People may find this offensive, but African-American filmmaker Katina Parker admits that she is a ‘black queer’ filmmaker. Rather than aiming for blockbusters, she turns her eyes to niched true stories. “Your search proves your love.”
The Durham-based photographer / filmmaker has been working as a creative director in Los Angeles for over a decade. Besides stretching her creative muscles for the silver screen, Parker does graphic, web design and packaging masterpieces convincing celebrities such as Will Smith, Jada Pinkett Smith and Saul Williams.
When she went to Los Angeles at 21, she believed that she was supposed to have an amazing directing career by the age of 30, pursuing the American dream. The blessing in disguise is - she didn’t make it to the status of glamour. Her American dream was twisted, but she has done a lot of cool things beyond her expectation, sharpening her patience, skills and maturity that shaped who she is to date.
Brought up in a large family as a cousin to literally a hundred family members, Parker reckons her family is of incomparable importance. “I think I was born to do things that I was born to do and I was born to the family that I was born to.” When she came out, her friends and family were not comfortable – only at first. Rathe than hiding away from misunderstanding, Parker persisted in gaining respect and acceptance. “I am not going to hide some parts of myself in order to make the other people comfortable.” Her pursuit demonstrated courage no less than those of her interviewees in Truth. Be. Told.
After completing the B.A in Speech Communications in the Wake Forest University, Parker travelled 2,000 miles away from her beloved home for the graduate school in the University of Southern California and received her M.F.A in Film Production. Nonetheless the historic institute school was not the fuel of her aspiration; her inspiration came from a cheap Polaroid camera from her great grandmother when she was 10. “That was my first camera. An Instamag, Polaroid.” The 10 year-old girl hence started her shooting career and her family became her subject. She wanted to preserve the good old times in her birthplace Oklahoma City. These pictures of family members and their everyday life remind her of her big family.
The Courage to Tell Compelling Stories
“I am a black queer woman, really clear about that and really comfortable with it.” Katina said without any hesitation. This identity inspires her to explore particular niched topics. For instance the Truth. Be. Told TV series documented lives and thoughts of “Queer Black Visionaries” who – in the likes of poet Staceyann Chin and “Noah Arc” creator Patrik-Ian Polk – found themselves engaged in heart-to-heart conversations to share their experiences. “There is something very special about existing in the world that, we are in a community that may not want you to be whom you are. And finally you have the courage to be that anyway. That’s the story that I want to tell.” She hence documents how these ‘black queers’ overcame fear from family and friends and fought for their place in society.
Another primary work is One Million Strong, a travelling exhibition of photos from the Million Man, a gathering en masse of African-Americans that was first organised in Washington D.C. in 1995. Since then, Parker has been spending years travelling to and documenting the Marches. The 20-year One Million Strong project is a reminder of the rise of Africans in the United States.“I feel like it is becoming a forgotten era.” Parker commented. “[It] teaches us we can’t take short cut to freedom. It teaches us we can shoot for the protest which is the media moment.” The Peace Process, one of her best known pieces, follows Inglewood teen Jabril Muhammad through an informal intervention program. Parker worked with the young poet who lived in a community trampled by gang violence. In the documentary Jabril interviewed other teens, former gang members and community activists who had been confronted by gang violence. This film won Honorable Mention from New York’s Urban World Vibe Film Festival.
Women are energy
Among all the family members, her favourite subject is her great grandmother. The 6-feet tall touch woman used to take up the leader’s role and did a lot of ‘man’s work’. This image was a huge influence to Parker. “She carried a bible in one hand and a gun in another. She knows how to fight and she likes to fight.” The argumentative nature of the statement shaped her attitude towards filmmaking and life. “She definitely is a movie that I would like to make about. She taught me that I could do anything. She taught me that I could make most of my life. That I can make something from nothing.”
“We are all energy.” Parker declared. It is important for people to raise their vibrations and make the best of it since your vibrations can be travelled to a far distance beyond your imagination. It could be as simple as walking around and chatting with others, or composing a poem, shooting a film or leading a March. We are all sending messages. And the message Parker conveys is: be proud of yourself and find your own path. “Your search proves your love.” And that’s her motto.