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Terra Renee on How She Authored a Chapter in Book About Michelle Obama

Terra Renee shares her thoughts on Michelle Obama, as well as, how African American Women in Cinema is helping black women filmmakers

Interview Transcription:

Kizzy: Black women trying to create their own films often find the doors of opportunity shut to them. But our guest today, Terra Renee, has broken down those doors and created a space for other black women to walk through. Her company African-American Women in Cinema has been around since 1996, and she's here with us today to talk about that and the chapter in a new book called Michelle Obama's Impact on African-American Women and Girls.
Welcome, Terra.

Terra Renee: Thank you. Thank you so much for having me. I really appreciate being here.

Kizzy: And, we're honored to have you, so we just want to jump right into the book and how did your chapter in this book come about?

Onika: Yeah, how did that happen?

Terra: Well, here's the story. I received a pass to attend the United Nations; it was actually a three-month pass to attend some events and on the last day, I started not to go. But I went on the last day and there was a program there that caught my attention. So, I went to the program, fabulous program. And, there I met the great-granddaughter of Ida B. Wells.

Kizzy: Oh my God.

Onika: What was her name?

Terra Renee: Michelle Duster. And so, she was equally excited about meeting me, as I was of her. She told me that she had a deal to write a book about Michelle Obama and her effect and on African American girls and women. And, I was just blown away and she said well, we would love to have your participation.

Kizzy: That's amazing.

Terra Renee: I was shocked and I said, okay, well, I'll try and I wrote something. Several months later, I got an email saying that it was accepted and I was blown away.

Onika: Oh my God.

Terra Renee: And here's the fruit of it.

Onika: So what, what, is her effect on you?

Terra Renee: Mmm, Michelle Obama, her, wow, without giving away too much what I wrote about. First of all, it was an honor to have someone like Michelle Obama as the first lady, her class, or style, as a mother, as a wife, as a woman of who, just I mean, just very intelligent. It was just wonderful to see her on that particular platform and being positive. So, I wrote about some of the unique effects that it had on me as her being in the office, one of which was it appeared that it gave some people permission yo say oh, you're beautiful. Oh, I love the hairstyle you wore, the outfit you have. Because let's face it, Michelle Obama is a fashionista.

Onika: Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes.

Terra Renee: So, it was it was an amazing time. Pleasant eight years of just that level of power and confidence being displayed on that level.

Kizzy: right?

Onika: And, being her, just being her, flawed and all.

Kizzy: And, it’s called the Beauty of Michelle Obama, that's what your chapter is called, and you guys gotta pick it up.

Onika: Where can we find the book?

Terra Renee: Right now, it is available online, so you can go to Amazon. And also, if you send me an email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Onika: Say that again slowly for our viewers.

Terra Renee: You can send me an email at info@AAWICdot-org, we will make sure that you can get the link and can purchase your copy.

Onika: Yes. Everyone gets your link.

Kizzy: Right, exactly, exactly. I'm glad you mentioned AAWIC because we got to talk about that too, since 1996, So, we're talking about 22-years.

Terra Renee: Well, actually, 1997. It was an idea and a concept that was birthed out of, supposedly, it was only going to be a one-time event and it came about due to lack of opportunities of women of color in entertainment. And, I wanted to change that. Just so young, and so green, when I got called for an audition that Warner Brothers was shooting a motion picture…

Onika: Because you're an actress.

Terra Renee: Well, I kind of dibbled and dabbled in it. So, they wanted a tall African American woman who was not a size zero for an under-five role and when I got to the audition site, I was blown away to see about a thousand women who fit the bill. And, I said to myself, I got to create jobs.

Onika: That’s what you said to yourself that you got to create jobs? Most people would say, this is too many bitches!!!
Laughter

Kizzy: That would be the exact words.

Laughter

Kizzy: Wow, so you were like thinking in those terms. But didn’t you think about, maybe the obstacles that you would have come up against? Did that ever enter your mind at all?.

Terra Renee: No, no. Just young, ambitious; always had a mindset of wanting to help where there was a need and that's just been in the family line. I had an uncle who marched with Dr. King and was arrested and all that. So, that's always been in the blood. I just see a need and try to fix it. I had no idea what was to come. 

Kizzy: Okay, so you tried to put together that very first film festival, how did that come together?

Terra Renee: Well, actually it was through, well, let me say this and get right to that point. So, in wanting to create jobs for women of color, I wrote a screenplay and that was my way of creating jobs.

Onika: What was it called?

Terra Renee: Oh gosh, it was so long ago.

Laughter

Onika: You remember your first screenplay.

Terra Renee: Actually, it was called Troubled Woman. Yeah, yeah, Troubled Woman. So from there, friends of mine encouraged me to apply for a grant and I didn't want to do it because I did not want to put all that work and effort into it only to be rejected. But, I did it anyway and I ended up getting the grant.

Kizzy: Nice.

Terra Renee: And, there I met a young lady who wanted to be my publicist. When I got the grant, in the letter says we're doing an awards luncheon and you have to come down and pick up your check. So that's their way of making sure everyone come to the luncheon. So when I went there, met the young lady who wanted to be my publicist and out of that meeting, which was only supposed to be a one-time event and I said, okay, I'll call it African-American Women in Cinema. The whole purpose of it was to bring attention and resources so I can fulfill my dream of hiring women in Industry.

Kizzy: Wow.

Terra Renee: But what happened was, women from everywhere came when we launched it, and I said this is a need and I think that this is my calling and what I'm supposed to be doing. And years later, many awards that I didn't even plan or even had the hindsight to see. For example, Woman of the Year from the NAACP.

Onika: That was amazing. Wow.
United States Postal Stamp Hattie McDaniel award and then going to Paris November last year to receive the African Leadership Award in partnership with the Nelson Mandela Institute.

Kizzy: Wow that is amazing.

Onika: What a wonderful journey and such a humble spirit. you come across meek and humble. What a humble spirit.

Kizzy: Very true, you come across very humble.

Onika: We’re sitting with the queen.

Kizzy: Absolutely. In terms of you’re talking about all these awards and all those accolades and stuff like that. Is there, is there something in particular that stands out where you said, oh my God, I cannot believe this is happening right now?

Terra Renee: Well, actually when I went to Paris. I could not believe that I was on a plane, going into this major award ceremony attended by world leaders, was the only woman to receive an award and the award is beautiful. It is like this tall, gold…

Kizzy: And, the name of the award again is?

Terra Renee: The African Leadership Award.

Kizzy: Wow

Terra Renee: For best female manager. That's the title that they gave me really and I was just blown away. But the mission that I set out to do begin slowly, but surely, being accomplished. We were able to offer several years ago filmmakers distribution deals.

Kizzy: Oh, wow, that's a game changer.

Terra Renee: Well it started when the whole, Oscar So White protest jumped off. Yeah, I started getting emails and calls, being contacted by institutions that realize their catalog was not diversified enough and with the name of African American Women in Cinema, we can't get no more diverse than that.

Onika: So how do we partner?

Terra Renee: So that phone call, it was very interesting. So, we end up partnering with the organization called Shorts TV whose founder is a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences based in London

Onika: Nice, okay.

Terra Renee: And he offered through his colleague a deal where the filmmakers’ films will be licensed and paid in both Euros as well as US dollars for their film.

Kizzy: Oh, that's amazing. So, you know you're talking about, you know, doing all of these things and you know, seeing a need and filling that need. But the game has changed. It’s changed in the past 20 years or so. How have you seen that kind of change, you know the kinds of films you're getting and how you run your business?

Terra Renee: Well, the whole technical technology really opened up a lot of doors because back when we started, you know even editing was a major and very expensive process.

Onika: Yes, it’s still real tedious right now. Like I'm having issues right now.

Terra Renee: And then at the time, once you splice your film pieces together and the sound, you know, just making sure all that was in sync then it was trying to get a distribution deal.

Onika: Yeah.

Terra Renee: And a lot of the filmmakers that we had at the time, either four-walled a theater or they just had private screenings in different venues like a church, things of that nature. And, then they did the festival circuit and really, you know, tried to drive traffic and promotion around that. But, now since you can upload it and drive traffic to your YouTube channel and things of that nature, that has changed a lot.

Onika: It's still hard though.

Terra Renee: It is hard. You're right because you know, even though the guards were at the door when we started, making sure only a few filmmakers got a major distribution deal, there is a changing of the guard, but it's still a process, it’s still a process. The thing about technology though, if you're able to get a lot of Buzz that can kind of help it a little bit.

Kizzy: Right, exactly.

Onika: But getting the buzz is a thing, especially when you're trying to do stuff, decently, because ratchet sells.

Kizzy: Right!

Onika: Ratchet, naked.

Kizzy: Yeah, it really does.

Terra Renee: The other thing that we do, we’ve been very fortunate to carve out a platform during the Sundance Film Festival.
And so we did that actually a couple years ago. I met up with Leslie Harris, who I love and she said Terra, it's almost my 25th anniversary of Just Another Girl on the IRT and I couldn't believe it was that long right? So we went back to Sundance where she won the Jury, the first African American woman to win a Jury Prize (at Sundance) and we did the screening there and it was so well-received. So, it afforded us a relationship and then this year, we screened our first-ever faith-based film. Oh, it starred Clifton Powell, Traci Braxton Roland Martin.

Onika: Oh nice

Terra Renee: Special cameo of Tasha Cobbs and Lamman Rucker.

Onika: Nice. Oh my goodness.

Terra Renee: And the venue, they loved it so much, we actually ended up winning an award for the best program during the Sundance Film Festival.

Kizzy: Wow. That is so amazing.

Onika: That's big. Oh my God.

Terra Renee: So now we preparing to go next year.

Kizzy: Okay, that's was going to be my next question.

Terra Renee: Yes, okay, and we have a great, great film that we're super excited about, deals with mental health.

Kizzy: Such an important thing right now.

Onika: Yeah, it is.

Terra Renee: Just got off the tour. We launched the anti-gun violence tour.

Kizzy: Yes, yes; I heard about that, you had your final stop here in Brooklyn.

Terra Renee: We are going to do a makeup stop in Chicago next month. But anyway, it was an eye-opener. Very insightful the films that we screen. I think even really encourage the audience to talk even more and what I found so amazing utilizing this medium of bringing or ushering or paving a way to usher in healing. That was one of the biggest things on this tour that I saw. There were people in the audience who were just living in trauma for years, afraid to speak but they felt comfortable in the environment that we created to speak up for the first time what they've been carrying for years.

Kizzy: So, how did you get involved with that big gun violence tour was that something that you said you just wanted to do?

Terra Renee: Well, but this year when we celebrate our 20th anniversary? One or two things that we did that was different and I wanted to intertwine it (social issues) in the festival.
When I went on CNN.com and saw African-American women save democracy, and this was the whole issue that took place in Alabama.

Onika: But that's it now. Yeah, all my white girlfriends say, you know, what's gonna save the world, black women. I said, we already saved it, you keep f*ucking it up. That’s the problem, we already saved it a couple of times. But, okay, we’re the New Black.

Terra Renee: So when I saw that article and was the whole Roy Moore thing. Yeah, and I said, you know, we need to do a keynote panel on the importance of voting so that our young people could understand their power. I don't think it's been really. Really, you know taught to them in that way.

Onika: And, get into local politics and become community organizers and stuff like that. There are so many black women are going into local politics. And, look at Tish James,

Terra Renee: We’re so proud of her.

Onika: Yes, Tish, is my girl; she was at my first event. I had this event, Politics in the City, and she came to speak. She was running for public advocate then. Now, I know the AG, I think somebody needs to bow down. I am so proud.

Terra Renee: Yes, very proud.

Onika: And once we get to the table, like pass the peas. we know what is need it because we've watched and guided for so long. We have ushered so many people to greatness and just sitting there like that is so great, say that, don't say that, that's enough. That’s us, that’s us. Oh, I am so glad that you are here. You have given me some superpower. oh my God. I can do all things in Christ and black ladies.

Terra Renee: Thank you. Thank you. So, we had the keynote panel and what really touched me was the young people that came and showed up. So we had leaders from the NAACP. And different other organizations that really imparted some words to them. And, subsequently during that time, unfortunately, was another mass shooting, the Parkland Park.

Kizzy: Oh my gosh. It's like so many so many, over, and over again.

Onika: Because of mental health.

Terra Renee: Yeah, but when I saw that the young people stood up and fought. I said we have to do something. So we outreached to our connections in a couple cities and said listen, we got to add our voice to this serious issue.

Kizzy: Wow, you're just kind of like that trailblazer, you see a need and then you fill it. That's amazing.

Terra Renee: Thank you. That went really well and it went so well and what really touched me was the level of support from the cities that we went to, the elected officials that came and participated and lent their voices and then we really got to see what was going on behind the scenes if you will. And, so now we're going to gather all that Intel, as we say and now put together a plan to see how we can even be of a greater effect going forward.

Kizzy: Wow. Wow. So, you’re partnering with people moving forward?

Terra Renee: Yes. Yes.

Onika: How do we assist, how do we assist at What’s The 411, let us know.

Terra Renee: Yes, definitely going to be, once we gather all our information and having everything structurized (ed) if you will; will definitely be reaching out. And saying let you know how you can be a part of we’d love to have you.

Kizzy: Oh my, God; there’s so much gun violence in our community that it is such an emergency.

Onika: We try to bring so much joy, but you know these things that are happening we have to talk about them.

Kizzy: Going forward now, 21 years going into 22 years. What can we expect from AAWIC?

Terra Renee: Well there's a lot that we're doing. We are preparing for our 21st annual film festival in March. It's going to be really, really good four days.

Onika: It's going to be in New York?

Terra Renee: It's going to be in New York City prior to that again Sundance. Looks like we're doing a new partnership for the Cannes Film Festival in May so working on that is amazing.

Kizzy: Okay. And so what does that partnership entail?

Terra Renee: Well, we're looking to actually work on the diversity matter out there and bringing forth women of color and their talents and showcasing them.

Kizzy: Right. Yes, important; again, diversity, diversity, diversity that matters. Representation.

Terra Renee: Yes.

Kizzy: Have you get have you got any pushback though? I know it's like you, you know, you're trying to push and you trying to leave the door open? But have you got any pushback from the industry to your efforts?

Terra Renee: Well, yes in a lot of sense, especially when we first started because you know, the industry is click, click, click. Cliquish. And so, when someone doesn't realize your value. And would not take the opportunity to get to know you and see there's an opportunity to partner and look at it as a win-win situation. It makes it a little harder to find those who will right, right?

Kizzy: Okay. So that was the biggest thing you kind of create those Partnerships.

Onika: So, now you have your tribe because you say “we” all the time you've not said “I” not one time, right, right? So now you have your tribe.

Terra Renee: Yeah long time coming, still working on a few things as always but excited.

Kizzy: Okay, so talk to us. Filmmaker, right now, black woman wanting to you know, push forth their film; how would they do that? What would your advice be to them?

Terra Renee: Well, I suggest that they certainly come to the film festival. They can meet and network because a lot of things happen in networking. Quick, quick story.

Onika: Yes, getting the, getting the lighting, getting the sound. It's all about who you started out because people do stuff on the strength. You like, you’re not going to charge me? No, no, no; I believe in the project. You, do? It's not as expensive as you think.

Terra Renee: Quick Story, one year we had Mr. Robert Townsend and he gave his workshop on how'd he made his first feature film. There was an inspiring actress in the audience. And so, after he told his story, she was inspired now to become a filmmaker. The same year, we honored Regina King. So she met Regina and somehow Regina felt comfortable enough to give her, her cell phone number. And, they connected, and; she ended up doing a short film starring Regina King and Jada Pinkett Smith.

Kizzy: What, look at God.

Onika: How much are those tickets?

Terra Renee: Going to these events is worth the while right? Yeah, you see it. Yeah, and you know as a filmmaker because not only do you get to meet people who can help you but also you learn of opportunities that can push what you're doing forward, right?

Kizzy: Exactly. Absolutely. It's all about networking who you know making those Partnerships. Absolutely. So, what is your website? How can they find you? How can they connect to you?

Terra Renee: Sure, it's www.awcwire.com org?

Onika: A-A-W-I-C-dot org, guys.

Terra Renee: You can email us at info at A-A-W-I-C-dot-org as well.

Onika: Okay, perfect. And your social media handles?

Terra Renee: Yeah, Instagram is at A-A-W-I-C-Fest. Twitter is at A-A-W-I-C. And the Facebook is African-American Woman in Cinema International Film Fest…

Onika: Perfect, amazing. Thank you so much. You can come back anytime exactly. This guy's please get your copy.

Terra Renee: Yeah. I'm doing chapter signing December 3rd in Times Square.

Onika: Are you really?

Terra Renee: Yes?

Onika: Okay, December 3rd. What time?

Terra Renee: 6:00 to 9:00 p.m.

Onika: Where?

Well the address we will if you email us at info at AAWICdot-org

Onika: It will be on your Facebook, right?

Terra Renee: Yes.

Onika: Okay. So just follow them on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and when they put it on their social media handles and you guys can get it on December 3rd.

Onika: So, that'll do it for this week's episode of What's The 411, your smart source for entertainment news. So, since she took my first line. I'm gonna go with the second line. Okay, and hit us up on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, and subscribe to our YouTube channel, WhatsThe411TV.

Onika: You can listen to our podcast on Google Play, Stitcher, TuneIn, and Apple Podcast.

Onika: Yes, yes, subscribe, subscribe to our YouTube channel, right? And it's, oh you said that already,…

Kizzy Cox: Yes, I did.

Onika: I’m Onika McLean and on behalf of Kizzy Cox because I just stole her lines, until next week.

THE BOOK OF NEGROES and U.N. International Day of Remembrance

Documenting Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade

This year's Day of Remembrance pays particular tribute to the many women who suffered and died during the slave trade. ... Women slaves played a key role in maintaining the dignity of their communities. Too often their leadership and brave resistance have been underestimated or forgotten. –Ban Ki-moon, UN Secretary-General

The UN Secretary-General's statement is the backdrop to my Black History Month and Women's History Month experiences this year. It all began when, along with about 300 others, I showed up at the United Nations on February 11 to view the pre-screening of Episode 4 of THE BOOK OF NEGROES, the BET mini-series, based on the acclaimed novel by Lawrence Hill. You may remember TBON was on Oprah's 2010 Summer Reading List (also known in the US as Someone Knows My Name.

Book of Negroes is a historical document that records names and descriptions of 3,000 enslaved African-American who had to work for the British army during the American Revolution so as to qualify for their freedom. Following their service, they were evacuated on a British ship to points in Nova Scotia, Canada. Indeed, according to the author Hill, "Unless you were in Book of Negroes, you couldn't escape to Canada."

The screening was held in the cavernously imposing Economic & Social Council Chambers, at UN headquarters, with dizzying elevated tiers of semi-circular seating, all mounted with banks of mics and hundreds of tabletop monitors, lit up in cobalt blue hashtags -- #REMEMBERSLAVERY and #BOOKOFNEGROES. I noticed a smaller monitor where, with only a click, I could surf through several hundred channels of the world's languages. I figured out how to "program" the slender headphones, delightfully clicking away, first French then Mandarin Chinese, Swahili, Xhosa, Creole, and more. Much more. Tower of Babble, indeed.

Book of Negroes at UN  monitors-with-hashtags-REMEMBERSLAVERY-and-BOOKOFNEGROES Photo by Luvon Roberson 650x487United Nation's Economic and Social Chamber. Photo by Luvon Roberson

Book of Negroes  Book Editor Luvon Roberson at her seat in Economic and Social Council Chamber  at UN Photo by Luvon  Roberson 650x469What's The 411 Book Editor, Luvon Roberson, at her seat at the United Nation's Economic and Social Chamber. Photo Credit: Luvon Roberson

Then, the lights dim, and I was transported from my high-tech 2015 world to Aminata Diallo's world in 1783. When only 11 years old, Aminata is snatched from her parents and village shackled in iron manacles, and beaten, enduring the horrific Middle Passage across the Atlantic. Yet, throughout this amazing woman's life, in the face of fearsome turbulence, adversity, and heartbreak, we see her steadfast determination, independence, and burning ambition for justice for herself – and all enslaved peoples. When the lights come up again, I am so immersed in her world that I feel a bit disconcerted to find myself, blinking, in the bright lights of the United Nations chamber. #REMEMBERSLAVERY #BOOKOFNEGROES.

Following the screening, we are treated to a Q & A with the stars of The Book of Negroes mini-series: Leading actress Aunjanue Ellis who plays Aminata Diallo, the enslaved African woman who wrote down and catalogued Book of Negroes and ultimately won her freedom through that service, and Oscar-award & Emmy-award winning actor Louis Gossett, Jr., as well as the mini-series director, co-writer Clement Virgo.

Book of Negroes Q-and-A Unitd-Nations  Photo by Luvon Roberson cropped-resized 650x557Q and A session with stars of the mini-series, Book of Negroes, and the mini-series writer and co-director. Photo by Luvon Roberson

The preview screening, co-sponsored by the Permanent Mission of Canada, can also be viewed here

Book of Negroes would never have documented – or help set free -- so many of the transatlantic slave trade without Aminata Diallo's shining intelligence, tireless labor, and fiercely courageous efforts. Actor Lyriq Bent plays Chekura Diallo, the loving and brave man she eventually marries but, who, as a child, was among her enslavers in Africa. Oscar-winner Cuba Gooding, Jr., plays Samuel Fraunces, the renowned tavern owner/businessman in New York, who supports Aminato Diallo's efforts, yet caters to slaveholder General George Washington. After returning to Sierre Leone, West Africa, Aminata Diallo later becomes a vocal abolitionist in Britain, who fights to write her own story about the horrors of slavery. Actress Aunjanue Ellis shares her views on Aminata Diallo, here

Every year, on March 25, the UN holds International Day of Remembrance of the Victims of Slavery and the Transatlantic Slave Trade. This year, as I sought to learn more about the contributions of African-Americans to US history -- and the world -- in February: Black History Month, I came to see new and fuller expressions of women's lives and stories for March: Women's History Month.

More on Women & Slavery...

From March 25 to March 27, the United Nations is holding a "Women and Slavery" briefing and hosting a global video conference of students living in countries affected by the transatlantic slave trade. For more information, visit Twitter: @rememberslavery, Facebook: www.facebook.com/rememberslavery, and Website: rememberslavery.un.org. You can also watch the events live on the UN webcast. Videos, profiles, historical documents, and more about THE BOOK OF NEGROES is available on the BET website here

CLOSING LINES & SNIPPETS...

The novel by Lawrence Hill is entitled The Book of Negroes (also known as Someone Knows My Name), and was published in 2007, by HarperCollins. The historical document is Book of Negroes. The television miniseries is The Book of Negroes (miniseries).

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