“Unapologetic” directed by Ashely O’Shay

The Sisters in Cinema Documentary Fellowship Program was launched in the Fall of 2019 with support from Chicago Women’s Foundation LBTQ Giving Council. 

The program recipients received a financial award for the production of a documentary film. They also received fiscal sponsorship and individually tailored mentorship focused on both professional and project development. As the first year came to a close it became clear that a one-year program was not enough to support the fellows at the start of their careers. 

Sisters in Cinema has decided to pilot a modification of the program so that it continues with the fellows throughout their careers. That means Sisters in Cinema Documentary Fellows will always be Fellows from acceptance into the program until retirement from the field. 

Inspired by the Mellon-Mays Undergraduate Fellowship  initiative to increase diversity in the faculty ranks of institutions of higher learning through support to prospective PhD students when they are college students and continued support throughout their academic and professional careers, the Sisters in Cinema Fellowship will be a similar intervention to increase diversity in the documentary film industry.

In year two of the fellowship new fellows are selected through a confidential nomination and application process. Industry professionals will be invited to nominate a Black woman or gender nonconforming individual to participate in the program. Nominees will be invited to apply. Three new fellows will be selected. They will join the fellows from the first program to create an expanded cohort in February 2021.  

All fellows will receive a $5,000 development grant for their documentary film projects, fiscal sponsorship and individually tailored mentorship focused on both professional and project development.

Filmmakers Cai Thomas, Luchina Fisher, and Ashley O’Shay tell stories centered at the intersection of race, gender, and social justice. Two films capture the untold narratives of Black women activists fighting for themselves and their communities at large. Luchina Fisher’s Mama Gloria tells the story of Gloria Allen, a trailblazing 74-year-old black transgender woman who transitioned before Stonewall, and started a charm school for homeless transgender youth in her 60s. Ashley O’Shay’s Unapologetic focuses on Janaé and Bella, two Black, queer women organizers and provides an intimate peek into the personal and political battles that have transformed the city of Chicago. In her documentary short Queenie, Cai Thomas tells the story of a housing insecure lesbian elder.


Documentary Fellows