Still Standing: A Conversation with Ayoka Chenzira


May 20, 2024

Ayoka Chenzira embodies the ideal of a director with a wide range. Her films call to mind a quote by the great science-fiction author Octavia Butler, another Black woman who took it upon herself to imagine new worlds: “Every story I create creates me. I write to create myself.”

In the process of constantly challenging herself to explore new forms over the course of her career, Chenzira has amassed a body of work that consists of documentaries, stop-motion animation, and a narrative feature. Her journey began in her mother’s beauty parlor, where she was surrounded by the beauty of women from different walks of life. These childhood experiences instilled in her a desire to tell the stories of this community. After enrolling at NYU Film School in the 1970s, she found herself swept up in the Black independent film scene of New York City, which placed her in the midst of legendary women like historian and curator Pearl Bowser and filmmakers Julie Dash and Kathleen Collins, the latter of whom became a mentor to Chenzira.

In this conversation, which accompanies a collection of her films now playing on the Criterion Channel, we talk about Chenzira’s creative influences, the pride she takes in supporting the next generation of Black women filmmakers through her work as an educator, and her adventurous forays into multimedia projects and science fiction.

Zajota and the Boogie Spirit 
Syvilla: They Dance to Her Drum
Alma’s Rainbow

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