown-ish,” will be the featured speaker.

Co-creators Jimmeka Anderson, founder of media literacy nonprofit I AM not the MEdia Inc. and a doctoral student at UNC, and filmmaker Keema Mingo assembled a team of 20 Black women to empower Black girls. Students learned how to tell their stories through film while defining what girlhood means to them. The program was free for students and presented through the Urban Education Collaborative at UNCC, Film Studies Department, Women + Girls Research Alliance, I AM not the MEdia and Mingo Studios.

Students have met every Saturday since April 24 for the camp. Speakers included UNCC’s Women + Girls Research Alliance executive director Michelle Meggs; executive vice president of creative for Sony Pictures Animation and Academy Award-winning producer Karen Toliver; television producer Nichelle Tramble Spellman, who earned an NAACP Image Award for outstanding writing for her work on Apple TV’s “Truth Be Told;” NAACP Image Award recipient for outstanding writing in a motion picture Katrina O’Gilvie and several others.

“What we have been able to do is in addition to giving the young ladies encouraging information about being Black, about being female, about honoring themselves and their own stories, we have been able to have some experts come in and teach them about storytelling, finding their voice and using their voice,” Mingo said.

Anderson and Mingo wanted to provide a space where students could learn and develop as creatives and filmmakers, but also as young Black girls.

“We wanted to have something that was balanced and not just teach to the inspiration of the young lady and not just teach film information, we wanted to do both, because we wanted to take a holistic approach to them learning about the industry, the importance of being an individual who has a voice in the industry as well as the importance of having quality work,” Mingo said. “That is why we have the professionals come in and just get to the truth. One thing that I really liked about Miss O’Gilvie is that she told them ‘you need to manage your money, and if you have to work another job before you have your dream job that is what you have to do.’”

Camp organizers did not want to create a false illusion around the hard work it takes to make it in the film industry.

“What we did not want to do was paint this out to be some type of fairy tale, even though it is movie magic, we still wanted to be honest about the level of work that is required, the amount of work and dedication, the education, the journey,” Mingo said. “It is not a straight line to success.”

Campers also learned how to formulate stories and storyboards as well as other aspects of the industry.

Northwest School of the Arts sophomore Jessica Johnson’s family is planning a watch party to celebrate the conclusion of her participation. Johnson found out about the camp through Instagram, when a family friend shared a post calling for applicants. Entertainment and film have fascinated Johnson for years, but this opportunity was special.

“You do not see a lot of Black women who do these types of things,” Johnson said. “It was just amazing, and it has been amazing. I do not know how many people my age have been able to say that they have met Academy Award winners.”

Said Anderson: “Not only have we had not had the opportunity to meet Academy Award winners, but just to think how few Black recipients there are, and then how few Black women recipients there are. To be able to connect with these women who are super personable, so friendly and so giving has not only been exciting for the students, but it has been getting for the adults as well.”

Crafting the short film was a deeply personal experience for Rocky River High School freshman Ale’ja Wright. Her film follows the journey of her 26-year-old cousin, who is deaf.

“I know with her and our family, we can communicate with her, but I know a lot of people are not willing to learn sign language, or don’t think about the as deaf community as much because you think they can just lip read, but a lot of them do not prefer that as much,” Wright said. “It really is about bringing more awareness to [the deaf community], that they are here, and you can communicate with them.  It is just going to take a little bit of time to learn. Also, I wanted to tell her story and what she has been through. She has accomplished a lot. I want to let people know no matter what, you can get through anything.”

When Wright told her cousin about the film, she was thrilled.

“She was so excited and happy, and she was just overwhelmed about everything,” Wright said.

Briyana Wright, no relation to Ale’ja, always admired film, but it was not until Black Girls Film Camp that she considered making her own.

“I honestly always had an appreciation for film. I never thought of making my own,” said Wright, a junior at the Middle College at Bennett in Greensboro. “I got to explore a whole new creative side of myself that I had no idea existed a month ago.”

Wright used her film as a way to thank her mother for all she has done for her. The film follows a girl preparing for her final college assignment, which is to write an essay about her life.

“She ends up calling her mother asking about her life and she learned so many things that she's never known,” Wright said. “It actually ends up being like a memento to my mother because this does have some aspects about my life, as she has done so much for me. This was a way to show my gratitude toward her like thank you for everything you’ve done for me, even if I wasn't aware of it at the time.”

Black Girls Film Camp has been a success, but it is not over yet. Film screening participants can vote on an Audience Choice Award. There’s also an awards ceremony.

“It is going to feel and look like an awards ceremony where these women are going to come and talk about the category, name the top three choices and present the winner,” Mingo said. “Instead of just being like,’ hey, this is who won,’ to build up anticipation, but also to treat it like the finale in the award ceremony that these young ladies deserve because they put a lot of work into their films. Their mentors have been there every step of the way. We want this ending to really be a party, to be celebratory for them.”

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