concordia 09/02/2017 - 10:00AM
“We are all beautiful, strong and confident as women” – An Interview with Nneka Onuorah, director of The Same Difference
On Monday, February 13th, do not miss Cinema Politica Concordia's double feature of Nneka Onuorah's The Same Difference (Montreal premiere) and Dee Rees' Pariah! To mark this special screening, Cinema Politica's Danielle Gasher spoke with Nneka about her film, storytelling and revolutionary self-acceptance.
Nneka Onuorah’s feature-length documentary film, The Same Difference, explores the contradictory and troubling “inner homophobia” present within African-American lesbian communities in The United States. The film, which was initially released in 2015, is an intimate first-hand look into the lives of lesbian women facing a double-struggle: in their own communities and from the wider, hetero-normative white patriarchal society.
Despite the fact that The Same Difference is Onuorah’s debut film, it has garnered impressive media and festival attention since its sell out premiere in New York, winning the Audience Award at the 2015 NewFest (New York’s LGBT film festival), and screening in theatres across Europe.
This captivating documentary is structured as an intriguing guide to understanding an under-represented community. Onuorah brings us into a world of rules, limits and classifications she is aware many viewers may know little about. With this in mind, the 26-year-old director offers audiences slides and explanations from the film’s subjects for different terms, concepts and conditions used within the black lesbian community: Femme versus Stud; why a weave can’t be worn by a Stud; why a Stud shouldn’t bear a child; why there is disdain towards bisexuals. Throughout this enlightening film women speak up about the parameters that define and contain their community, while exposing and challenging the limiting effects various rules have had on them, or can have. These include cyber-bullying, intimidation, shame, as revealed in one powerful scene where one subject confronts the woman who has been bullying her.
Onuorah presents a diverse range of expressive subjects, from a Stud actress who must learn to be “feminine” for a movie role by wearing high heels (none other than Felicia “Snoop” Pearson of The Wire fame), to a “Stud on Stud” couple who must deal with dirty looks and judgement from both their entourage and the larger lesbian community.
Onuorah will be present to discuss her film as part of Cinema Politica Concordia’s double bill screening of The Same Difference and Dees Rees’s award-winning black lesbian coming-of-age fiction Pariah on Feb. 13.
In the lead up to CP Concordia’s very first doc+fiction feature double bill, we reached out to Onuorah, who answered some of Cinema Politica’s questions about her film.
D.G.: When and why did you first get the idea for making this film?
N.O.: I was speaking on the phone to a friend about how toxic the community was and how I always stayed away from it. I ranted and ranted about the issues and someone said, "You should do a documentary on that." Funny enough- I actually went and did it. I worked in television already. So I said to myself, why walk away from a problem? That's not what a leader does. If you have the resources to tell a story and help heal a community that you are a part of, then you should do just that. It was out of frustration, and also out of love.
D.G.: Your film showcases the stories and experiences of such a diverse range of beautiful, strong, driven women. How did you reach out to these women? Did you know a lot of them beforehand?
N.O.: Some of these women, I knew from my television career. But a lot of these women were brand new to me. I did my research. I looked online at what the community discussed often and who they liked discussing it with. I looked at who the role models were for them. I looked at who the "bad girls" were as well. I wanted to have an honest conversation. So I found those people who were already doing that, and put them on screen.
D.G.: What was the directing process like for you? Had you ever embarked on your own film project before The Same Difference?
N.O.: The directing process was a fun learning experience. I had never made my own film before.
A lot of people don't know that creating a film is like being both a business owner and a parent. I did most of the financing out of pocket, I had to build the audience, do the marketing, I had to come up with strategies for festivals. I scripted the film out twice because I hated the first version. I also made mistakes that cost me a lot of money. But it was all worth it. It was the greatest thing I've ever done. To prove something to yourself when you first do it is a huge deal. Before this film, I had a lot of dreams, potential, and drive. But now I am a director. I worked for it. I found my purpose, and it's all I think about everyday.
D.G.: Your film is a reminder of the importance of acceptance and love. As a strong, confident woman yourself, what piece of advice would you give to women who don't feel accepted, for being themselves?
N.O.: To women who don't feel accepted (which is all of us), my advice is…Understand that history is always made out of not being accepted. Some of the greatest revolutions began from someone being told NO. It's something we will always face in some way or another. Accept yourself. Don't look for it from another person. There is a freedom within you. We often look outside but the true freedom is inside. If it's not there, create it. If you don't feel it, write down the steps it takes to actually feel it. We are all beautiful strong and confident as women. All we need to do now…is move all the junk out the way that tries to convince you that you are not!
Don't miss Nneka in person at our double feature screening this Monday, February 13th, with activist Rachel Zellars (Third Eye Collective) joining us as a moderator. Details here!