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Sisters of the Screen

© Dr. Beti Ellerson

Dr. Beti Ellerson is the Director of the Center for the Study and Research of African Women in Cinema. She has a Ph.D. in African Studies (Howard University) with a sub-specialization in African Cinema Studies and Women Studies. Dr. Beti is the author of “Sisters of the Screen”, which was also produced as a film documentary, and produced and hosted Reels of Colour, a community television series focusing on independent film-making by people of color. As a feminist she has always been interested in critically engaging women’s issues, and academically wanted to make a critical inquiry into African women’s experiences through the medium of the moving image. She currently teaches courses in African studies, visual culture and women studies in the Washington, DC area.

Interviewed by Stephen M. Thompson, Ph.D. 

Welcome Dr. Beti. Could you introduce yourself?

My name is Beti Ellerson, I was born and raised in the United States. I am a feminist and activist with a global perspective and a strong commitment to social justice.

What is “Center for the Study and Research of African Women in Cinema” all about?

The Center was conceived in 2004, a year after the release of the documentary film, Sisters of the Screen: African Women in the Cinema by the New York-based distributor Women Make Movies. I was invited to many festivals and universities for the screening and was inspired by the Q&A and discussions to develop a teaching and learning guide for the film. I was teaching at Howard University at the time and applied for funding to develop the African Women in Cinema Project, as an online initiative. It became a passion, both because of my keen interest in the subject and also because of the positive responses that I received from visitors to the site. In 2008, I moved the African Women in Cinema Project to an independent website, beyond a university server and it was at that time that it officially became the Center for the Study and Research of African Women in Cinema. With New Media firmly ensconced in moving image culture I followed this trend by developing a presence for African women in cinema using social media, video sharing, instant messaging and blogging and thus providing a global visibility for them and their work. During the US Women’s History Month in March 2009, and in commemoration of International Women’s Day, the African Women in Cinema Blog was launched. A public forum of the Center for the Study and Research of African Women in Cinema, the purpose of the Blog is to provide a space to discuss diverse topics relating to African women in cinema: filmmakers, actors, producers, and all film professionals. Essentially, I want to reach the general public as well, going beyond academic scholarship, publications and conferences. At the same time, I want the topics explored in the Blog to be a valid source for students and scholars. Later in 2009 I established the African Women in Cinema Vlog on Youtube, African Women in Cinema on Twitter and the Center’s Facebook page.

How did you get into African Women Cinema Studies?

I was interested in formulating the tenets of a field of study and critical inquiry and thus developing a historiography, methodology and theoretical framework for the study and research of African women in cinema.

Describe your experience with “Sisters of the Screen” project.

The Sisters of the Screen project emerged from my research as a Rockefeller Humanities Fellow during the 1996-97 academic year. I proposed to do a two-fold project that entailed a documentary and written text based on my research and filmed interviews with African women in cinema. The book, Sisters of the Screen: Women of African on Film, Video and Television (African World Press, 2000) and the documentary film are the products of this research.

So what do you currently teach and where?

For this academic year I will be devoting my full time efforts to the Center. I have taught courses in African Cinema, African Women in Cinema, Black Women in Visual Culture, Women Studies and African Studies at Howard University, George Mason University and Trinity College, all located in the Washington DC area, as well as at Denison University in Ohio and Winston-Salem State University in North Carolina.

What are your personal strengths and did those help your mission?

My commitment to an idea and an objective, and the passion to carry out something that I believe in and truly want to succeed. Yes these “strengths” have been key to the success of this endeavor.

What’s you typical day like?

A lot of time on the computer, responding to inquiries, researching, writing, blogging, communicating on social media networks—Skype and Facebook for example to prepare for interviews, viewing films or clips. I am often invited to conferences and festivals so I travel internationally as well. I do consultant work. And I am delighted to say, that I have more and more request for interviews, as with OpenBeast!

What one specific thing you would like to mention as your top achievement so far?

In all modesty I would say that I have forged an African Women Cinema Studies that students, scholars and a lay public may draw from and contribute to.

Is there any book or projects on pipeline you would like to mention?

I am planning a research project that entails the examination of African women in cinema in the myriad spheres of production, exhibition, distribution, spectatorship, organizing, and networking.

Would you like to add anything?

I would like for the Center to become more polyglot—at least with the addition of French, as it is a major written language in Africa. I want to maximize its capacity, the database, and incorporate more fully the social media and video-sharing features that are an integral part of the Internet. I would like for the Center to be truly a space for exchange and outreach for African women in cinema, stakeholders and spectators.

Thank you Dr. Ellerson.

To learn more about Dr. Beti Ellerson and the “Center for the Study and Research of African Women in Cinema” visit www.africanwomenincinema.org

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