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Human Rights Watch Film Fest 2021 Women Directors: Meet Ashley O’Shay – “Unapologetic”

Ashley O’Shay is a Chicago-based DP and documentarian whose work focuses on illuminating marginalized voices. Most lately, she filmed the ultimate episode of Dr. Martens’ “Robust As You” sequence, starring the band Phony Ppl. In 2019, O’Shay co-produced the Chicago episode of KQED’s award-winning sequence “If Cities May Dance,” which grew to become considered one of their most considered episodes up to now. Her work additionally appeared within the critically acclaimed Lifetime docuseries “Surviving R. Kelly.” O’Shay is at present an affiliate with Kartemquin Movies.

“Unapologetic” is screening on the New York version of the 2021 Human Rights Watch Movie Pageant. This yr’s fest is digital on account of COVID-19, and runs Could 19-27.

W&H: Describe the movie for us in your personal phrases. 

AO: “Unapologetic” follows two younger Black queer ladies, Janaé and Bella, embedded inside the Motion for Black Lives in Chicago. It takes place over the course of 4 years, reflecting on the campaigns to handle the police killings of Rekia Boyd and Laquan McDonald.

W&H: What drew you to this story?

AO: Within the fall of 2015, Chicago was abuzz with younger Black folks organizing round totally different causes. Lots of the occasions and rallies on the time weren’t solely centering younger voices, however Black ladies and queer people specifically. I had seen little visibility of those identities within the media, in addition to in my a few years of formal schooling.

The work that teams just like the Black Youth Mission 100 (BYP100) and #LetUsBreathe Collective had been doing instantly resonated due to my shared id. I felt a deeper connection as a result of the folks main within the area had been younger Black ladies similar to me.

W&H: What would you like folks to consider after they watch the movie?

AO: After watching “Unapologetic,” I usually encourage people to analyze what’s taking place with policing in their very own metropolis or city. Lots of the infrastructures we rely on every single day — schooling, economics, and many others. — are immediately impacted by how assets are allotted to the native police division.

In Chicago, 40 % of town’s price range goes towards policing, leaving many different establishments crumbling. Understanding your native infrastructure is an efficient place to begin to find out what points must be organized round, after which the following step is discovering the folks already doing the work and immediately assist them.

W&H: What was the most important problem in making the movie?

AO: Actually, the need to finish it. We spent a lot of our time away from manufacturing to lift extra funds and discover assist for “Unapologetic.” I spent the primary year-and-a-half capturing a lot of the movie myself, whereas additionally serving because the director, producer, and sound recordist.

When it got here time to pitching for assist, we had been dedicated to remaining trustworthy to our topics and the group behind the challenge, a lot of whom had been additionally younger and Black.

Main assist didn’t arrive till spring of 2019, once we had been deep in post-production. In some ways, we needed to construct the airplane because it rose up, however I’m so grateful to the numerous funds and supporters who took an opportunity on my first movie.

W&H: How did you get your movie funded? Share some insights into how you bought the movie made.

AO: Our first little bit of funding got here by way of an Indiegogo marketing campaign in 2016. It was solely $eight,000, however that quantity had a big impact in constructing the preliminary group and caring for some excellent payments. Following that, we acquired the remaining funds from a combination of grants, fellowships, and particular person donations.

Our main grant got here from JustFilms/The Ford Basis within the quantity of $75,000. That grant allowed me, producer Morgan Elise Johnson, and editor Rubin Daniels to work on the movie full-time for 3 months and get the movie prepped for pageant submission.

W&H: What impressed you to turn out to be a filmmaker? 

AO: I’ve at all times been within the processes and components that maintain one thing collectively. After I found that roles behind the digicam lens existed, I started to discover the potential for a movie profession. Even once I was throwing collectively makeshift music movies of myself and my members of the family, I spotted the ability of shaping how we see somebody or one thing.

This particularly shines by in my documentary work, which focuses on marginalized teams and people. They deserve the delicacy and a spotlight to element these within the mainstream already obtain, and being a filmmaker lets me collaborate with that focus in thoughts.

W&H: What’s the very best and worst recommendation you’ve acquired? 

AO: Finest recommendation: Belief the method. There was some extent the place I believed “Unapologetic” could be carried out in one-and-a-half, two years max. Enter many veteran filmmakers advising me that this could seemingly not be the case, particularly for the reason that movie known as for a lot additional improvement. As soon as I accepted the reality behind the phrases, I used to be in a position to higher unfold out the stressors and desires that took place in the course of the course of.

Worst recommendation: Be keen to enter debt to finish your challenge. Though we discovered issue in repeatedly beginning and stopping the method on account of insufficient funding, it allowed us to construct the belief and entry with our topics needed for an impactful narrative. If we rushed the method by faster monetary means, it might have created a extra rushed narrative and positively extra debt I didn’t have the means to repay.

W&H: What recommendation do you’ve got for different ladies administrators?

AO: Don’t be afraid to ask for readability once you come up towards stuff you don’t know. A lot of directing this primary characteristic required studying and unlearning what I had been taught throughout movie faculty and earlier than. I’m nonetheless studying as we undergo distribution!

I attempt to not be intimidated by extra skilled filmmakers or establishments; each time I’ve requested a query, it’s supplied readability so I may make higher selections.

W&H: Title your favourite woman-directed movie and why. 

AO: At this second, I’d must say my favourite is “The Previous Guard” directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood. With out having a lot background on the comedian universe this script got here from, I deeply admired her consideration to character improvement exterior the motion, her casting of Kiki Layne as a Black feminine co-lead, and doing a badass job directing an motion movie.

I hope it results in extra widespread funding of women-helmed motion movies.

W&H: How are you adjusting to life in the course of the COVID-19 pandemic? Are you retaining inventive, and if that’s the case, how?

AO: Whereas I sometimes work as a contract DP, the pandemic allowed me the time to actually give attention to finishing “Unapologetic” and determining my subsequent transfer as soon as full. Like many, we needed to pivot our distribution technique to the digital area as soon as the pandemic hit. Regardless of having to premiere on a digital stage, we had been in a position to safely collect 100 viewers members in Chicago for an out of doors screening the day after our premiere on the BlackStar Movie Pageant.

I additionally additional invested in my interest as a DJ and hosted plenty of Instagram lives to maintain the constructive vitality flowing whereas we stayed secure inside.

W&H: The movie trade has an extended historical past of underrepresenting folks of coloration onscreen and behind the scenes and reinforcing — and creating — unfavorable stereotypes. What actions do you assume must be taken to make Hollywood and/or the doc world extra inclusive? 

AO: Rent and pay Black ladies! We want extra folks from our communities in decision-making positions, particularly people who form the distribution panorama.

Additionally, belief in younger, rising voices. They maintain the way forward for media and tradition and sometimes convey contemporary views we’re unable to see at this stage in our expertise.


Edward J Cameron
Edward J Cameron
Freelance organizer. Gamer. Social media specialist. blog reader. Thinker.


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