June 28, 2023

For Contact:
Darah Gaines Martin, Communications & Development Coordinator 

Sisters in Cinema Awards Over $330,000 to Black Women Filmmakers

CHICAGO, IL (June  28, 2023) – Sisters in Cinema, a Chicago based 501(c)3 non-profit with an inclusive mission to center and celebrate Black girls, women, and gender non-conforming media makers, announced today their 2023-2024 cohort for the Sisters in Cinema Documentary Fellowship, an initiative created to support Black women and gender nonconforming non-fiction directors through their entire career as media makers.

In 2023 – 2024 Sisters in Cinema will grant over $330,000 to Black women filmmakers through a range of programs. They include the Sisters in Cinema Documentary Fellowship, the Sisters in Cinema Apprenticeship Program and Sisters in Cinema Productions.

Five Documentary Fellows, Moya Bailey, Latoya Flowers, Arlieta Hall, India Martin and Whitney Spencer will each receive a $10,000 grant for their documentary film projects, fiscal sponsorship and individually tailored mentorship, which focuses on both professional and project development.

The new cohort of fellows use their art to feature issues such as discrimination against Black women within healthcare (Moya Bailey, Misogynoir in Medicine), the US epidemic of missing Black women and girls (Latoya Flowers, Still Searching), the healing effects of laughter in the face of Alzheimer’s (Arlieta Hall, Finding Your Laughter), the untold, tender narratives of queer and chosen families, (India Martin, Out of Focus) and the underrepresented archives of Black feminist history (Whitney Spencer, Untitled Combahee River Collective Project). 

Elodie Edjang (Queer Christians) was also selected in this cycle as a Sisters in Cinema Documentary Fellowship Finalist. She will receive a $2,500 production grant for her film which grapples with queer Christian identity.

The Sisters in Cinema Documentary fellowship was launched in the Fall of 2019. Returning Documentary Fellows, Luchina Fisher, Crystal Kayiza, and Débora Souza Silva, create projects that center the intersection of race, gender, and social justice. Each received $5,000 in funding. Souza Silva received a filmmaker sustainability grant, while Fisher received funds for her upcoming feature length documentary: The Untitled Gary Project, a love letter to her late brother, queer artist and writer Gary Fisher. Kayiza was awarded a grant to support her documentary feature debut, The Gardeners, which follows the Worthy Women of Watkins Street, keepers of one of the oldest Black cemeteries in Mississippi.  

Originally a year-long fellowship, Sisters in Cinema modified the program so that each fellow can continue in the fellowship throughout their careers—receiving grant funding and creative support as their careers evolve. Along with the tenure status, Sisters in Cinema modified location requirements for the 2023 – 2024 cohort, with all of the selected filmmakers being based in Chicago. 

“It is with great excitement that we welcome our new 2023-2024 Sisters in Cinema Documentary Fellowship cohort of incredible storytellers and thinkers.” said Yvonne Welbon, CEO & Founder of Sisters in Cinema. “In celebration of the opening of our Sisters in Cinema Media Arts Center in the Fall, we decided to shine a spotlight on Chicago filmmakers with this cohort and provide support to local talent.” 

The Sisters in Cinema Documentary Fellowship program is made possible with support from Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE), The MacArthur Foundation and The Ford Foundation. 

Thanks to a grant from the Center for the Study of Race, Politics, and Culture, Sisters in Cinema will expand its Apprenticeship Program originally launched in 2022 with a grant from Field of Vision. The apprenticeship program will support an emerging filmmaker who will work with director Tracye Matthews on her upcoming Unfinished Black Adoption Story feature documentary debut.

Founder & CEO, Yvonne Welbon was awarded a $250,000 artist grant from the City of Chicago’s Together We Heal Creative Place Program (TWH) for her project South Shore Remembers in collaboration with Sisters in Cinema and Sisters in Cinema Productions.

TWH focuses on communities disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and systemic racism. “With this support I’m excited about creating intentional work centering Black women and gender nonconforming individuals that also centers healing and transformation within our communities,” said Welbon.

South Shore Remembers is a multi-media art and social justice project inspired by oral histories of South Shore community members past and present with a special focus on the LGBTQ+ community. 

The Sisters in Cinema Documentary Fellowship, the Sisters in Cinema Apprenticeship Program and Sisters in Cinema Productions projects all fall under the umbrella of Sisters in Cinema’s Workforce Development Programs, designed to help manifest Sisters in Cinema’s vision of a world where Black women, girls and gender nonconforming media makers have equal opportunities to create and thrive. 

2023-2024 Sisters in Cinema Documentary Fellows

Moya Bailey (Chicago, IL)

Bailey is an Associate Professor at Northwestern University and is the founder of the Digital Apothecary and co-founder of the Black Feminist Health Science Studies Collective. Her work focuses on marginalized groups’ use of digital media to promote social justice, and she is interested in how race, gender, and sexuality are represented in media and medicine. She is the digital alchemist for the Octavia E. Butler Legacy Network and the Board President of Allied Media Projects, a Detroit-based movement media organization that supports an ever-growing network of activists and organizers. She is a co-author of #HashtagActivism: Networks of Race and Gender Justice (MIT Press, 2020) and is the author of Misogynoir Transformed: Black Women’s Digital Resistance (New York University Press, 2021). Moya’s current project Misogynoir in Medicine focuses on discrimination against Black women in the healthcare system through conversations with Black women healthcare providers, patients, and activists.

Latoya Flowers (Chicago, IL)

Latoya is a Senior Multimedia Creative at the Field Museum in Chicago, where she collaborates with exhibit designers, content developers, illustrators, motion graphic artists, lighting designers and music composers to create immersive projection mapping and multimedia installations for traveling and permanent exhibitions. Latoya graduated from the School of Visual Arts and received an MFA in Social Documentary Film. She’s currently directing and producing her first feature-length documentary Still Searching, supported by the Hulu / Kartemquin Films Accelerator Program, Still I Rise Films Fellowship, and Chicago Filmmakers.

Arlieta Hall (Chicago, IL)

Arlieta Hall is a host, actress, improviser, stand-up comedian, writer, and first-time filmmaker from Chicago. She is a Second City NBC Bob Curry Fellowship recipient. She recently co-starred as Sadie on Showtime’s episodic series The CHI and is a co- producer of the comedy variety show My Best Friend is Black. Next up, she is a writer and performer in Second City’s 2023 Black Excellence Revue. Finding Your Laughter is her first film.

India Martin (Chicago, IL)

Working in photography, film and production, India Martin is a visual artist, exploring queer & Black life and visibility. She produces visual art and cultural experiences that transcend place and space by creating serene landscapes and by capturing tender moments. India’s current work is focused on creating and preserving still and moving images that show Black and queer people taking in moments of tranquility, joy, and rest. Her purpose is to co-imagine a liberated future where humanizing and accurate images of Black and queer people are not only accessible but are normalized. India’s latest project Out of Focus fuses home movies, historic footage and experimental techniques to tell the unique stories of queer families.

Whitney Spencer (Chicago, IL)

Whitney A. Spencer is a writer, educator, and filmmaker born and raised in Louisville, Kentucky, who now calls Chicago home. She has a master’s degree in Critical Ethnic Studies from DePaul University, where her multimedia thesis project focused on the community-generated intellectual practices of Black/Brown youth activists and organizers (based on her 2018 TEDx talk, “Reimagining the Intellectual”). Whitney is currently the director of Marketing and Distribution at Kartemquin Films where she helps filmmakers find and share the stories of their films while cultivating audiences. She strives to create in the tradition of the great Octavia Butler – “Tell stories filled with facts. Make people touch and taste and know. Make people Feel! Feel! Feel!” The Untitled Combahee River Collective project that Whitney will work on throughout the fellowship will uncover and honor the lasting work of the Combahee River Collective and their seminal statement.

2019 and 2021 Sisters in Cinema Documentary Fellow Grant Awardees

Luchina Fisher (New Fairfield, CT)

Luchina Fisher is an award-winning director, producer and writer whose work is at the intersection of race, gender and identity. Her feature directorial debut Mama Gloria is a 2022 GLAAD Media Award nominee, won numerous festival jury awards, and made its broadcast debut on World channel and PBS. Her film, the short documentary Team Dream won the Audience Choice Award for Best Short Film at the Chicago International Film Festival, Best Documentary at the TIDE Film Festival and aired on BET in March. Luchina recently co-directed her second feature about the barriers to Black homeownership, Locked Out, and her new documentary short The Dads, about six dads of trans and LGBTQ kids on a weekend fishing trip, premiered at SXSW and is set to stream on Netflix later this year. Fisher is the director of two scripted short films and has written and produced several nationally broadcast documentaries, including two episodes of the History channel series with President Bill Clinton. Her work has been supported by Black Public Media, the Field Foundation, Sisters in Cinema, Brown Girl Doc Mafia, the Queen Collective, the Athena Film Festival’s Works in Progress Program, Firelight Media and the National Endowment for the Humanities. She also teaches documentary filmmaking at Yale University.

Crystal Kayiza (Brooklyn, NY)

Crystal Kayiza was raised in Oklahoma and is now a Brooklyn-based filmmaker. named one of Filmmaker Magazine’s “25 new faces of independent film,” she is a recipient of the Sundance Ignite Fellowship, Creative Culture Woman Filmmaker Fellowship and Sisters in Cinema Documentary Fellowship. Crystal is the recipient of the 2022 Documentary Development Initiative Grant in partnership with HBO Documentary Films and The Gotham. Crystal was the winner of the 2020 Tribeca Through Her Lens grant with her film Rest Stop, which premiered at the 2022 Toronto International Film Festival and was awarded the jury prize for best US Short Film at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival. Her short, See You Next Time, was an official selection of the 2020 Sundance Film Festival and released by the New Yorker.  Her film, Edgecombe, was an official selection of the 2019 Sundance Film Festival and was distributed by POV.  She is currently working on her first feature non-fiction film. The Gardeners received the 2021 Creative Capital Award.

Débora Souza Silva (Oakland, CA)

Débora Souza Silva is a documentary filmmaker whose work examines systemic racism and inequality. Her work has been featured on PBS, BBC, The NYT, and Fusion. She is a recipient of the Creative Capital Award, a Chicken & Egg Pictures’ Egg(celerator) Lab grantee, and a Firelight Media Documentary Lab fellow. Her work has also been funded by Sundance Institute, Tribeca Film Institute, Fork Films, Catapult Film Fund, Berkeley Film Foundation, Sisters in Cinema, California Film Institute, and Cal Humanities, among other organizations. Black Mothers Love & Resist, her debut feature documentary, follows the mothers behind the Black Lives Matter Movement. Débora is the co-director of her most recent film Sol In The Garden which follows a formerly incarcerated woman who catches the sun as she nourishes a garden with her new community.

2023 Sisters in Cinema Documentary Fellowship Finalist Grantee

Elodie Edjang (Chicago, IL)

Elodie Edjang is the director and producer of Queer Christians, a non-fiction piece exploring the intersecting lives of queer Evangelical Christian women of color. She is a documentary-based multi-disciplinary artist. She specializes in short-form content, non-traditional portraits, and blending narrative and documentary techniques. Previously, Elodie served as the lead video editor for Local Legend Films, a Chicago- based production company, and was selected as a 2019 NeXt Doc Fellow, a fellowship for emerging filmmakers of color. Elodie currently serves as the co-chair of the mentorship committee for the Alliance of Documentary Editors. Her latest short documentary Book of Daniel screened at the Tacoma Film Festival, Black Harvest Film Festival, and Block Cinema of Art. Elodie is currently co-directing a short documentary about Kartemquin Films co-founder Gordon Quinn. Elodie holds an MFA in Documentary Media from Northwestern University and earned a B.A. in Anthropology and a B.A.J. in Advertising from the University of Georgia. 

The Sisters in Cinema Apprenticeship Program

Unfinished Black Adoption Story (working title) is an experimental documentary film about three Black women, friends for 30+ years, whose lives are forever and profoundly altered by adoption.

In 1966, I was adopted from the Florence Crittenton Home in Detroit by a Black couple—Mildred and Sylvester.  One of my closest friends, whom I met while in college, was also adopted from Crittenton by another Black couple in Detroit ten years before me. A mutual close friend from our same graduate school adopted a Black child with her Black partner. These are our stories, in part, but also pieces of stories of some of the thousands of Black people who have intimate experiences with adoption, whether through formal, informal, kinship, or some other form of chosen family arrangement. Twenty years ago, I began this film project asking, where are our media stories? Why is adoption so difficult for Black communities to discuss; shrouded in secrecy, trauma, or misinformation; or overshadowed by stories about white people adopting Black kids? Twenty years later, I’m still grappling with my own questions, struggling to understand why I can’t finish this film. 

Tracye A. Matthews (Chicago, IL)

Director Tracye A. Matthews is a historian, curator, and filmmaker working within and between the realms of academia, public history, museums and documentary film.  Most recently, she produced the Academy Award© shortlisted documentary short, ’63 Boycott, with Kartemquin Films.  She is currently Executive Director of the Center for the Study of Race, Politics and Culture at the University of  Chicago, where she was a past Mellon Postdoctoral Teaching Fellow.  Previously, Dr. Matthews served as a public historian at the Chicago History Museum and an assistant professor in Africana Studies at the University of Massachusetts-Boston. She is a co-founder of the Intersectional Black Panther Party History Project; an advisory board member of Sisters in Cinema; and co-convenor of the Mass Incarceration Working Group @UChicago.

About Sisters in Cinema

Sisters in Cinema was founded in 1997 as an online resource for and about African American women media makers. Today we are a Chicago based 501(c)3 non-profit with an inclusive mission to center and celebrate Black girls, women, and gender non-conforming media makers, providing programs designed to educate, raise visibility, and support and serve our communities.

We envision a world where all Black girls, women and gender non-conforming media makers and storytellers have equal opportunities to create and thrive.

Media Assets Folder *Photos: Courtesy of Sisters in Cinema