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Monday, February 22, 2016

Kimberly Renee: What It's Really Like to Be a WoC Film Critic (Blog Series)



I love movies. I always have. My first visceral memory is going to the old Queen’s Park movie theater in Charlotte, North Carolina. I remember being there with my mom going to see my first “big girl” movie, Little Shop of Horrors. I was mesmerized by everything about the movie: the look of it, the music, the gigantic singing plant, and most of all the trio of black girls singing in the background. Why didn’t I have a live chorus following me around narrating my life through song? I desperately wanted to be a part of that world.

Fast forward nearly thirty years and I am actually interviewing one of those girls, Tichina Arnold (aka Crystal) for our podcast Cinema in Noir. It was a surreal moment. I still don’t really believe it happened (but it’s archived so I know it did). This full circle moment was not one that I ever expected to happen. But it was one made possible in large part to the community of women film writers that I find myself connected to. They are a community that is often devalued, underrated, and ignored. But it is a community that is mighty; the sisterhood of women film writers of color.

In a recent Atlantic article, one female film writer suggested that the rise in online publications led to the downfall of the female voice in film criticism. She states, “When the print journalism establishment hit the rocks in the early days of the Internet, and again in the aughts, women suffered.” But what the writer fails to acknowledge is that before the rise of the internet, women of color were being routinely left out of the conversation of film criticism. And except for a brief parenthetical mention, women of color were left out of her article altogether.

In my experience, the internet has given me the freedom and autonomy to claim a creative space of my own. I started reelsistas.com back in 2007 because I wanted a site where black women were celebrated for their work in front of and behind the camera. At the time I didn’t know if a space like that existed. And if I did, I didn’t know how to access it.

When I joined Twitter in 2009, my access and ultimately my world changed. Twitter has helped me connect with a community of like-minded women of color film writers. I met my Cinema in Noir podcast co-hosts Candice Frederick, Rebecca Theodore and former co-host Rocky Seker on Twitter. The connections I have made via Twitter have expanded my perceptions of what film criticism looks like.

While women of color are often left out of the conversation when it comes to traditional film criticism, I have found that many women film writers of color have built brands and followings using online platforms. Platforms like Reel Talk Online, The Lewis Effect, Cinema Bun and Two Brown Girls have gone beyond writing only about “women films” and cover every genre. Other women film writers of color have created spaces that cater to specific niches of film like Grave Yard Shift Sisters, Reel Artsy, and Blacks in Period Films. And others have created hashtags and movements like #Films4Justice, #BlackGirlsAreFromTheFuture and communities where women of color can express their love for a myriad topics like Black Girl Nerds. Regardless of the angle, women of color film writers have expanded the definition of film criticism and joined in the conversation without waiting for permission.

To quote writer Renina Jarmon, podcasting and blogging enabled me to “find my tribe, claim my
Kimberly Renee
voice and establish my brand.”* I echo that sentiment. In finding my tribe, I found myself. My community of women film writers of color inspire and empower me in ways the will never know. They have helped me find my voice as a film blogger. They have challenged me to think bigger. They have supported me. They have embraced me. And for them I am grateful.

*from the book Black Girls Are From the Future, Essays On: Race. Digital Creativity and Pop Culture

Kimberly Renee runs reelsistas.com and is the co-host of "Cinema in Noir." Follow her on Twitter.

For more information on this blog series, click here.

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