Sojourner Truth Festival of the Arts to showcase Black women filmmakers in Chicago in 2023

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Filmmaker Edie Lynch will participate in the Sojourner Truth Festival of the Arts 2023 in Chicago. [Courtesy Monica Freeman]

In 1976, a group of Black feminist artists and activists in New York co-organized the first Black women’s film festival: the Sojourner Truth Festival of the Arts.

From January to March, the University of Chicago, Film Studies Center, Logan Center for the Arts, South Side Projections, Sisters in Cinema and partners across Chicago and beyond will celebrate the legacy of that festival with the Sojourner Truth Festival of the Arts 2023, a nine-week screening series and symposium devoted to Black women’s filmmaking of the 1970s-1990s.

Five Black feminist artists and activists — Michele Wallace, Faith Ringgold, Patricia Spears Jones, Margo Jefferson and Monica Freeman — co-organized the 1976 Sojourner Truth Festival of the Arts. Films by Michelle Parkerson, Ayoka Chenzira and Madeline Anderson, among others, were screened, according to a news release.

None of the films at the festival had received mainstream theatrical release; they were all independently produced and difficult for moviegoers to find. The festival, which took place at New York’s Women’s Interart Center, powerfully linked Black women’s filmmaking to other art forms: Ntozake Shange and Joanne Braxton gave poetry readings; Ringgold debuted a performance piece; Camille Billops lectured on art history; and an array of artists participated in panel discussions.

Situating new film work by Black women within a broader Black feminist arts ecosystem, the 1976 festival was simultaneously a celebration of the emerging world of Black women’s filmmaking as well as a radical call for the kinds of sociopolitical and institutional changes necessary for a Black women’s film culture to thrive.

Four decades later, the Sojourner Truth Festival of the Arts 2023 will commemorate the 1976 festival with a nine-week Jan. 5-March 2 screening series in conjunction with UChicago Department of Cinema and Media Studies Professor Allyson Nadia Field’s winter 2023 course on Black Women’s Filmmaking of the 1970s,

The new edition also will include a two-day symposium March 3-4 about the original festival, its legacies and the tradition of Black feminist filmmaking.

The 2023 program is co-organized by Freeman, who curated films at the original festival, as well as Yvonne Welbon (Sisters in Cinema), Hayley O’Malley (University of Iowa), Michael W. Phillips Jr. (South Side Projections and Film Studies Center), and Allyson Nadia Field (UChicago Department of Cinema and Media Studies and Film Studies Center).

All events are free and open to the public and will take place at UChicago’s Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts.

Here is the more information on the screening series and symposium:

Screening Series: Jan. 5-March 2
As part of the Department of Cinema and Media Studies’ “Open Classroom” series, which invites members of the public to participate in UChicago class screenings and discussions, Professor Field’s course “Creating a Different Image: Black Women’s Filmmaking of the 1970s-90s” presents nine programs of groundbreaking films by Black women.

Many of the films shown at the 1976 festival are rarely screened, and this series will provide a platform for films that have, for too long, been overlooked. In addition to the original festival films, the series will feature later work made by festival participants such as Billops and Chenzira as well as other thematically resonant films made in the 1970-90s by directors such as Alile Sharon Larkin, Kathleen Collins, Julie Dash, Barbara McCullough, S. Pearl Sharp and Anita W. Addison. For these events, students in the course will write program notes, formally introduce the screenings and then moderate Q&As afterward, inviting discussion from attendees.

Symposium: March 3–4
At the conclusion of the screening series, the final symposium will provide an opportunity to reflect on the past and future of Black women’s filmmaking. There will be roundtable conversations with some of the original festival participants, including Freeman, Chenzira, Jennie Bourne, Carol Munday Lawrence, Elaine Baly, Louise Fleming, Tippy Fortune, Jennifer Lawson, Edie Lynch, Michelle Parkerson, Joanne Braxton, Charlotte Carter, Patricia Spears Jones and Margo Jefferson.

The symposium will feature a keynote by Wallace, a special tribute to Anderson and a keynote conversation between Barbara McCullough and Julie Dash. In all, about 40 Black women filmmakers, writers, and curators will convene at the Logan Center from March 3-4 to celebrate the Sojourner Truth Festival of the Arts 2023.

More information about the festival, films, and artists can be found at


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