Reflections Unheard: Black Women in Civil Rights

I had the honor of being interviewed by Nevline Nnaji for her film, Reflections Unheard: Black Women in Civil Rights. Last year's screening at the Schomburg stimulated intense dialogue and awareness that it is critical for the distinct voices of women to be heard.  —Deborah

Reflections Unheard: Black Women in Civil Rights is a feature length documentary that  focuses on black women's marginalization between the male-dominated black power and white, middle class feminist movements of the '60s and '70s. Reflections  tells the story of Civil Rights from the perspectives of several former African American female activists who served in various radical and grassroots organizations, including the Black Panther Party, SNCC, National Black Feminist Organization, and Third World Women's Alliance. The film also includes clips of rare archival footage to contextualize the interviewee's stories.

The film unearths many of the political disparities involved with prominent Civil Rights efforts, many of which singularly focused on alleviating either racist or sexist oppressions, and failed to consider black women's unique social and political concerns in experiencing multiple, intersecting oppressions. In addition, the

Black Liberation movements in its practical usage of "black oppression" as a male-dominated paradigm ignoring the complex gender-based violence and discrimination that black women experienced both from their black male counterparts within Civil Rights organizations and in mainstream society is critiqued.

Similarly, the 2nd wave Feminist movement is critiqued for its focus on the specific concerns of white, middle class women as representative of American women as whole. One example provided in the film is the mainstream Feminist struggle for "women" to work alongside men for equal wages. This framework disregarded the fact that most women of color in America had already been working for generations in sub-standard conditions due to social and economic hardship, and subsequently required a different set of political goals to achieve a higher quality of life.

Reflections Unheard draws on this analysis into the beginnings of Black and other women of color-led movements such as the National Black Feminist Organization and Third World Women's Alliance, which addressed race, class, gender, and imperialist oppressions, collectively. Prominently featured activists include Frances Beale, Angela Davis, Kola Boof, Nikki Giovanni, Gwendolyn Simmonsand Rosemari Mealy.

Nnaji began her work on this film as an extra-curricular project during her final year as a full-time college student in 2010. Predominantly a solitary project, Nnaji fulfilled most production roles, and the film was created on a small budget of under $10,000. Nnaji finished the film in 2013 and soon after released it for distribution with Women Make Movies. Regarding the inspiration behind the work, Nnaji states that she " wanted to create a piece that delved deeper into various aspects of why we (black women) experienced the (race and gender) discrimination as we do in society and how it affects us.

Film Festivals and Acclaim

Reflections Unheard first gained the attention of notable MSNBC show host and Producer, Melissa Harris-Perry during its mid-stage production stages, when Nnaji screened the film at Tulane University for Perry's students in 2012.

Since its 2013 release, Reflections Unheard has won an award for Best Film/Video Relating to the Black Experience/Marginalized People by the Black International Cinema Berlin Film Festival. Additionally, the film has screened in several universities and festivals globally, including Cinemafrica Film Festival (Sweden), the International African Diaspora Film Festival (US), London Feminist Film Festival (UK), and Pan African Film Festival (U.S.). Reflections Unheard is distributed in North America by Women Make Movies.

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One Response to “Reflections Unheard: Black Women in Civil Rights”

  1. Niamo says:

    What an honor Deborah. You had much to contribute and I remember your passion ignited during that period and witness it still bubbling! love, as always!