Black queer women and film from Audre Lorde to me

A Black queer woman and filmmaker discusses how the Women Sweet on Women Film Festival captures unique experiences and honors Audre Lorde.

Like some people in quarantine, I have found myself dissecting all of the components of my past that have resulted in me. No one comes out of the womb knowing who they are, and life takes us on a journey of trials and tribulations that grind us into understanding our place in the world and universe. Of course, none of our formations are a result of ourselves, but are aided by the media we consume – whether it is books, films, or art, it helps us seam together the pieces that inevitably become our existence. In this instance, the films showcased in The Women Sweet On Women Film Festival aided me in this quest to realize how far I have come. 

The Women Sweet on Women Film Festival, curated by Zami Nobla, the National Organization of Black Lesbians on Aging, in honor of Black Lesbian Warrior Poet Audre Lorde concluded on February 21, 2021. The film festival delved into multiple topics that encompass the Black Lesbian experience in the United States and internationally. Disabilities, acceptance, love, anti-Blackness, reclamations, radical politics—no stone was left unturned when it came to representation. Audre Lorde has had an immense impact on Black Lesbian culture and is definitively considered to be a Mother of the movement. Her everlasting body of work is evident in the documentaries and feature films presented in the virtual film series. 

IMAGE COURTESY: WOMEN SWEET ON WOMEN FILM FESTIVAL

The festival centered women filmmakers and included lively talk backs with both subjects and directors, featuring a modern discourse on the future of Black feminism. As time passes, more works of art and resistance will likely continue as her word is spread amongst the next generation of warrior creators, who will not accept defeat in the face of adversity. A great number of the films that were screened held a significant place in my heart, for their relatability to my own growth into my identity as a queer Black woman. As an activist, filmmaker, ballerina, writer—I was touched by the idea that my ability to accept myself and flourish was because of those who came before me. 

In A Litany For Survival: The Life and Work of Audre Lorde, we are offered a touching and intimate glimpse of the final stages of Audre’s life, while she battled with pancreatic cancer in the early 1990s. Hearing Audre talk about her humble beginnings of eating “spaghetti with oregano and chicken wings,” taking pride in being a poor creative Lesbian in NYC in the 60s made me cry. At times it is far too easy to think of our role models coming out of the womb as grand entities. In some cases, Black women are notorious for having our humanity removed from us and are sometimes presented as being superhuman. This film shows Audre for who she was—a Black lesbian mother with a gift for wordsmithing. Completely human and completely capable of flaws and mortality. To the very end, she remained herself—curious and determined, unrelenting of her passions to liberate the future generations of Black feminists. 

This fire of self realization Audre provoked in Litany is carried over to Black Girl in Paris, based on the novel by Shay Youngblood, which provides a modern take on Audre’s ideological praxis. Paris is the city where many influential Black Americans went to find their inspiration. It was also a city where James Baldwin, Josephine Baker, and numerous others discovered the limitations that the United States had placed on them, solely because of their race. 

In the film, Luce and Eden meet by happenstance on the streets of Paris. They are staying in the same hotel and when Eden runs out of money, Luce invites her out to dinner, only to stiff the bill. Luce is bold and brash in her leather jacket, blonde wig and cigarette. On Luce’s bike, they roam the city together. In an epic climax, the pair realize that in a world of patriarchy, misogynoir, and hyper sexualization, Black women will always be there for each other, when no one else is. In Luce she found solace in their freedom. How beautiful it would be if the world could let them be. 

This form of solidarity is clearly expressed in Black Girl In Paris and is a true testament to the framework Audre and other feminists of color provided into the world for structural mutual aid. 

I am no stranger to being a nomad and this short sent me back to a time where I was Eden. Spending six months in Toronto, I wrote my fourth film while bouncing from place to place,  searching for an answer to the madness that is the world. It was the love and support from sex workers and other Black women that helped me survive such a tumultuous time in my life. Whether it was feeding me when I was hungry or giving my leads for gigs—it was always women of color and further marginalized women that supported my goals and dreams and wished to see me survive. This form of solidarity is clearly expressed in Black Girl In Paris and is a true testament to the framework Audre and other feminists of color provided into the world for structural mutual aid. 

The life saving effects of mutual aid within Black, queer communities is further explored in Unapologetic. Being a former organizer of subcultural scenes in Chicago years ago, I saw myself in Janae and Bella, the two abolitionists the film follows. The prospect of one’s identity being inherently political for only existing is a consistent reality in the lives of Black queer women. To be Black and queer and to live opently is a matter of life and death. In reference to Black women, Audre Lorde once said “We were never meant to survive.” Unapologetic does an excellent job of showcasing the systemic failures that enshroud us in order to make our existence a cause for social warfare. The emotional and mental toll that it takes to fight everyday can at times be unbearable but yet, we still find a way to carry on. Community and safe space are the recipe for survival, as well as an unrelenting attitude that says “We belong.” While my particular community differs from explicitly Black, queer community, it provided enough support to enable me to grow as a person and to carry onto the next adventure of my life in Philadelphia. Philadelphia is where I found ballet. 

Image Courtesy: Women Make Movies

In the biographical short film, The Passionate Pursuits of Angela Bowen by Jennifer Abod, we are given an overview of the exciting and creative life of one of Black feminism’s leaders. Another titan of the Black Lesbian Feminist movement, Angela Bowen was fourteen years old when she joined the Elma Lewis School of Fine Arts. While some people join ballet at a young age, she was a late bloomer when she joined. Excelling in her craft, she went on to found her own dancing school, where she consistently broke down barriers. Being a Black lesbian did not inhibit her from creating a lasting impact on the youth of New Haven, CT and is another example of the perseverance of Black women, no matter the sexual orientation. 

I became a ballet dancer as an adult and it has been an intricate part of my own healing journey from the moments I missed out on as a younger adult. It was a healthy outlet for my trauma. After being kicked out of my house for being queer, I missed out on an integral part of discovering the things I held interest in – even going as far as forgetting what I loved because of said trauma. I lost so much time in that traumatic headspace that it never dawned on me to have healthy hobbies or interests. Thinking about the numerous children that undergo traumatic experiences because of who they are, or having to spend the time pretending to be someone that you are not, is a gut wrenching reality  for some who are Black and queer. Angela was already in her 40s when she felt compelled to live her life the way she saw fit. That discovery proves that no one is too old to live out the life that they feel they deserve. Piece by piece, day by day, I am discovering the person I have always wanted to be – and because of people like Angela, I am inspired to live my truths without fear and without hesitation. 

The Women Sweet on Women Film festival meant a lot to me, especially at this moment in history. It is so easy to get wrapped into doom and gloom when one is confined to their own room. You can forget about yourself and who you are and who you represent. This film festival held a mirror to my face and reminded me that I am the product of influential and cosmic joy that was passed down to me by Audre, by Angela and the numerous Black women who fought for our right to feel that joy. I can only hope to continue that legacy and torch bearing for the next generation with my art, my writing, and my activism. It is only fair to pay it forward.

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