When Sisters in Cinema founder and CEO, Yvonne Welbon began film school in 1991 she only knew the name of one African American woman director, Julie Dash. She knew there had to be other Black women filmmakers, so she set out to find them. Her curiosity sent her on a journey to find her sisters in cinema.
With her research she created a database, wrote articles, curated programming and in 1997 launched Sisters in Cinema as an online resource for and about African American women filmmakers. She utilized the website to crowd source information about the understudied and under researched work and lives of Black women filmmakers.
Fully committed to her mission, Welbon entered a doctoral program at Northwestern University and in 2001, completed her dissertation, Sisters in Cinema: Case Studies of Three First-Time Achievements Made by African American Women Directors in the 1990s. It remains one of the only comprehensive histories on Black women filmmakers.
The research for her dissertation lead Dr. Welbon to produce a companion documentary in 2003 called Sisters in Cinema: A History of African American Women Feature Film Directors. The film was broadcast on Starz/Encore and TV-One in the United States and screened at over 100 film festivals, community centers and other public venues around the world. The documentary is the only comprehensive film on the history of African American women feature film directors and continues to be taught in media classes at colleges and universities.
As a Humanities Writ Large Visiting Faculty Fellow at Duke University in Durham, NC during the 2013-2014 academic year, Dr. Welbon began to analyze, evaluate, record, catalog, document and work on finding a safe and publicly accessible home for the Sisters in Cinema Archive. Collected over the twenty plus years since she began her journey to find her sisters in cinema, the archive is possibly one of the largest single collections of African American women’s media production in the United States. In addition, while at Duke, Welbon worked on a book manuscript related to the project called Sisters in the Life: A History of Out African American Lesbian Media-making. The volume, co-edited with Alexandra Juhasz, is the first text published by an academic press (Duke University Press) on the history of Black women media makers.
In 2014, Sisters in Cinema was established as a 501(c) 3 non-profit corporation in the state of Illinois with an inclusive mission to entertain, educate, develop and celebrate Black girls and women media-makers and future generations of storytellers and their audiences.
Welbon was awarded a Neighborhood Opportunity Fund matching grant from the city of Chicago for property acquisition and the rehab and build-out of Sisters in Cinema as a Media Arts Center in the South Shore neighborhood on the south side of Chicago in 2017. (To learn more visit: https://bit.ly/2rbD0C9)
With an anticipated opening in the fall of 2020, The Sisters in Cinema Media Arts Center will join The Stony Island Arts Bank, The Black Cinema House, TheMediaLab: CHI, the future Obama Library and Museum and a host of others organizations on the south side of Chicago focused on cultural development and neighborhood transformation through projects that promote and honor Black leadership, history and creativity.