interview: ‘reflections unheard: black women in civil rights’ director nevline nnaji

June 4, 2014

Nevline Nnaji is the director of Reflections Unheard: Black Women In Civil Rights. Through a series of interviews and archival footage the film takes a look at the marginalization of black women from the Black Power and Feminist ideologies of the 60s and 70s, up to the present-day.
“When I started the film, I was synthesizing my own experiences as a black woman and reading a lot of ‘black feminist theory.’ I wanted to create a piece that delved deeper into various aspects of why we experienced the (race and gender) discrimination as we do in society and how it affects us.”

By Priscilla Ward, AFROPUNK Contributor *

Click here to watch trailer if you’re on a mobile device

Nevline was inspired after reading Elaine Brown’s book, “A Taste of Power.” The film takes a look at the stereotypes surrounding gender norms.

“We are generally misinformed about History, yet we use History to learn and draw conclusions about the present day. Most people do not even know there was a black feminist movement in the 70s-I sure as hell didn’t until about 6 months of research in to the project. Reflections Unheard is just another puzzle piece to what we went through as a culture and society in the U.S. There are still many other stories.”

One of the most shocking moments in the film was a look at the amount of abuses women received in the Black Panther Party.

“Eventually, I focused the entire film on the Civil Rights era because it was a time when there was so much public (and televised) action and discussion around these topics, especially by black women.”

Nevline said she believes there are various elements within our society that add to the disempowerment of African American women. She makes an interesting analogy to the various dynamics surrounding oppression within our society.  

“Female cows and chickens on dairy farms are forcibly impregnated and exploited for their reproductive capacities-they have their babies stolen from them to be auctioned off to slaughter houses. This is strikingly connected to the atrocities black women have faced throughout history up to present day.”

She said she believes as a global community, we are desensitized to our own as well as others’ pain. We think one group of human or living creature is more valuable or superior to the other. We must value all life equally to break the cycle-not just focus on black women’s empowerment.

However, if we could pinpoint one aspect of the female empowerment conversation Nevline is the most passionate about, that would be sexuality.

“All genders need to re-educate ourselves about what sex is supposed to be, because the way we’re taught is only designed to cater to the male body. Women should be having amazing orgasms. We need to permit ourselves to dance and dress how we please, and assert ourselves sexually.This sense of agency and freedom with our bodies will inevitably filter into other aspects of our lives. Black women especially have fought stereotypes of being hypersexual, but we cannot live our lives in reaction to racist ideas.”

So many of the issues that are approached in Reflections Unheard are still going on today. Maybe the reflections are invested because reflections aren’t audible.

“Issues and abuses that specifically affect black women are still placed on the back burner when it comes to discussions about “the black community”. There is plenty of outrage and sympathy for violence against black men. There’s more silence around issues like street harassment and rape, which are typically gender-based forms of violence. Mainstream feminism is still re-working itself to be more racially “inclusive”. As a result, women of color often carve out our own spaces, which is wonderful. That was actually the purpose of my collaboration with a group of other black women filmmakers, when we created our artist collective, “New Negress Film Society”.



In the future Nevline hopes to continue to work on experimental and animated pieces.

“I enjoy themes that highlight sexuality in an alternative/challenging way. I also incorporate themes concerning veganism and spirituality into my work.”

Ultimately, she said she would also like to create a memoir-film that reveals the truth about herself.

For more information about Reflections Unheard, how to host a screening, etc., visit

* Priscilla Ward is a DC native and microwaved New Yorker. She enjoys keeping an active pulse on the arts, entertainment and cultural scenes of DC, New York and Philadelphia. She also freelances for Brooklyn Exposed and MadameNoire,com She aspires to one day have her own cartoon. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram @Macaronifro.