Sunday, November 24, 2013

“In Living Color”

 “The personal is political…You can’t separate your activism from your art any more than you can separate your sexuality from your identity.”
-Catherine Saalfield

Considering the subordinate position bestowed upon women in American society as a whole, it is no surprise that they too would take second string when it comes to the art and media industry. As women continue to make strides, contributing to these industries by challenging normative narratives, posing provocative questions and stretching perspectives; their stories, voice and realities continue to be marginalized and devalued. This issue is further complicated when taking women of color and their contributions into account. If women as a whole have found the glass ceiling impeding their success, then women of color are often left facing (or appears to be if nothing else) a concrete ceiling, one that has the ability to be penetrated but with a much greater force and effort than that of glass.   
When assessing the plight of women in the arts and media, having a force –the energy, effort, support and resources–is necessary to penetrate any ceiling in order to improve the social position of all women. The force of which I speak can be found in the depth of alternative media sources which are often designed to bring theory to practice, art to activism and life to the living. Alternative media sources are those niche spaces in time devoted to the underrepresented and their development as socialized beings. In these spaces of creativity, the voices of the peripheral are celebrated and championed, even at hand of exploitation. Nonetheless, these voices are given a lane in the light during times when darkness seemingly prevails.
Donna Zimmerman, the executive director of Women Make Movies (, the world’s largest nonprofit distribution of films and videos made exclusively by women is an example of the force in which I speak; the one that works tirelessly to support women and serve as a resource for their artistic advancement. (Redding & Brownworth, p. 261)Women Make Movies was founded in 1972 and in 2013 it continues to serves as an essential, as well as critical, advocate for diverse female representation. Women Make Movies was “established to address the under representation and misrepresentation of women in the media industry. It is a multicultural, multiracial, non-profit media arts organization which facilitates the production, promotion, distribution and exhibition of independent films and videotapes by and about women. The organization provides services to both users and makers of film and video programs, with a special emphasis on supporting work by women of color” (Women Make Movies, 2013).
As Donna Zimmerman stands at the forefront of production, promotion and distribution, Maggie Hmm and bell hooks brings us literary and feminist theory and critique to the center, as they push the envelope and forces to society at large to question and revisit historical and contemporary binaries that limit and restrict the female experience. Hmm reminds us in her essay, “Author/Auteur: Feminist Literary Theory and Feminist Film” of the works of Josephine Donovan and her “call for a feminist aesthetic which directly addresses the experiences of women” (p. 95).  Humm highlights Donovan term “gynocriticism”, which is “a way of assessing works of art specifically in relation to the interest and desire of women” (p. 95).

“Gynocriticism involves a separate female way of thinking, and a recognition that women’s experience has been effectively silenced by a masculine culture. This response to that silencing, is a new epistemology which creates or uncovers a ‘newly visible world of female culture’ opening up and sharing this world with women readers/viewers” (p. 95).  

bell hooks, too offers analysis of literary and feminist theory, as well as critiquing  both mainstream and alternative forms of media, particularly film. She takes a stand that not only keeps the representation of women are the center of discourse but she accentuates the complexity of women of color and their realities as they can become lost even in women’s advocacy movements.  In her book, Reel to Real, she says that

“Movies make magic. They change things. They take the real and make it into something else right before our very eyes…They give the reimagined, reinvented version of the real. It may look like something familiar, but in actuality it is a different universe from the world of the real”
(p. 1).   

So as we imagine a “reimagined, reversion of the real” where does this version place women, especially those most vulnerable in a struggle for recognition? It is here where alternative media takes center stage and becomes the norm for those who have found it difficult to fit and/or embrace the status quo. Live Unchained is an alternative media source that gives voice to Black women and their fight for diverse representation that speaks to their multi-faceted lives.
            Lived Unchained is a producer, distributor, and promoter of media, representing women of African descent by focusing on the ability to “connect” and “create” through the arts and media. It works to pivot the center by giving Black woman a prime spot in artistic and media driven discourse. The website/blog ( was incorporated in 2009 by Kathryn Buford, a writer, creative consultant and sociology PhD student at the University of Maryland, College Park, where she studies under her faculty mentor and esteem scholar, Distinguished Professor Patricia Hill-Collins.  Ms. Buford’s current research explores social entrepreneurship, women’s art and emancipatory knowledge across the African diaspora and Lived Unchained serves as the global representation of her work and affords Black women around the globe the opportunity to unite and celebrate the complexity of Black female life. (Lived Unchained, 2012)

“Live Unchained was born out of the desire to preserve, share and honor the diverse voices and experiences of Black women across continents through our creative takes on art and life. We feature innovative works by Black female artists in various disciplines and genres to create dialogue around questions of freedom, women’s empowerment and solidarity across the African diaspora” (Lived Unchained, 2012).

The Live Unchained team is a collective of Black women, not only representing different walks of life but different geographically locations. From Kenya, to Spain to Washington DC, Lived Unchained is curating a space designed specifically for women of the African diaspora and through vision, voice, color, and positive energy; these women are taking the arts and media world by storm. Their tenants –Freedom, Creativity, Sisterhood, Africana Heritage & Pride, International Solidarity and Self-Reflection are reflected throughout the site and featured material. Live Unchained engages, evokes, empowers, educates and encourages Black women to share, yell, search, (re)define, (re)construct and heal through art and media. It is home for the Black girl who thought no one understood her; that she was alone in the struggle to be seen and valued. It brings the historical context of Black female bodies to the forefront and through a contemporary lens, asking who are we, have things changed, where do we go from here and how do we get there?
As Live Unchained continues to evolve it has proven to be a sustainable force within the arts and media sphere. This demonstrates that there is a need for not only alternative sources of media but those that make a conscious effort to improve the social location of marginalized communities. Live Unchained represents the Black woman and her experience, allowing her to evolve in safe space that celebrates and champions her voice.  As Black women continue to evolve, we need outlets that support our development and story. Live Unchained has and continues to be a pillar of inspiration and hope of women of the African diaspora. Live Unchained is necessary! Live Unchained is now!

“Live Unchained media and events reflect black women who went deep within themselves to produce works that are meaningful, inventive and sincere. In reading, viewing and hearing the creative expressions of black women in this collection, you will find that women have given us their best effort.  LIVE UNCHAINED” (Live Unchained, 2012)

“The logo for Live Unchained was inspired by the West African adinkra symbol Sankofa. The symbol represents a bird inverted, reflecting upon itself. The image demonstrates the importance of bringing lessons from the past into the present and future, moving forward while guided by one’s history. The word Sankofa can be interpreted as “return and retrieve it” or “go back, to go forward.” While living unchained means many things, in the spirit of our logo, we believe imagining new possibilities for black women’s freedom requires an appreciation for our shared heritage and connectedness.” (Live Unchained, 2012)

Works Cited

Buford, Kathryn. Live Unchained. 2012. Live Unchained, 2009. Web. November 23, 2013.

hooks,bell. Reel to Real: Race, Class and Sex at the Movies. New York: Routledge, 1996. Print.

Humm, Maggie. Feminism and Film. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1997. Print

Redding, Judith, M. & Brownworth, Victoria, A. Film Fatales: Independent Women Directors. Seattle: Seal Press,  997. Print.

Women Make Movie. Women Make Movies. Web. November 23, 2013.

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