CINCINNATI, Ohio – Visibility and representation in media has an impact on how people perceive themselves and can be especially important for marginalized communities within communities. Spectrum News 1 visited one event during Cincinnati Pride designed to give voice to LGBTQ black experiences through film.
Musician and filmmaker Hanifah Walidah's answer to why queer and trans people of color should tell their own stories is simple.
"Because they're ours to tell, and no one is going to tell them as good as we, said Hanifah Walidah, Director "U People."
When she made her documentary U People, it filled a void in representation for black queer women in media.
We were starving for it, and when I say we, I mean Black lesbians you know, queer people, in general, we weren't on TV. Like LOGO was the first station that someone was like, there is going to be a channel dedicated to us, but even in that context it was mostly white and mostly male.
I Looked around and I didn't see myself anywhere on straight TV or queer tv. And I am always about if you don't see yourself you make sure people see you. So I went into it with that.
10 years after u people released, black queer and trans filmmakers are producing more content, and now they're creating their own spaces to celebrate them – including right here in the Buckeye state.
Tim'm West, Black Alphabet Film Festival Co-founder told Spectrum News 1, "As someone who had helped found an LGBTQ black film festival, I realized that Cincinnati is not always somewhere on the map when black queer stuff happens. And so it's just been exciting for me since moving back here that we are now a space that directors and filmmakers want to come because we are building an audience that appreciates and value black LGBTQ film and cinema and documentaries."
The black alphabet film festival is one of several events that made up Cincinnati Black Pride.
The Black alphabet film festival was founded in 2003 in Chicago. We wanted a film festival that spoke to the intersection of being black and LGBTQ, said West.
Tim'm west brought the festival to Cincinnati for the second year. The two-day festival featured short and feature films highlighting a spectrum of black LGBTQ experiences.
Baff Cincy 2019 featured Walidah's film on the second day of the festival, with a series of shorts depicting themes of self-discovery, relationships, healing, and identity.
Sampson McCormick/Comedian & filmmaker "A Different Direction told Spectrum News 1 - Making a short film like this and being able to tell this story means freedom. It means freedom to be honest about what our stories are and what our experience and to come into a space where we are together and able to look at those stories and take them in, digest them, and that is the wonderful thing about art and use them to reflect and heal.
This film by Sampson McCormick called a Different Direction, centers the two relationships of the main character who is struggling with life's challenges, one of the supportive friend, and the other of an unaccepting and abusive parent.
The 22-minute film has a takeaway for anyone working to navigate life's hardships.
The message of healing and standing up for self-worth is 100% the most important thing that we need to be embracing, especially as black queer men because we live in a world that devalues us. We are devalued in the church and you know it's sad because without us there would be no choir.
One of the things that was very evident today particularly the film we just saw, U People, actually in all of the films is how crucial it is for us to see ourselves reflected back to know that we are worthy, we are seen, said Darryl Stephens/Actor, "A Different Direction/Congo Cabaret."
There is something about seeing ourselves and our stories, from our own perspective, from the perspective of black queer folks, that is just so validating and humanizing. We just don't see enough of ourselves.
Glaad is an LGBTQ media watchdog group that measures representation in media for LGBTQ people.
The latest studio responsibility index released in 2019 showed a decrease in LGBTQ racial and ethnic minority representation in major studio film, additionally, no characters in major studio film were transgender.
But representation in television is growing.
In it's the most recent report on television and streaming media, the data shows an increase in representation of LGBTQ characters of color, making up 44% of all LGBTQ characters across all platforms. And Walidah says that visibility has an impact.
"The greatest gift you can give marginalized people is not be marginalized in any way. Whether it be economically, emotionally socially or what have you, that we can just be whatever that be is."
Stephens says that the success of pose – an fx series that features a cast of LGBTQ black and Latino actors depicting ballroom culture – shows how stories about diverse communities can resonate with audiences. But the reactions he gets to Noah's Ark 14 years later, tell him there are more opportunity for stories.
It makes it more clear to me that we have so much work to still do. In telling our stories and showing kids and older folks like me that we deserve to be here and our stories deserve to be told.
West hopes by providing a space for LGBTQ black people see themselves and be themselves, it will inspire.