Culture.

  • Tue, 19, Jun, 2018 - 2:01:AM

In Conversation: Nneka Onuorah on producing a documentary about New York’s queer vogue ballroom scene

More than 20 years after Paris Is Burning, New York’s queer vogue ballroom scene continues to usher in a new generation of stars, as seen in VICELAND’s new documentary-series MY HOUSE. Field produced by award-winning documentary filmmaker, television producer, and activist Nneka Onuorah, the series explores current ballroom culture, following four young voguers as they compete, facing challenges and striving to be at the top of their game.

Known for her acclaimed documentary, “The Same Difference”, about internalized homophobia within the black lesbian community, Nneka also has a continued commitment to giving a voice to the voiceless through her “We are All Women Campaign” — a global visibility project dedicated to improving equitable healthcare and housing for lesbian and trans women of colour. I caught up with Nneka to chat about her most recent project:

J: Talk us through your experience working as the field producer for MY HOUSE.

N: It was the most amazing experience. I got to collaborate with some of the best crew who have become lifelong friends. In the ballroom scene, they have what are called “gay families” and “houses” to supplement or replace biological families, and with the cast it felt like I was their gay mum or dad at times. I got to become a part of their lives and hearts. I got to learn as the cast learned life lessons. I got to be in the centre of the most spiritual, larger-than-life balls and watch my community vogue and express themselves freely. It’s not work. It’s life.

What did you learn from producing the series?

I learnt that there was even more to learn about my identity, and I learnt how to free myself even more. There is a lot of social conditioning around gender identity that I was freed from even more after watching [the] story unfold. I also learnt that a lot of gender expression is actually spiritual — it’s way deeper than a presentation or even a look.  

What were the biggest challenges you faced in producing the series?

The biggest challenge with the series was time. I wish we had more time with the cast, and time to shoot more balls. I would have taken the whole year to document their lives—there is so much going on, but so little time to film.

What do you think the biggest misconceptions are about the queer vogue ballroom scene?

I think people assume that everyone who is part of the ballroom scene is in this victimised space. There’s this idea out there that they all live in these really unfortunate circumstances, but in reality, they are fierce, business savvy, intelligent, articulate and wise beyond their years.

The creative team behind the show was primarily made up of people of colour as well as some who identify as LGBTQ+. How did this affect the narrative of the series?

We need to tell our own stories. The voice doesn’t need to be disrupted, it needs to be heard and understood. The cast needs to be able to be around their community — our growth happens within our community. It’s very important, and I believe it allowed the story to touch on the nuance of a culture, as opposed to just a “this is what happens when you watch ballroom”. It shows how to feel it.

Tell us about your We Are All Women campaign.

It’s a campaign to raise visibility for LGBTQIA women and their hardship around a lack of sex education, inequality and discrepancies in healthcare, housing discrimination and transphobic issues with authorities. It sheds light on issues of being a woman of colour, and it makes these issues visible and comes up with strategies for how we can implement change from the ground up.

What advice would you give to young women of colour who are looking to follow a similar path in media?

Young women of colour — you are bosses. You are already doing all the things you think you can’t do, so make yourself aware of your greatness. There is no one path, so don’t try to do what others do. There’s gold in your own backyard, loves.

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  • Filmmaking /
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Janie
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