Mya B. explores black women’s experiences and opinions about relationships, sex and sexuality in her provocative documentary film, Silence: In Search of Black Female Sexuality In America. Some of the content may be considered “graphic,” but her artistic choices are purposeful. In showing scenes of white slave-masters raping black women, females willingly engaging in sexual acts and performing in racy music videos, Mya B. provides the American historical and cultural contexts that produce stereotypical images of black females. She also represents the voices of black women as they openly discuss when and how they lost their virginity and how their religious views, family, desires and fears shaped their ideas about sex.
In addition to including several personal accounts, Mya B. conducts interviews with many experts including Dr. Hilda Hutcherson, Dr. Llaila O. Afrika, professor Tricia Rose and Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Mya B.’s film helps to break the silence and demonstrate why black women and their sexual histories, desires, frustrations and experiences need to be heard.
In this interview Mya B. shares her own journey to break the silence and tell this story. She was so committed to this film that she funded it out of pocket–almost to the point of eviction. She also gives advice to budding filmmakers, discusses her current projects, including her recent trip to Cuba, and what living unchained means to her.
Can you tell us about your background? Where are you from? Where have you been?
I am originally from Chicago. I have been living in Brooklyn, New York since 1999, going back and forth from New York to Chicago. I am currently a teaching artist at a high school, teaching anything from film to entrepreneurship.
What made you interested in film making?
I became interested in film making since I was a little girl. I was fascinated by horror movies, being indoctrinated as a child watching, Exorcist. However, once my mom took me to Universal Studios and I saw how the movie, Psycho was made. I was hooked. I wanted to do that.
I started off as Fiction Writing major because while I was in High School. It was my only creative outlet I had to deal with the daily struggles of being a teenager that was different. Later, in college, I changed my major to film.
Let’s talk about your film Silence: In Search of Black Female Sexuality. Why were you interested in the topic of black female sexuality?
I was inspired by my upbringing. I was always curious as to why my mother never discussed sex with me. I feel that if she had, I wouldn’t have experienced certain things in my life. I realized by talking to friends, that their parents didn’t talk about sex either–that is what drove me to investigate and dig deep into the reasons why.
Was there anything you learned during the making of the documentary of the film that surprised you?
There were several things that surprised me during the making of this documentary. One, thing I learned is that black women have been torn sexually by slavery and from all the stereotypes that have been placed on us. For example, I never thought that it was a generational silence of not talking about sex that was created in the black church.
Also, I was surprised to find out how sexually abused women were and how that has impacted their self esteem in so many ways. When I think about this, I see the link with sexual abuse in slavery and why we are the way we are today.
When planning the film, who did you envision as your intended audience? Why?
I thought of making a film that would dispel the myths about our sexuality. I had black women in mind, ranging from 18 and up because I wanted it to help in the healing process by making us have this dialogue and the history behind why we do the things we do.
I noticed from the credits that there were people conducting interviews in different parts of the United States. How did you coordinate that? In other words, were you working with people you already knew located in different places, did you seek out assistance?
I wasn’t working with people in various places actually. I already had in mind the people I wanted to interview. So, after I initially connected with them and we talked about where to do the interview, it catered around that. It was like, “So, when do you want to do the interview?–Can you come to LA,” kind of thing. I would then purchase the ticket, not knowing where I was going to stay or who was filming. I just did it.
From an online site, I was able to link with videographers to tape for me. I dealt with the person that I could negotiate a price with and who was willing to do it. I didn’t know them from Adam, but I took a chance at it. I was glad that it worked out in that way. We ended up working very well together.
How did you fund the project? Is there any advice you have for film-makers looking to fund their projects?
I funded the project with my own money. Every time I got paid from my job, I would use some of the money to pay the people I interviewed. It was almost to the point of eviction, because I used the bulk of the money I made on making it happen.
However, a lot of the money also came from an inheritance I got from my mother after she died. My mother passed of Breast Cancer in 2003, right before the project was completed. It was hard to carry on and I put the film off for a while. The one thing she wanted was for me to complete the film. I basically used all of it to complete the film.
I would tell anyone who is looking to fund their project to just make it happen. It is hard not being able to create without money, but sometimes you just have to know it will work out and believe in that vision and not stay away from it.
Sometimes it becomes so frustrating trying to wait around for grants to come through and finding a person to believe in it enough to fund it, that you kinda just got to jump in, even if it is in baby steps.
You were recently in Cuba! What made you want to travel there? What did you do?
I have always wanted to go to Cub– ever since I was a teenager. It was something about it that just seemed so revolutionary to me and prideful, especially dealing with black consciousness.
I decided early this year to finally go. I didn’t fully know how I was getting there, but I was going. I went through Cancun, Mexico, spending a few days going to Mayan temples and then while I was out there, I found a travel agent and got my tickets to Cuba.
I linked up with a woman who has been a political exile and captured a little footage of her. Also, I spent time filming the whole process of getting there, the money systems and the food.
You are currently pursuing your Master’s degree. Do you think there are advantages to pursuing and, ultimately, having an advanced degree?
I am not pursuing a Master’s because I think of it as an advantage.
I have been teaching in an urban setting for over ten years as a substitute teacher. I was kind of pushed into it because after substitute teaching in New York for over 4o days, they require you to obtain 6 credits in education in order to continue substitute teaching for the next year.
I decided to just go for a Masters in Education so I can become a certified teacher in Special Education and General Education, making the money necessary self fund my own projects and incorporate film into my teaching curriculum.
What are you looking forward to seeing in an anthology made up of black women’s audio, visual and written works from across Africa and the Diaspora?
I am looking forward to seeing an anthology made up of black women’s audio, visual and written works because I want to see art through our eyes and our expressions.
Everyone has a story to tell, whether visually or orally, and I think it will be amazing to see women from all walks of the African Diaspora sharing with the world.
Finally, what does living unchained mean to you?
Living unchained means to me being mentally free first. Once we have mental freedom we can create change physically. It first starts with how we think.