“We Real Chicago” is TRiiBE TV’s weekly arts and entertainment show hosted by TRiiBE cultural correspondent Rome J. On Aug. 13, Black Chicago creatives Elijah McKinnon, Ashley O’Shay and Morgan Elise Johnson joined “We Real Chicago” to talk about the lack of Black women, femme and queer stories in media, film, and television and how they are working to include those voices in their work.

Representation is vital. There is nothing like flipping through a magazine or turning on a television show or film and seeing someone who looks like you. At a time when people of color continue to be stereotyped and under-represented in media, television and film, it’s important to have programming that accurately depicts them. 

Today, more and more Black, femme, and LGBTQ-identifying film and television creators are producing and sharing content on their own terms — without the permission of gatekeepers. Black Chicago creatives Elijah McKinnon, Ashley O’Shay and Morgan Elise Johnson joined TRiiBE TV’s “We Real Chicago” show on Aug. 13 to talk about their latest projects: “Good Enough,” an episodic series that dropped on Open Television this month; and Unapologetic, a new verite documentary film premiering at the virtual Black Star Film Festival on Aug. 20. 

“Hollywood has historically, erased or silenced, marginalized voices, specifically intersectional voices,” said Elijah McKinnon, who uses they/their/them pronouns. McKinnon is an artist, activist, abolitionist co-founder and executive director of Open Television (OTV). “During this time, we’re at this sort of diversity boom, where there’s so much push and strive for diverse and intersectional stories to break through the mold.”

McKinnon is the writer, director and star of OTV’s new show, “Good Enough.” The show centers around Thyme, a Black genderqueer social media influencer played by McKinnon, and follows a group of friends as they face their flaws and learn to love themselves and each other as they navigate life’s everyday challenges. They were inspired by 1990s and early 2000s Black sitcoms and films such as “Girlfriends” and Soul Food, and the series challenges the idea of the nuclear family to show that the families and communities that we choose are just as important as those we are born into.

“The series covers taboo narratives that aren’t normally communicated in the Black community, like substance abuse and the nuance of HIV disclosure and mental [health], depression and anxiety, and navigating through a lot of these topics with the people that are around you,” McKinnon said. 

Just like Black LGBTQ+ voices, the perspectives and experiences of Black women are also left out of mainstream storytelling way too often. Take a look at the Civil Rights Movement, for example, and you’ll notice that the Black women and femmes on the frontlines, who were the backbone of the movement, aren’t represented fully in the stories retelling that history. 

Director and producer Ashley O’Shay is determined to amplify those narratives though her documentary film, Unapologetic, which centers young Black women and femme organizers in Chicago following the death of 22-year-old Rekia Boyd.  

“I went to a Chicago Police Board hearing where residents have direct contact with this so-called equitable board,” O’Shay said. “The voices in that space weren’t your typical religious leaders or male leaders; they were young Black women and femme voices. I have never seen a comprehensive media piece that focused on the ways in which they were centering their leadership, so I just decided to do it.”

O’Shay tapped another Black filmmaker, Morgan Elise Johnson — who is also the co-founder and creative director of The TRiiBE — to produce the film. Together, O’Shay and Johnson center Black women and femme voices in ways we haven’t seen before.

A film poster for Unapologetic, which will make its world premiere at the virtual 2020 BlackStar Film Festival on Aug. 20.

“In Black social-political movements, we’re so used to seeing Black cisgender heterosexual men at the forefront of it,” Johnson said. “This film [Unapologetic] is an opportunity to flip that narrative on its head to recognize who is doing the work and who’s on the ground, versus few men who have claims to be leaders or the voices in the movement for Black lives.”

Unapologetic is making its world premiere at the 2020 BlackStar Film Festival on Aug. 20. The festival is virtual this year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, so folks can purchase tickets to watch the documentary online at blackstarfest.org

McKinnon, O’Shay, and Johnson joined TRiiBE TV’s “We Real Chicago” show to discuss media, film, and tv representation in storytelling for Black and LGBTQ+ communities during “The Chi-Light” panel segment.

Check out the episode below.

Headshot of Tonia Hill
is a multimedia producer for The TRiiBE.