An educator, writer, filmmaker, and dedicated mother, Aiesha Turman is a beautiful force changing the lives of young women of color in New York. As the founder of Super Hussy Media, she creates film and media that explores the vastness of black female life, including the variety of sexualities, national origins, and classes that compose the complexity of black womanhood. Her most recent documentary, The Black Girl Project, deconstructs black girlhood as a monolithic experience. Contrary to popular media, The Black Girl Project introduces black female viewers to themselves: strong, vulnerable, and multifarious. Additionally, it is giving back to young black girls everywhere through a powerful nonprofit initiative.
Z&A: Tell us about The Black Girl Project. What inspired you to film this documentary?
The Black Girl Project is both a documentary film and a non-profit organization. I have worked with young people in New York for over a decade, with the past few years being dedicated primarily to high school students. It was in this work, I began to hear the stories of young women, many of whom were outwardly accomplished, but were dealing with a lot of issues from homelessness to sexual assault and depression. I was lucky enough to be trusted enough by them that they would talk to me. Their lives reminded me of mine as a teenage girl. I was highly accomplished academically, but when it came to dealing with issues, many of which were shared with my peers, I turned inward for fear of embarrassment or disappointing my parents. The non-profit is an outgrowth of the film and my commitment to helping young women reach their fullest potential.
Z&A: Who are the young women involved in The Project? What are their stories and backgrounds?
The young women in the film are all from Brooklyn. They ranged from high school seniors to college sophomores. The girls are very diverse in their experiences; they faced everything from homelessness to poor self esteem and feeling ostracized. However, others had amazing life coping skills and were doing well. My intent was to show Black girls as being more complex than what we see in the media and I think I accomplished that.
Z&A: The Black Girl Project asks a pivotal question to young black women, “Who are you?” How did the documentary explore such a broad question?
Basically, we had a conversation. I’d ask one question and it would spiral into them just talking about their lives. Every once in awhile I’d interject and ask for clarity, but I didn’t have to ask or prompt a lot.
Z&A: You stated that it is important to hear and see black girls speak their truths.” How did each participant confront the stereotypes of young black women?
The participants, I feel, broke through the stereotypes of what it is to be a young Black woman. Every single one of them showed vulnerability in some way. They were multidimensional and real. We don’t see that in our world; we see caricatures. We have so many flat portrayals of Black females and live in a culture where Black women and girls are either venerated for their saintly accomplishments which strips them of any other character attribute except that of martyr/mammy, or demonized and used as the fall gal to explain away all that is wrong with the Black community and society-at-large. So, by being vulnerable, by being open and ready to tell their truths, by just being themselves, they confront and overcome stereotypes.
Z&A: Where is the film showing? Is it available on DVD?
We are having our first screening on Friday, August 27th at the Spike Lee Screening Room at Long Island University in Brooklyn. We’ll using this screening as a fundraiser for the organization and there will be a panel discussion featuring myself and a few of the films’ participants. We’ll be in DC in September and releasing the film on DVD at the end of September.
Z&A: Why should Z&A readers support this project?
My biggest reason would be because it can be used to help spark inter and intra-generational conversations between Black women and girls. So many young girls think that their issue is theirs alone or that no one will understand what it is they are going through, but that’s not true. Unfortunately, the collective “Black community” still abides by “keeping your business out the street” and I contend that we need to spread our business far and wide so that we can begin healing.