In 1976, an extraordinary group of Black feminist artists and activists organized the first ever Black women’s film festival: the Sojourner Truth Festival of the Arts. Films by Michelle Parkerson, Ayoka Chenzira, Edie Lynch, and Madeline Anderson, among others, were screened.  The festival was simultaneously a celebration of the emerging world of Black women’s filmmaking as well as a radical call for the kinds of socio-political and institutional changes necessary for a Black women’s film culture to thrive. Four decades later, the Sojourner Truth Festival of the Arts, 2023 commemorates the 1976 festival with a nine-week screening series, held in conjunction with Professor Allyson Nadia Field’s winter 2023 course “Creating a Different Image: Black Women’s Filmmaking of the 1970s-90s,” and a two-day symposium about the original festival and the tradition of Black feminist filmmaking. For more information, visit

This final program foregrounds Black female interiority. S. Pearl Sharp’s Back Inside Herself (1984) is a visual poem on identity and the assertion of a sense of self, starring the magnetic Barbara O. Jones. In Zeinabu irene Davis’s Cycles (1989), a young woman performs African-based purification rituals as she awaits her period. Visually experimental, especially in its use of stop-motion sequences, the film also features music from throughout the African diaspora, resulting in a unique film language that honors African American women. Melvonna Ballenger’s Rain (Nyesha) (1978), set to a soulful John Coltrane soundtrack, traces the political awakening of one woman. Fronza Woods first short film Killing Time (1979), in which she also stars, is an offbeat, wryly humorous look at the dilemma of a would-be suicide unable to find the right outfit to die in. Aarin Burch’s Dreams of Passion, set in a dance studio, explores desire between two Black women; her following film, Spin Cycle (1989), takes an autobiographical look at Burch’s own love affairs and filmmaking aspirations. Yvonne Welbon’s short film Monique (1991) muses on memory. Reflecting on a childhood experience of racism, Welbon considers how racism is deeply ingrained in the fabric of society, pervasive enough to even inflect or infect children’s play. Cauleen Smith’s Chronicles of a Lying Spirit (by Kelly Gabron) (1989) is a collage of voices, images, and scrolling text that acts as a meditation on Black history and its portrayal in media. Q&A with filmmakers moderated by Yvonne Welbon. (16mm and digital video, 64 min.)

Back Inside Herself courtesy of Cinenovo. Cycles and Rain (Nyesha) courtesy of UCLA Film and Television Archive. Killing Time courtesy of the Academy Film Archive and Women Make Movies. Chronicles of a Lying Spirit (by Kelly Gabron) courtesy of Canyon Cinema.

Presented by the Film Studies Center, Sisters in Cinema, and South Side Projections.