To say “It’s always darkest before the dawn” could be cliché. But what happens when we take the connotation of these words and put them into perspective? As people of color strive to make a mark in the world of cinema, it’s easy to box their film works into categories simply because they’re “Black labeled”. In mainstream TV, we quickly get full on the binges of reality TV dramas, fictional power scandals and culturally-ambiguous family sitcoms. Where do we get the sustenance to fully appreciate the soulful side of Black TV?
Yvonne Welbon, born in 1967, is a filmmaker, director and producer who has put her stamp on the aesthetics of Black filmmaking. She puts most cultural topics and themes in documentaries that show the raw experience of the Black Woman. She has directed nine films and produced fifteen others. Her work has been screened on PBS, Starz/Encore, TV-ONE, IFC, Bravo, BET, the Sundance Channel and in the Toronto Film Festival, the Sundance Film Festival, the Berlin Film Festival, and over one hundred other film festivals around the world. Of course, all of this recognition didn’t begin her journey.
After earning her undergraduate degree in Chicago, she spent six years in Taipei, Taiwan, where she taught English, learned Mandarin Chinese at the age of 23, and founded and published a path-breaking arts magazine before getting injured while riding a motorcycle. While recovering from the accident, during which she faced a very real risk of losing one of her legs, Welbon used the opportunity for a significant amount of self-reflection of her life’s ambition. One of her most significant self-revelations was that her time in Taiwan had allowed her to transcend many of the challenges of being a woman, bisexual, and Black in America. Blacks in Taiwan were definitely seen as very unusual, but that same peculiarity of fear and racism that Welbon experienced in America was strangely unalike. Nevertheless, she decided it was time to make a name for herself by redefining her self-worth through creating stories that shared her experiences. It was clear to her that one chapter had ended and another was about to begin.
After her return to the United States, Welbon completed a Masters of Fine Arts degree with the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and later received her PhD from Northwestern University. She also graduated from American Film Institute’s, Directing Workshop for Women. She continued on to teach and work on fulfilling projects such as the documentary, The New Black and Living with Pride: Ruth C. Ellis @100. In addition, she’s also curated the project “Sisters In Cinema”, a documentary, website, and forthcoming book based on her doctoral dissertation about the history of African American women feature film directors and the personal struggles they face within the industry based on their identities.
No matter what part of the world we’re in or where we’re from, how we identify ourselves is one of the biggest parts of a journey in growth and success. As artists and creators, balancing expression of self with or against the outside world is a challenge that we all must experience in order to connect to our purpose on screen. Whether it’s the energy you have to direct, the vision you crave to write, or the passion you have to perform, all of that essence comes from the qualities that make you a unique addition in the world of cinema. Just as Yvonne Welbon has owned her truth and used it to create a safe space for others who lack of representation in film, the BTFC stands strong to encourage the communities around us to carry on that exact profound mission.
The Black TV & Film Collective a 501c3 organization that operates as a NYC film collective. In our work, we support all artists of color including but not limited to black filmmakers. We are a collaborative platform that represents diversity in film and supports inclusion in Hollywood and TV. Our professional network of New York City filmmakers gives knowledge to those who want to learn how to produce film, how to make a web series, how to budget film projects and more. We host NYC film workshops that welcome a variety of experience levels from first time filmmakers who are either students in film school or to notables within the television and film industry. See how you can make a difference in the world of cinema by becoming a member of our NYC film collective.
About the Author: Jade Mapp is a California Girl who has a strong passion for literature and composition. Her works in creative writing, poetry and editing are strengthened the more she connects to other like-minded people who are dedicated to uplift each other through art and storytelling. She is currently interning at the Black TV & Film Collective.