A Reflective Conversation with Aishah Shaidah Simmons

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Author Amoni Thompson

Award-winning Black feminist lesbian documentary filmmaker Aishah Shahidah Simmons is the 2015-2016 Sterling A. Brown '22 Visiting Professor of Africana Studies, a 2016-2018 Just Beginnings Collaborative Fellow, and an Associate Editor of the online publication The Feminist Wire. You can follow her on twitter @AfroLez.

Photo Credit: Julie Yarbrough

 

AT: NO! The Rape Documentary will be celebrating the 10th Anniversary of its world premiere on Feb. 14th, what reflection(s) do you have about the impact the film has had since its debut?

AS:What I have are mixed feelings and profound sadness that it is as relevant now as it was 10 years ago. Rape, blame, shame is still present in our communities. I was encouraged to make this film because at the time I did not see many cinematic representations of black women that viewed them as agents of their own change. Now, young black women born the year I created this project have shared with me how impactful NO! has been to their lives and it brings tears to my eyes! I think about the struggle it took to make this film. So hearing them say NO! provided space for them to disclose their stories is overwhelming.  I know the struggle was well worth it.

AT:You have talked much about the gross dismissal of sexual violence towards women and girls, particularly black women and girls, in our contemporary culture.  In recent news we are reminded that black women and girls are the least protected (i.e. Daniel Holtzclaw, R. Kelly, Baltimore, etc.…). What are your thoughts on where we are now in the global struggle against misogyny and rape culture?  What work is still left to be done?

AS: In this moment, there are more of us that are speaking up and out. We’re not dependent upon outside media to highlight our narratives. Thankfully, there are more women of color whose work supports other women of color. This doesn’t make it easy but it makes it makes this work much more accessible. The work left to do now is figuring out how to move beyond this notion of feeling like we’re better off being dead. If R. Kelly or Bill Cosby had murdered even one victim they would be under the jail. We’re not seen as victims when we’ve been raped, violated, or battered. We’re victims only if we’ve been murdered. This is an issue that must be worked out in our community for us to move forward in this work.

AT: In doing this necessary work of centering the lives and experiences of black women, what has been most challenging?

AS: It’s been challenging trying to convince others that black women are worth centering. We, as black women, have a hard time putting ourselves at the center. We are not trained to put black women at the center. When we do, it’s viewed as being out of control.  It is hard to talk about sexual violence and focus only on women. There is this idea that we must leave the margins at the margins. However, if we bring the margins to the center, we can all get free.

AT: What has been most rewarding about your journey?

AS: To have women in the US and internationally say, “This is my story.”  In the beginning, so many people said that the film would not be successful because they felt it wouldn’t resonate with the public. Touring the world and seeing how NO! has created a sacred space to which feel people feel courageous to say that this has happened to them, has been tremendously rewarding.

AT: Even though we are constantly bombarded with heartbreaking and overwhelming news, have you felt hopeful, joyful even, about the possibilities of the future? How have you been able to nurture this sense of hope and joy?

AS: Being an engaged member of a global community with predominately radical feminists of color who are doing this work in their corners of the world makes me hopeful. Knowing that I’m not working in a vacuum and that I can receive emotional support from my comrades is helpful. Also, intentionally engaging self-care work by going to therapy and practicing meditation helps to nurture my sense of joy. The hope I have comes from seeing badass sisters who are coming along doing this work. This energy and resistance is continuing. I know that I’m a part of a continuum of women that precede me and of generations that will follow, and I find great hope and joy in this knowing.

AT: What words of encouragement would you offer for aspiring feminist filmmakers, artists, cultural producers, and other badass sisters who are coming along to continue this work?

AS:Haste makes waste. With the instantaneous culture we live in we’re encouraged to hastily finish projects but I don’t believe that. I’m not saying you have to take 11 years to finish a film (chuckle) but I do know that NO! is what it is because it took eleven years. So, you have to believe in the process of your work. Also, be mindful of where your support comes from. We cannot sacrifice our vision and our politics just for an end product. It is not worth it. Too many people have died for us to do this work. Do not allow rejections to deter you. Keep pushing forward. We must live a life of integrity and principle, and to never sell our people out. 

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