Dear Nyankonton, Beloved Community,
It's Native American Heritage month, and from election day and Diwali to Trans Day of Remembrance, we find and follow the long, resilient roots of hope of our Two Spirit and transcestors.
Native foodways like cranberries are similar to our collective journey. We wade through bogs of oppression that suck at our feet, fueled by acid peat, layered with the sands of time, gravel from the roads we create, and clay with which we shape our dreams. We trace the low-lying vines of our history to find sweet-tart goodness.
Native American history should remind non-Natives that we must choose democracy every single day. Voting for a representative government is just one aspect of democracy. Filmmakers who tell the truth about our lived realities are another aspect of a functioning democracy that truly serves our communities.
As a donor, you can make it possible for LBTQ+ Black, Native American/Indigenous, people of color to create films that authentically reflect our lives in full bloom. With dozens of varieties, hues, and shapes, you can seed a rich and robust ecosytem, with abundant potential to heal. This month, as we share the impact of QWOCMAP's work and founder Madeleine "MAD" Lim's achievements in the film field, your contribution will plant new fields of hope for us all.
At just 125 years old, film is a relatively young art form. Early documentary films exploited their subjects. Early narratives glorified racism. The Hays Code was the pre-cursor to the current MPAA ratings system. Backed by Catholic doctrine, it was designed to reinforce white cishet Christian marriage. These legacies live on in the extremely limited and often destructively stereotypical depictions of our communities, despite increased representation in recent years. Films that reinforce oppression impact how the world sees us, and how it treats us.
Yet Black, Native American/Indigenous, people of color have long used film as a tool for resistance, from the Third Cinema to L.A. Rebellion, and filmmakers like Julie Dash, director of Daughters of the Dust (1991). Just released in September, the Ford Foundation’s Beyond Inclusion report acknowledges this history and emphasizes “the critical role of people of color in the U.S. documentary ecosystem.” It also outlines the impact of funding both filmmakers and film organizations. As QWOCMAP said decades before the mainstream, when we change who makes films, we directly challenge films that reinforce oppression, refocus on who and what we see in front of the camera, and shine light on the truths and realities of our lives. The report affirms that this is the single most effective way to move the entire film industry toward equity, accountability, and democracy.
It is QWOCMAP's 20th anniversary as the first film and media arts organization in the world for, by, and about/of queer and transgender Black, Native American/Indigenous, Asian, Native Hawaiian & Pacific Islander, Southwest Asian, North African/Arab, Middle Eastern, Muslim, South Asian, and Latinx, people of color. That’s 20 years of being directly responsible for 50% of the queer Black women working in film today, according to Yvonne Welbon, PhD, award-winning filmmaker, producer, and QWOCMAP Advisory Board member. That’s 20 years of creativity, leadership, and community for filmmakers of color. That’s 20 years of film AS movement: a combination of theory and practice that considers the social justice implications of our creative decisions, the ethics of filmmaking, accountability to our communities, and acts to transform how we make, engage with, and create change through film.
MAD at DOC NYC with Firelight Media
Last Tuesday, November 17, QWOCMAP's founder Madeleine Lim spoke at Firelight Media's special edition of their Beyond Resilience series at DOC NYC. Watch the recording of the panel, which began with Mad sharing the history and intention behind QWOCMAP.
Moderated by Sahar Driver, PhD, who authored the Beyond Inclusion report commissioned by Ford's JustFilms initiative, the shared wisdom of the panel cultivated a thriving, expansive understanding of the role that people of color-led, and people of color-supporting, organizations play to foster and sustain the film industry across the U.S. and Puerto Rico. Other panelists included: Chloe Walter-Wallace of Firelight's Media Groundwork Regional Lab, who spoke to the power of the South and particularly Black filmmakers, Miriam Bale of Indie Memphis, who explored how majority people of color staff can change organizations, and Kique Cubero Garcia of AdocPR, who outlined the legacies of colonialism and its impact on filmmaking.
Sambal Belacan in San Francisco
MAD's Film at Singapore International Film Festival
In October, Mad's award-winning film Sambal Belacan in San Francisco (1997) screened publicly in Singapore for the first time ever, when the Singapore government issued a one-time exception to their 22-year ban of the film. They also slapped it with a R21 rating, an audience limit of 33 people, and the expectation not to talk about LGBT issues or activism during the Q&A. This was a curious choice for the Classifications Board (FKA Censorship) to make, given that the documentary follows 3 immigrant Singaporean Butch lesbians grappling with home and belonging in the U.S. The film is frank in its portrayal of sexuality, race, and nationality in Singapore, and includes the fears of being undocumented in the U.S.
Over the years, there were a few underground private screenings of the documentary in Singapore, where viewers feared arrest. This year, the Singapore International Film Festival screened the film on October 25 during their New Waves program with Mad's 79-year-old mother in attendance. However, audience members had to pre-submit questions, and were not allowed to stay for the online filmmaker Q&A recording, which has yet to be uploaded. Right now, Mad’s documentary is still under permanent ban in Singapore.
As Mad said, "I had hoped for a complete lift of the ban, but I'm excited that it screened at all. It has been my dream to screen my film in Singapore. It is my birthplace. It was incredibly exciting." She originally left Singapore at the age of 23 to avoid government arrest for her unauthorized feminist plays, illegal DIY lesbian zine, and organizing as a young artist-activist.
In the decades since the ban, Mad created award-winning documentaries, founded QWOCMAP (as you should know!), and conducted more than 75 filmmaking workshops through the award-winning Filmmaker Training Program that she designed. In addition, Mad has also taught Video Production at the University of San Francisco since 2004. In total, Mad has nurtured approximately 850 films.
As Mad often says, “if there are 20 films by queer Asian women, then no one can stereotype us because there are 20 different stories.” QWOCMAP helps filmmakers put down roots, branch out to support other filmmakers, and bloom amazing films. When you nurture QWOCMAP with a donation, you nourish this thriving ecosystem of change.
Rice Media published the article A Banned Classic by A Lesbian Filmmaker Returns Home. What Has Changed?, a succinct film and cultural analysis. Along with Vogue Singapore, this monumental screening was also featured in Bay Area Reporter and Agnes Films.
"Madeleine Lim is an impressive filmmaker and an asset to the San Francisco Bay Area. She brings stories of women of color to the screen through her own filmography, as well as through her community projects and by guiding emergent filmmakers in telling their own stories. For her groundbreaking short film to be screened in her home country for the first time, over two decades after it was made, is inspirational to all women artists and lovers of women’s films." - Moira Sullivan
In an interview with Mad, Cheryl Leong, MFT dives into Sambal Belacan and the ways Mad's activism has served the Singaporean immigrant queer community. Watch the recording of the interview Being Banned: The Quest For Home, which took place soon after the SGIFF screening in October.
The Worlds of Bernice Bing
MAD's Film at Sebastopol Documentary Film Festival
Mad’s documentary The Worlds of Bernice Bing (2013) screened at the Sebastopol Documentary Film Festival as part of their online “Indelible Artists” shorts program in August. Known as Bingo, Bernice was an Abstract Expressionist painter, Beat-era Existentialist, Buddhist, feminist, Chinese-American lesbian. She passed in 1998, leaving a tremendous legacy in the San Francisco Bay Area as a founder of SCRAP, Executive Director of SOMArts, member of AAWAA, and one of the first artists at Mayacamas. The film honors and memorializes Bingo's life, and leads us to ponder creativity and healing, as well as the importance of reclaiming our history and giving our elders their flowers while they are still here.
MAD on Sydney Queer Screen Jury
As bustling and busy as ever, in September Mad juried Sydney’s Queer Screen Pitch Off 2020 with Bryan Glick and Joe Bilancio. Filmmakers from Australia competed for the chance to win $10,000 towards the production of their short film. There were so many great finalists, we hope that we get to screen their films at QWOCMAP's International Queer Women of Color Film Festival!
Nyankonton, we find strength together.
This week, we can rewrite settler colonial narratives and stay at home to prevent spreading the pandemic. We acknowledge Native communities as the stewards of this land, offer repair for their sacrifices, and challenge colonial narratives and stereotypes.
Last week, Trans Day of Remembrance (November 20) gave us all the chance to grieve our murdered kin, overwhelmingly trans Black women and femmes. That day and every day, cisgender people get to tag in for justice and fight like hell for the living. During Trans Awareness week (November 13-16), we honored the groundbreaking work of our siblings and gave them their roses.
“Happy Deepavali! தீபாவளி வாழ்த்துக்கள்! Deepavali valthukkal. May we be a community of lights against caste, against racism, against patriarchy and sexism, against classism, and for peace with justice. In this dark time, friends, you are my Festival of Lights.” - Sugi Ganeshananthan
As the days get shorter, Diwali (November 12-16) reminds us that we are all lights that together illuminate a bright future. Even as we grieve and worry, QWOCMAP sees brilliant hope in the world, from mutual aid and protecting democracy to Black, Native American/Indigenous, people of color filmmakers, like QWOCMAP's own Madeleine Lim, who cultivate medicine in what the mainstream misnames as weeds. Like dandelions, you spread seeds of change. You, Nyankonton, are a gentle breath that sends imagination and justice to germinate everywhere.
We invite you to nourish the film as movement ecosystem as a monthly sustainer!
With so much gratitude, your QWOCMAP Team
Alisha, Astrid, Cassandra, Christina, Kebo, Leis, Lynn, Mad & Yara