Oge Egbuonu On Her Directorial Debut, ‘(In)Visible Portraits’
Reclaim your story.
International Women’s Month is dedicated to celebrating the social, economic, political, and cultural achievements of women around the world. We’re celebrating by highlighting women, like Oge Egbuonu, who are breaking down stereotypes and inspiring women to see themselves in a bolder light.
Oge Egbuonu knew when she was a young girl that she wanted to make an impact. Born to Nigerian parents, Egbuonu grew up in Texas and then relocated to Los Angeles where she found herself embracing her passion for restorative yoga. After becoming a yoga teacher she took on a client who also happened to be a producer. It was this fateful meeting that led to her starting her career at Raindog Films, a production company founded by Ged Doherty and Colin Firth. Egbuonu went on to work as a producer for “Loving” and “Eye in the Sky” before stepping into her own light to direct films of her own. She’s now able to use her own unique voice and focus on her own method of storytelling, one that’s rooted in her identity as a black woman.
Egbuonu wanted to create a love letter for Black women while simultaneously re-educating the general public through the documentary “(In)visible Portraits.” She set out on a three-year journey to craft and uplight the stories of dozens of everyday Black women to help amplify their voices. Egbuonu’s directorial debut aims to reclaim the narrative of Black women through their own words and perspectives.
“(In)visible Portraits” premiered March 2, 2021, on OWN, following its self-release on Juneteenth last summer. We caught up with Egbuonu to discuss the film’s inception, redirecting a path following rejection, and how her film breaks down stereotypes to tell the stories of the everyday Black woman.
To go back to the beginning, what drew you toward becoming an independent filmmaker?
It actually fell into my lap. I had no idea that I would be creating films. All I knew, since I was a little girl, was that I wanted to have a huge impact on the world, but I didn’t know the avenue. When filmmaking presented itself to me, initially I was nervous. I eventually said yes to the opportunity knowing that the goal was to be able to tell stories that were disruptive but inspirational and the only way to do that was as an independent artist/filmmaker.
In your own words, how would you describe “(In)Visible Portraits?”
(In)Visible Portrait is a poetic documentary that explores the historical othering of Black women in America. It unveils the history of how we got here, dismantles the false framework of present-day reality, and celebrates the beautiful and extraordinary heritage of Black women.
What led to the decision to self-release the film Juneteenth 2020?
If I’m being honest, rejection leads to redirection. I got tired of hearing the same rejection over and over, so I took it into my own hands to self-distribute the film. I wanted to show folks why this film is important and also show the world how to market films that reflect Black women. As a result, when I was thinking about the release date, Juneteenth just felt right. I couldn’t think of a better day to celebrate Black women than on a day that celebrates Black freedom.
How long was the film in the making? What was the process like researching the documentary and conducting these raw interviews?
The film was about three years in making, and the process for researching the documentary and conducting the interviews was very much an unconventional one. I went through nine months of research – six days a week, fourteen-hour days. I would spend my days reading articles and books written by or about Black women. I would be in archive centers and libraries researching thoroughly the experience and history of Black women. It was a very raw and challenging time for me, so when it came to the production and the interviews, it was really about cultivating a space that allowed these women to feel safe enough to share their vulnerabilities. It was important to me to gather a crew of all women that would help me cultivate that. It took a minute for me to find that, but eventually, I was able to bring together an all-women crew who helped me cultivate a safe space for the film subjects to share their stories.
The documentary gives an intimate look into the lives and experiences of dozens of subjects. What was the driving force behind wanting to tell the stories of these women?
It was just that; I just wanted to share their stories. It was really important to me to share the stories of Black women that were not celebrities. I sought the stories of Black women who we label as “everyday women”, but also share the stories of Black women who have dedicated their lives to our collective healing, Black women who were scholars and historians, and authors. I wanted this documentary to feel relatable, and I wanted the everyday Black woman and girls to see themselves in this story.
Was there a mission you set out to accomplish through this documentary?
The mission was for Black women to see themselves and to feel valued, appreciated, seen, and heard. As I’ve said before, my intention in creating this was for it to serve as a love letter to Black women and a reeducation for everyone else.
What are the takeaways you’re looking for audiences to take after watching the film?
There are so many takeaways. One takeaway is that I want Black women to know our story doesn’t end in defeat but victory. I want them to know that they are worthy of their heart’s desires. Nevertheless, if I tell stories well, people will leave asking themselves better questions, and as a result, they will do the internal and external work that’s necessary to create a world that’s equitable for all, and one that allows Black women to show up as their unapologetic, beautiful selves.
What’s next for you as a filmmaker? Do you have plans to continue to uplift Black women through stories?
Whatever I do will always be rooted in uplifting Black folks, especially Black women and girls. So I will always tell our stories and the stories of the BIPOC community, the queer community, the disabled community. Every medium of storytelling that I implore, whether it’s through the realms of filmmaking or through authoring a book, or through creating art exhibits, it’s for me to uplift those voices. I will always do that.
In what way do you hope that this documentary will rē•spin the way society views black women?
I hope that this documentary is seen as Black women taking back the narrative. My hope is that Black women remember that we are inherently powerful, and in that remembrance empowering us to tell our stories and continue to fight for our liberation. I hope this documentary respins the way we, as Black women, view ourselves because that’s where the power lies, in us knowing that we are inherently divine and that we are inherently worthy of telling our stories.
One of the core pillars at rē•spin is GIVE. You recently launched a Mutual Aid Effort to support Black women in need through a $500 donation. Can you touch on what led the team to launch this initiative as well as the importance of giving back?
What caused me to launch this initiative was just being attuned to what is happening in our current present-day reality. There are so many folks experiencing hardships right now: we are in the midst of an economic crisis, a global pandemic, and experiencing unnatural disasters…and there are so many folks, particularly Black women, who are in desperate need of care right now. When I think about Mutual Aid, it’s really just about cultivating a system of care and solidarity. So when I was thinking about a way that I could care for Black women, what came to mind was being able to redistribute wealth, which is all Mutual Aid really is. It’s the least I can do at the moment, but I’m grateful to be able to be a vessel to give back in such a powerful way.