Featuring isa Benn & Aisha evelynA; photographed by kristina dittmar; inspired by “this body, my body” by ameema saeed
“Everyday I am mourning who I used to be.”
"Sometimes I’ll catch myself in a particularly self-loathing thought, and I’ll wonder — did I do this to myself? Two and a half decades of anger and bitterness and spite? It was bound to eat away at my insides, eroding my joints, crumbling my bones into dust."
ShoeGazer is a short film by Aisha Evelyna (writer), Isa Benn (director), and Rachel Cairns (producer) which explores how women of colour internalize the concept of being the other because their traits don’t align with Eurocentric beauty ideals. The film’s first World Premiere screening will be at the Oscar qualifying festival “HollyShorts” in Los Angeles. Chantelle Blagrove of With/out Pretend sat down with them to learn more about what inspired them to create the film.
a story about hair
What prompted you to write and create a visual story around hair?
I wrote this story at a time where I was trying to break free from limiting ideologies and stories that I told myself; ways of being and patterns of thought that made me make myself small. As I forced myself to be introspective, I realized one of the ways I had internalized hatred toward myself was how I related to my hair. Specific points in the film are more nuanced and dramatized for the sake of the story and suspending the viewer, but all the same, I realized I was at odds with myself because I did not accept who I am. Now, I firmly believe self-actualization is a life-long journey with its bumps along the road, and so I do not stand here writing at the top of the mountain I have just climbed, looking down. I am very much still in the thick of things, striving to figure out what it means to live as a woman in our times, as a person of colour in our times, all the while trying to navigate both identities and the many facets of their intersections.
How do you link cultural identity and societal exceptions around black hair to self-esteem?
Very rarely have I ever not linked all of my (and our collective) pain and trauma to the overall issues of misunderstandings surrounding the existence of dark-skinned people, perpetuated by white ideals, and thus, internalized racism. Africans (and those of African decent) are innately spiritual, gender “non-conforming”, queer, philosophical and inventive(based on our pre-colonized existence) and many African tribes were matriarchal. Our hair is bound to that history and our innate spirituality, so I have always linked the hatred of black women’s hair to a fear of how powerful we are. We have always been powerful. We remain powerful, if we know our power. Our hair doesn’t even touch the sides of our expansiveness.
WHY WE TELL STORIES
Why did you decide to direct this story?
I felt compelled to direct this story because I understood what Aisha was trying to say, as it pertained to black women, black beauty and aspects of black trauma. I understood what she wanted: healing. I wanted to provide my answers to the questions her story was asking. When I initially met with Aisha, I knew she was still in the struggle of this story. I know what it is like to be in the struggle, trying to make sense of it through the work. As a black woman, as an immigrant, as a queer person of colour, I have experienced much trauma and the rough hands of many who mishandled my pain. I wanted someone to walk Aisha through her sorrow, to expedite her process, to be honest with her in ways that are rare, in western culture. So, I decided to do it myself. I took on this project to support another black woman’s journey into understanding. This project, for me, was an act of pure love.
What message do you hope that viewers will leave with?
One of the biggest things I have learned through this process is that when you start making plans, God (or whoever is up there) starts laughing. I had so many hopes and intentions with regard to the statement I wanted to make as the writer of this film, and I think I’ve learned, in the best way, that none of those intentions really mattered. Tell the truth, and the audience will be affected. I feel like it’s almost too much pressure to put on the creator to control what the audience is left with, and usually ends up being counter-intuitive. So for ShoeGazer, what I can say is; I poured little bits of my soul into it and genuinely tried to do right by the experience that I wanted to share. All I can really do is hope that the audience is moved, hearts left a little more open, souls a little more richer for having watched it. And if not, that’s cool. I’ll try again.
Isa Benn is a Toronto-based, award winning filmmaker, whose work predominantly touches on the decolonization of history, gender, sexuality, spirituality and even film itself. @Isa.Benn
Aisha Evelyna is a Toronto Based actor and filmmaker, a resident of the Toronto ACTRA Women’s Committee Short Film Script lab. @AishaEvelyna
Photography for this instalment of The Inspired by Kristina Dittmar. @kristinadittmar
In each instalment of this series, we ask a photographer we love to produce a visual story in collaboration with an artist who inspires us. The artist gets to play the role of the subject behind the lens, and the collaboration manifests in response to something (a story, quote, paragraph, visual) in our body of work that moves our subject to create, elaborate, design, engage.
Are you a photographer interested in producing work for this series? Get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org and let us know what inspires you!