All Hail the New Auteurs: The Importance of Black Women’s Stories in Film

Carol Leeming MBE delves into the importance of black women's stories in film, in specific relation to the release of dramedy Queen of Glory.

Queen of Glory (Nana Mensah, 2021) is an engaging dramedy about a young Black woman negotiating, amongst other things, her own aspirations and intergenerational issues as an adult child of deceased immigrant parents from Ghana, who settled in the USA.

The film is part of a growing roll call of outstanding, successful films. Film which are influential, internationally acclaimed and award-winning. These compelling films effectively highlight the importance of Black women’s stories.

I want to highlight my joy and real enjoyment, in regards to a film like Queen of Glory. A film that centres a Black woman’s story, using wit, nuance, skill and craft; adding to a growing, powerful and authoritative body of work by Black women filmmakers. Clearly, there is a growing need, a strong desire even, to see more of these stories, as demonstrated by the commercial successes of these auteur filmmakers.

I’d like to share a few films made by Black women filmmakers/ auteurs of the African Diaspora.

Along with innovative dynamic documentary and video work, of Jenn Nkiru exemplified in her films Rebirth is Necessary (2017) or Hub-Tone (2018, for Kamasi Washington record release).

Importantly, a further cause for much excitement are some of the recurring artistic creative characteristics. For example, in Queen of Glory, and Black women story films of the above auteurs include: celebrating Blackness, upending Black tropes, the use of ambiguity/ nuance, not answering questions, traversing dichotomies, simultaneous humour/ pathos, screen as canvas of feeling/ opposite to dialogue creating a ‘lyrical ode‘ (Roger Egbert), paying with form and conventions, subverting re-framing, the use of archival footage, therapy/ healing, afro-futurism, afro-surrealism and magical realism.

These films indicate ‘Blackness is not a monolith‘ as Tomiwa Folorunso, a British cultural Creative Producer, of Nigerian Scottish Descent says in reference to the distinctive storytelling in Queen of Glory. I do, of course, agree. I would add the global majority is not a monolith either. In fact both of these realities offer limitless, artistic, creative and commercial possibilities for Black women’s stories in film. The very real artistic and commercial success of any film requires herculean efforts to produce (i.e. focus, patience, sacrifice and funding).

In making films that give importance to Black women’s stories, which are not stereotypical and explore authentic, fresh narratives, we can quadruple the difficulty to make these types of films, particularly for the Black women filmmakers who want to make them. Within the context of the film industry which in itself is embedded with racism and sexism due to entrenched male white gatekeepers and financiers.

Thinking deeper about the film industry, which rarely accepts or presents non-stereotypical Black women’s stories. Filmmaker Ava Duvernay says; ‘I am not going to continue knocking that old door that does not open for me. I am going to create my own door.‘ All of the mentioned Black women auteurs wrote, directed and/ or produced their own debut films. Some even took a lead acting role, including Nana Mensah in Queen of Glory and Radha Blank in The 40 Year Old Version. They are passionate about wanting to reflect the lives and the realities that they and others find themselves living in, but are rarely ever seen on screen.

Representation is important for so many reasons. But more crucially, Black women auteurs must have the artistic control to tell these stories of Black women, the best way they think fit – without white filters. Their time is now.