Chenzira, Ayoka 1956(?)-

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Chenzira, Ayoka 1956(?)-


Born November 8, 1956 (one source says 1953), in Philadelphia, PA; married Thomas Osha Pinnock (a choreographer); children: Haj (daughter).Education: New York University, B.F.A., 1975; Columbia University, Teachers College, M.A.


Office—Red Carnelian, 1380 Dean St., Brooklyn, NY 11216.


Black Filmmakers Foundation, New York, NY, program director, 1981-84; Sundance Institute, writer/director, 1984—; Red Carnelian (production and distribution company), Brooklyn, NY, founder, mid-1980s; Production Partners, New York, NY, founding board member; City College of New York, New York, NY, professor and chairman of department of communications, film, and video, 1993-2003; Spelman College, Atlanta, GA, faculty member, 2003—currently director of Digital Moving Image Salon. Children's Television Workshop, New York, NY, producer and director of animated shorts, 1993—. Director of films, short films, and videos, including Syvilla: They Dance to Her Drum, 1979, Flamboyant Ladies Speak out, 1982, Hair Piece: A Film for Nappyheaded People, 1984, Secret Sounds Screaming, 1985, Five out of Five, 1986, Boa Morte,1988, The Lure and the Lore, 1988, Zajota and the Boogie Spirit, 1989, and Flying over Purgatory, 2006. Producer of films, including Flying over Purgatory, 2006. Animator of films, including On Becoming a Woman, 1986. Media panelist, Jerome Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the New York State Council on the Arts. Panelist, Minority Task Force on Public Television. Consultant to M-Net Television, South Africa, 1996—.


Brooklyn Cultural Crossroads Achievement Award, 1981; Paul RobesonAward, 1984; First Place/Cultural Affairs, National Black Programming Consortium, 1984; Mayor's Award— New York, NY, Outstanding Contributions to the Field, 1987; Mayor's Award—Detroit, MI, Contributions to the Field, 1987; first place for animation, Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame, for Zajota and the Boogie Spirit, 1990; Best Producer, National Black Programming Consortium, 1990; Silver Apple, National Educational Film and Video Festival, 1990; First Place, Sony Innovator Award in Media, 1991; First Place, John Hanks Award, 1991; First Place, Dance Screen, 1992; Best Overall, Best Drama, and Community Choice Award, Black Filmmakers Hall of Fame, for MOTV,1993; named distinguished educator by Apple Computer, 2004; Trailblazer Award, National Black Women's Film Preservation Project, 2003; William and Camille Olivia Hanks Cosby Endowed Chair in the Arts, Spelman College.


(And producer and director) Alma's Rainbow(screenplay), 1994.

Contributor to periodicals, including Next Step, the Media Project.


Ayoka Chenzira is an independent film and video artist who has been widely praised for her documentaries, animation, and genre-crossing productions. She is recognized as the first female African-American animator. Chenzira brings to her work a diverse background in the arts, including experience in photography, theater, music, and dance. She frequently expresses a spirit of activism, challenging the exclusionary practices of mainstream media and attempting to free African Americansfrom stereotypical images. She is also considered a media activist, because of her work as an educator and on behalf of other film and video artists.

Chenzira's best-known works are Hair Piece: A Film for Nappyheaded People, Secret Sounds Screaming, andAlma's Rainbow. These three very different films, with differing subjects and styles, demonstrate Chen-zira's varied talents as a film and video artist. Hair Piece is an animated, satirical, short film about the cultural politics of African-American hairstyles. Chenzira uses humor to comment on a serious and rarely discussed subject: the internalization of European standards of beauty by African Americans, and the negative effects of that internalization. Like "colorism,"—the preference for lighter-skin tones over darker—the delineation of "good hair" from "bad hair" has had many severe consequences for members of the African-American community, affecting familial relationships, employment, education, and self-esteem. By affirming the natural beauty of natural hair styles over processed styles, Hair Piece dramatizes the exploration of identity and the affirmation of it.

Chenzira was one of the first media producers to address the widespread problem of sexual child abuse, with her documentary Secret Sounds Screaming. Rather than approaching the subject through a series of seemingly isolated cases, Chenzira attempts to place child abuse within a larger social and cultural context. The documentary allows many different individuals to comment on various aspects of the problem. Viewers hear from survivors of sexual child abuse, parents of abused children, and social-service professionals.

Alma's Rainbow, Chenzira's first feature-length film (in which she also wrote the screenplay), is a contemporary drama set in Brooklyn, New York. This coming-of-age story is unusual in that it focuses on the experiences of an African-American girl, Rainbow, and her relationship with two other female characters: her aunt, Ruby, and her mother, Alma. Alma has convinced herself that she does not need a man or love in her life, and urges Rainbow to follow her lead; Aunt Ruby is a flamboyant performer who, despite her advancing age, still enjoys using her wiles to manipulate men. Reviewing the film for the New York Times,Stephen Holden remarked, "The heart of the movie is the 69 struggle between the self-righteously prudish Alma and the flamingly free-spirited Ruby for Rainbow's respect. The movie makes no bones about being on Ruby's side. Her live-for-the-moment manner sets an example for both mother and daughter."

In order to help in the production of other media that would depict the life and culture of African Americans, Chenzira formed Red Carnelian, a New York-based company that focuses on media production depicting the life and culture of African Americans. In addition to its successful distribution division, Black Indie Classics, Red Carnelian also provides instruction in film and video making. By providing this service at a minimal cost to participants, Chenzira hopes to help make the field of media production more inclusive, providing access to communities and individuals who normally have no access and no voice. Chenzira also works as an arts administrator and lobbyist for independent cinema, distributing and exhibiting hundreds of films by African-American artists internationally.



Women Filmmakers and Their Films, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1998.


Black Camera: The Newsletter of the Black Film Center/Archive,Volume 12, Number 1, 1997.

Black Film Review, summer, 1986, Keith Boseman, "Ayoka Chenzira: Sharing the Empowerment of Women."

Callaloo: A Journal of Afro-American and African Arts and Letters, fall, 1988, Valerie Smith, "Reconstituting the Image."

Ebony, November, 1991, "Angry, Assertive, and Aware," p. 156.

Heresies, Volume 16, 1983, Loretta Campbell, "Reinventing Our Image, Eleven Black Women Filmmakers."

Independent, March, 1992, Yvonne Welbon, "Calling the Shots: Black Women Filmmakers Take the Helm."

New York Times, June 23, 1994, Stephen Holden, review ofAlma's Rainbow.

Sage: A Scholarly Journal on Black Women, spring, 1987, Afua Kafi-Akua, "Ayoka Chenzira, Filmmaker."

Village Voice, June, 1991, Greg Tate, "Cinematic Sisterhood."

Western Journal of Black Studies, Volume 15, number 2, 1991, Gloria Gibson-Hudson, "Through Women's Eyes: The Films of Women in Africa and the African Diaspora."

Wide Angle, July-October, 1991, Gloria Gibson-Hudson, "African American Literary Criticism As a Model for the Analysis of Films by African American Women."


Spelman College Web site,href=" 13, 2006), biographical information about Ayoka Chenzira.