‘UNAPOLOGETIC’: Timely Doc Chronicles Black Women Activists in Chicago Fighting Police Violence

Kartemquin film’s social justice documentary UNAPOLOGETIC is the directorial debut of Ashley O’Shay and producer Morgan Elise Johnson. The documentary chronicles Black women activists in Chicago leading the movement against police violence targeted towards Black residents.

The documentary, which premiered as the opening night film of the 9th Annual BlackStar Film Festival, focuses on the unrelenting work of Janaé Bonsu and Bella BAHHS–young, Black women organizers who take on the Chicago establishment seeking justice for Rekia Boyd and Laquan McDonald, two young Black people killed by Chicago police. UNAPOLOGETIC also explores their quest to elevate a progressive criminal justice platform and center leadership by Black women and femmes within the city.

Unapologetic Clip – Chicago Policing from Ashley O’Shay on Vimeo.

The film captures tensions between a police board led by Lori Lightfoot (now Chicago Mayor) and abolitionist organizers at Chicago Police Department Headquarters. O’Shay began making the film organically in 2015 while attending one such protest equipped with a camera-in-hand. “I never imagined that I was on the precipice of capturing what will likely be one of the biggest movements of all time,” she said. “What is so captivating to witness is the tapestry of this Black queer feminist movement that lies at the helm of fighting for all Black rights,” says the DP and Chicago-based documentarian.

Black women activists Janaé Bonsu (top) and Bella BAHHS fight against police brutality in the documentary, ‘Unapologetic,’ directed by Ashley O’Shay and produced by Morgan Johnson of Kartemquin films. (Photo: Courtesy of Kartemquin Films)

O’Shay would eventually document two powerhouse activists — Bonsu and Bella BAHHS. Bonsu is a 24-year-old pursuing a Ph.D. in social work while rising in the ranks of Black Youth Project 100 (BYP100), a national youth activist organization working to create justice and freedom for all Black people. BAHHS is a 22-year old “rap-tivist” who combines her music with activism to support women, like herself, who have been affected by intergenerational incarceration.

Johnson concurs with O’Shay’s observations about the movement. “While the world witnesses this newly-infused Civil Rights Movement, I’ll argue that the blueprint can be mapped to Chicago,” she said. “This city represents a microcosm of what resistance looks like. And, the crusade is led by these young, Black feminist voices who are demanding justice for all,” says the independent filmmaker who got her started as an intern at Kartemquin films while attending Northwestern University.

Johnson is also co-creator of The Tribe (along with Tiffany Walden), a digital publication dedicated to reshaping the narrative of Black Chicago, which earned Morgan a spot on Forbes’ 30 Under 30 Media Class of 2019 and Adweek’s Rising Brand Stars of Chicago.

These dynamic women have been working for years to bring marginalized voices to the forefront via media and to address social justice issues like police brutality and mass incarceration.

UNAPOLOGETIC peels back the curtain on 3 years in the lives of two young women who balance the weight of leading a mass movement with becoming scholars and further entering adulthood.

UNAPOLOGETIC is executive produced by Yvonne Welbon, Gordon Quinn and Jolene Pinder. Rubin Daniels, Jr. is editor, and music is composed by Sam Trump. Welbon is a recipient of an award from the prestigious William Greaves Documentary Fund.

To find out more about UNAPOLOGETIC and how to screen it for audiences, visit Kartemquin Films.

This post was curated and written by Nsenga K. Burton, Ph.D., founder & editor-in-chief of The Burton Wire. Follow her on Twitter @Ntellectual. 

Follow The Burton Wire on Twitter @TheBurtonWire. 

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