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New film spotlights 'unheard' voices in Civil Rights Movement

Courtenay Brown Special to the AmNews | 6/20/2013, 1:05 p.m.

While women such as Rosa Parks, Angela Davis, and Shirley Chisholm were crucial to the Civil Rights Movement, the New York City premiere of "Reflections Unheard: Black Women in Civil Rights" will bring new, important yet lesser-known names of female activists into the mix.

The documentary was written, directed, and produced by filmmaker Nev Nnaji, a film graduate from Boston University. Through sit-down interviews, Nnaji chronicles the experiences of women from well-known Civil Rights groups such as the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and The Black Panther Party, as well as other organizations, including the Third World Women's Alliance, that are not as well-known. Unlike other films about the Civil Rights era, Nnaji incorporates her personal experiences into the film in order to introduce women who Nnaji describes as the "backbone of the movement."

"My film deals with women that you may not have known, organizations that you may not have known. I had to research and dig for months to find out about them because it's information that is so hidden from mainstream history," Nnanji said.

Nnaji started the project two and a half years after reading many Black feminists texts including Elaine Brown's memoir, "A Taste of Power: A Black Woman's Story," which describes Brown's experiences with overcoming sexism from within the Black Panther Party.

"I thought the Black Power movement was supposed to be empowering for all people," Nnaji said. "Reading all those things made me want to do a film about discrimination against Black women."

However, Nnaji found it difficult to find support for her film as she was experiencing her own forms of discrimination while at college.

"I knew the school wouldn't approve of the project," Nnaji said. "I worked on it as an extra-curricular project until I found a professor who supported me and allowed me some time to work on it."

Financial support was difficult as well. Nnaji initially planned to raise $20,000 on fundraising website Indiegogo.com, but failed to reach this goal. She went to school part-time for her last semester and used the remains of her tuition to fund the rest of her film.

Nnaji interviewed nine women, including civil rights activist Judy Richardson and Black feminist and activist Frances Beal, about their experiences in a male-dominated struggle. However, according to Nnaji, the situations they discuss will still be relevant to a modern audience.

"All the dynamics that are discussed in the film with Black women being marginalized within political struggles during the Civil Rights Movement are still happening today," Nnaji said. "The issues that are discussed in the media, even in black media, are very male-centered, just like during the Civil Rights Movement and the Black Power Movement."

The New York City premiere of "Reflections Unheard: Black Women in Civil Rights" will be held at the Brooklyn Fire Proof Stages (119 Ingraham St at Porter Ave, Brooklyn, NY 11237) on June 23 at 6 p.m. The event is free, but there is a suggested donation of $3.