This year at the American Black Film Festival (ABFF), an annual event dedicated to showcasing film and television content by and about people of African descent, filmmaker Ayoka Cheniza was awarded with the 2018 Kathleen Collins Innovator Award. Chenzira was presented with the accolade on Saturday June 16th, at a talkback panel (Black Women and Experimental Storytelling: Emerging Technologies and Innovations in Cinema) held at the Betsy Hotel in Miami Beach. The event also featured a screening of selected works from all the 2018 Kathleen Collins Innovators – of which there are a total of three. Alongside Cheniza were fellow panelists: Natalie Bullock Brown (filmmaker and scholar best known for Baartman and Beyoncé & Me, and Taura Musgrove, a multimedia filmmaker known to audiences for her project Freedom Fighter. The event was organized by Daughters of Eve which is headed by sisters Terri Prettyman Bowles and Michele Prettyman Beverly, and sponsored by Facebook.

Chenzira’s pioneer award marked the recognition of her body of work by the American Black Film Festival (ABFF), now in its 22nd year. Since its inception in 1997, the festival has made it a point to support the work and talent of both emerging and pioneering artists, while also fostering a wider range of images, stories and storytellers represented in the entertainment industry. With approximately 10,000 attendees each year, and five action packed days of films, engaging panels, networking events, the ABFF is considered the nation’s largest gathering of Black film and TV enthusiasts. This year the event will take place in Miami Beach, from June 13-17, 2018.

Chenzira, an independent and pioneering African American filmmaker, has earned international acclaim for her work in experimental, fiction, documentary, animation, and cross-genre productions.

Chenzira is most recognized for her film work that addresses marginality and invisibility on screen in American cinema, and the representations of existing social norms around race, class and gender. Among her most noteworthy work are pieces featured on her iconic collection of the Black Indie Classics (Volume I) – which was re-released this past February 2018. Ayoka’s beautifully assembled two-disc boxed set four of Ayoka’s early critically acclaimed and award-winning films including one of the first 35mm features to be written, directed and produced by an African American female filmmaker, Alma’s Rainbow (1993), a coming-of-age comedy-drama about a young Black girl growing up in Brooklyn, and satire short Hair Piece: A Film for Nappyheaded People (1984), that taps into how identities are mediated, the politics of the natural hair movement, and growing up Black in urban America. These films have been recognized for their ability to critically explore female agency and self-image, as well as the lived experiences of marginalized women.

In considering her body of work Chenzira notes, “I am always experimenting with the moving image and considering new approaches to storytelling. This interest has taken various forms: creating an animated film that combines traditional cell animation with applications for Apple’s first desktop computer, embedding motion pictures into sculptural forms, or interactive cinema that is projected on to a building. However, these and other explorations are connected to my desire to centralize the voices of African American women, an audience whose stories I first heard and fell in love with in my mother’s beauty parlor.”

Most recently, Chenzira was tapped by award-winning writer, producer, and director Ava DuVernay, to direct a season three episode of the beloved television series, Queen Sugar. This marked Chenzira’s primetime television directorial debut.

Currently, Chenzira is a professor at Spelman College where she is the Division Chair of the Arts.

Ayoka Chenzira of AYOmentary Productions is a filmmaker, digital media artist and transmedia storyteller who has been producing work since the later 1970’s.


To learn more about Ayoka Chenzira and her pioneering work for which she is being recognized, visit her website at

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