This past spring, I had the pleasure of attending a screening of the feature-length documentary Reflections Unheard: Black Women in Civil Rights, directed by up-and-coming filmmaker Nev Nnaji at Smith College. Via interviews and compelling archival footage, the film chronicles the marginalization of Black women within the Black Nationalist and predominantly white middle-class feminist movements during the 60s, 70s, and present-day.
Where both movements fail(ed) to acknowledge the intersection of gender oppression and race, the documentary explores the ways in which Black women galvanized to raise awareness about and seek solutions for those issues that often left us out of the overall framework: reproductive rights, dependable daycare for working mothers, government resources, employment and fair wages. That mobilization essentially inspired other women of color to project their voices about the same issues, which were also framed around immigration policies.
Reflections Unheard: Black Women in Civil Rights features useful commentary from Black feminist scholars who were former activists and members of groups like the National Black Feminist Organization and most notably, controversial Womanist and novelist Kola Boof who, according to Nev Nnaji—who I had the opportunity to speak with after the screening—inspired the documentary and Nnaji’s own awareness about the various aspects of the Black feminist experience, which isn’t always rooted in the Black Nationalist movement or shaped by the language of academe.
After a couple of minor setbacks—during the post-screening discussion Nev was vocal about the exorbitant costs of gaining access to old film footage pertinent to her film… resources that seem readily available to White male filmmakers—Nnaji was fortunately able to get the resources necessary to complete her film, and has been screening it at colleges and universities to growing acclaim and interest.
Most recently, the documentary screened in Glasgow, Scotland and was accepted into the 2013 African Diaspora International Film Festival in NYC (beginning November 29th and running through December 15th).
I highly recommend Reflections Unheard: Black Women in Civil Rights if you’re able to catch a screening near you. As many young Black women begin to explore feminist works by noted women of color, it’s definitely a valuable and important narrative that’s been added to the discourse. Particularly since people are of the opinion that the Black female (read: feminist) voice is inconsequential, irrelevant, and that it somehow ‘destroys’ the Black community… all erroneous myths that further cause division, subverts the lives and work of women like Harriet Tubman, Ida B. Wells, and Sojourner Truth, and only serve to keep Black women in a perpetual mulish state.