If you haven’t heard of Abiola Abrams, now’s the time. She’s an absolutely lovely sweetheart. She’s also a challenging film-maker whose work centres on strong portrayals of complicated women, and yet in spite of her powerful stance she’s managed to work within the system and be accepted by the mainstream film world. Find out more about Abiola’s powerful stance on filmography, what it was like working with Spike Lee, and about The Goddess Factory.
Describe your life’s mission statement in a couple of lines.
Well Mooky Chicks, I want nothing more than to start a revolution! Under an initiative called The Goddess Factory, my mission is to inspire women to live the biggest, brightest shiniest lives possible – politically, emotionally and sexually.
You were directed by Spike Lee in several commercials. Blimey! Working with the greats! We didn’t even know he DID commercials…
Not only does Mr. Lee direct commercials, but he is the co-owner of a whole commercial agency, Spike DDB, which is a fantastic way of creating commerce to support one’s art. One of the things that IMHO people underestimate about Spike Lee is what a phenomenal business man he is. He makes a film a year, every year, not an easy feat. (Unless one has been maxing out credit cards!!)
He directed me in a dot com commercial and McDonald’s commercials. This was a fantastic study opportunity for me as a part of one’s training as a filmmaker is shadowing established directors. I got to observe Spike Lee and get paid for it-no better deal in town.
What was it like working on politically-incorrect American talk show CHAT ZONE and the hip-hop TV show THE SOURCE: ALL ACCESS?
Chat Zone and Source All Access were great experiences although I feel that I was a bit too green in the industry to really maximize the opportunities. I am very excited about The Best Shorts, the short film showcase that I host for Viacom’s network BET J in the states. (Black Entertainment Television) It’s a quality show, showing incredible independent films that might not otherwise see the light of day. There’s a lot of good stuff out there. I work with fantastic executive producers – Sean Joell Johnson and Ralph Scott. I am also a consulting producer on the show. I aim to host a women’s show in the future.
Go on lady, big yourself up – are you a feminist icon?
I also had the wonderful fortune to learn at the knee of many feminist goddesses in varied forms including my mentors: LGBT filmmaker Barbara Hammer, performance artist Faith Wilding, writer Ntozake Shange, scholar Chikwenye Ogunyemi Activist Eve Ensler, sexologist Candida Royalle, and filmmaker Cheryl Dunye, artist Wangechi Mutu. There are many cool women out in the world doing amazing things! I recently had the pleasure of taking a brief introductory workshop with Mama Gena of The School of Womanly Arts, and it was very cool to see someone else practicing and teaching Goddessness. There was a great deal in common between our approaches.
I consider myself a dash of Oprah Winfrey, a sprinkling of Martha Stewart plus a healthy dose of Candace Bushnell thrown in for good measure.
You were honoured by Casa Atabex Aché as a Warrior Woman. What’s that all about?
Casa Attabex Ache is a women’s advocacy group in New York. Their focus is specifically on stopping sexual violence against women and girls and creating a safe haven for self _expression. The other women they honored included mothers, teachers, counselors, activists, incest survivors, poets and artists. It was a marvelous group to be included in. The award was not your typical trophy or plaque, but a tree branch adorned with ribbons that I treasure very much. I taught a mini empowerment workshop for Casa in the past, and will be collaborating with them more in the months to come. If anyone has the means to give funding, this is a very worthy organization.
If it’s not too clichéd a question, have you ever had difficult experiences through being a woman of colour? Or has it been nothing but champagne and roses all the way?
All champagne and roses, baby! (LOL) Obviously I have never been anything other than the black daughter of immigrants so I cannot say what my experience would have been were I not me. Everyone has challenges. My approach is to work harder than anyone else and stay informed enough to be the smartest person in the room, then I cannot be questioned on the basis of my race and gender. My experiences as a double minority in this way very much inform my work, so I see any perceived challenges as being a plus. I prefer to focus on triumphs vs. tragedies.
You curated the Vagina Warriors festival in June 2006. We now have an image of growling vaginas. Describe the festival and set us straight…
A Vagina Warrior, as defined by Eve Ensler, is a woman or man committed to stopping violence against women and girls. This is her term, but being one of Eve’s army, I embrace the term and apply it to my work as well. The first name of the festival that I chose was the Vagina Warriors Film Festival, and I had a fantastic crew of women who worked to make it happen. It’s important for me to acknowledge them: Prudence Heyert, Carly Robbins and Lisa Grossman. One of our museum locations vetoed the name however, fearing that it would turn off its more conservative membership. We then switched the name to Until the Violence Stops: NYC Women’s Film Festival. It was a community event in association with V-Day. It was important to me and Prudence, my co-director, to not only show films that bring to mind issues of violence, but films also that celebrate womanhood. We had several fantastic collaborators like The Guerilla Girls, LunaBar, Women Make Movies, and The Reelworks Young Filmmakers Lab. Eve Ensler is an amazing woman and a powerful mentor. She puts her energy where her mouth is and works tirelessly. Some of my writing will be published in her upcoming anthology entitled, what else? Until the Violence Stops. Oh, and by the way, my vagina sings more than it growls!
What sort of taboos do you look at in your work, and why?
If there is a taboo I haven’t investigated, bring it to my attention and we’ll make a film about it is my motto. My work is in large part about discussing the un-discussable and using pop culture as a Trojan horse to do so. My film Knives in My Throat is a documentary that follows a years in the life of a biracial woman dealing with mental illness, something that people tend not to talk about, particularly among communities of color. My documentary Taboo investigates black/white interracial relationships particularly from a black woman’s point of view. In America, this is still a huge issue. Black women are the least likely to date interracially, in large part because they remain least desired. Alicia in Wonderland examines issues of control in sadomasochism.
Have you any stories about how your work has affected people?
My podcast has hugely influenced women. I look forward to beginning it again in the future. I had women writing me from around the world saying how their lives were affected. Taqiyya Haden, the subject of my doc Knives in My Throat actually came to pursue poetic performance as a result of our collaboration. In addition, a couple of erotic actresses that I have worked with have gone on to pursue serious acting as a result of our collaboration.
You make ‘edgy chick flicks’. What are they like?
First off I’d like to address the term ‘edgy chick flicks’. A lot of the terminology that I use has come under fire as being politically incorrect, as has some of my work. My work is about creating discussion and giving people something to think about and different ways of looking at things. I like to take terms that the powers that be apply to limit our work, like chick flicks and chick lit, and co-opt them. Whatever brand gets people to see the work, works for me. So, they are only chick flicks in the sense that the main characters are women.
Ophelia’s Opera is a 15 minute experimental film in which each character speaks a different lyrical language, but they all understand each other. It follows Ophelia as she fights to leave a brutal relationship. She speaks in Shakespearian verse, and other characters speak rap verse, Jamaican patois, American Sign Language, sung lyrics and Cantonese.
Knives in My Throat is a 50 minute documentary following a year in the life of a young Harlem-based performance poet dealing with manic depression. This film is near and dear to my heart because mental illness is not discussed in communities of color. The doc also deals with race as the poet is a biracial woman who also had issues with her schizophrenic Italian mother.
The Black Count is a 3 minute docudrama starring poet Leslie Lewis Sword about the questionable comforts of victimhood. It’s based on a poem she wrote about counting the number of black people in any given film when she goes to the movies.
Stranded is a 7 minute comedic narrative that I shot in Germany about male / female and cross-cultural communication.
Alicia in Wonderland will be a feature length film about a college student who gets a job at a dom dungeon. It is currently being edited in Seattle by a very good friend of mine. It will feature animation and should be a wild sexual journey.
My personal favorite edgy chick flicks are films like Girlfight, Amelie, Marie Antoinette, Frida, Chicago, In Her Shoes, Moulin Rouge etc… Again, hardly fluff as the term may suggest, but I like it…
Do you have a favourite conspiracy theory? Tell us! It’s the internet, we promise no-one will hear you…
I have many. Conspiracy theories are practically a way of life for me. Why do you ask, Mookychicks, eh? Who sent you?? Who sent YOU!!!!!!!????
We love your smoothychick voice on your inspirational podcasts. Are they meditation tools?
It depends on your method of meditation-for a long time, mine was attempting to tune into something and then falling asleep. (lol) So, if that’s your method, I’d prefer that you listen to them in transit, when working out, during sex instead. Whatever works for you is what I’m all about.
What’s the idea behind the Goddess Factory, the name of your website?
Goddess has been a part of my work for a long time. First with my play Goddess City in the mid 90s and now with The Goddess Factory Worldwide, Inc which is the full name of my company by the way. I recently had one of my peers ask whether I thought that women were superior, and while I can absolutely make an argument for specific women vs. specific men *smirk* That’s not what I’m about. I am in service for the empowerment of everyone. I just focus on women because I’m self interested.
Factory has two meanings. I was actually inspired by Andy Warhol and his madcap factory of artists co-creating. And then of course, literally, a factory for making goddesses. There is a great photo on my kitchen wall of Diana Ross and Andy Warhol, and for me that photograph personifies the words Goddess Factory!
Name 3 items on your i-Pod/walkman/gramophone/sea conch:
Itunes has changed my life. Is that superficial to say? The accessibility of music and organizing my own personal music and audiobook catalogue is phenomenal!!! So – on my lime green ipod mini, I am currently listening to Deepak Chopra’s The Gift of Love: The Poems of Rumi. This is a wonderful, sexy, meditative mix with people from Demi Moore and Madonna to Rosa Parks reading Rumi’s incredible love poems. There’s a line in one of the poems that always sticks out for me-he says to his lover, “Every fiber of my being is in love with you..” Wow! How incredible would it be fore someone to say that to you!! And mean it! I also listen to a lot of Louise Hay’s speeches and audiobooks. Then, music-wise I have fantastic mixes with fun names playlist like – The Banging Body Workout Playlist, the Happy playlist, Fight Songs, Girl Party playlist etc. Right now I am very much feeling my guilty pleasure playlist – a Jay-Z & Beyonce mix! In one song, Beyonce urges women to walk like Naomi Campbell. How can you resist that?! Oh – and of course I have The Goddess Factory Podcast on the lime green pod as well. Shouldn’t we all? *giggles*
Is there a question we should have asked you but were too selfish to ask?
My birthday is July 29th and I am a Leo!!! I accept all gifts.. Also look for my first novel next summer (2007) coming from Simon & Schuster.