Lights, Camera, Culture: A Discussion About Documenting Black Music History At The 2022 ESSENCE Hollywood House

During the 2022 ESSENCE Hollywood House, three of the most creative minds in the entertainment industry came together to speak about the process that goes into capturing, developing, and producing content for groundbreaking documentaries helmed by Black people that captivate the heart of the culture.

Photo By: Allyson Brown

The creators of the Netflix documentary jeen-yuhs, Coodie Simmons and Chike Ozah, and the director of Lizzo’s Watch Out For The Big Grrrls, Nneka Onuorah; sat down with Terrence J to discuss the importance of inclusion and perseverance in any field of human endeavor.

In their experiences documenting Black culture, the three panelists presented a similar point of view when it came to storytelling. Each of them spoke about broadening the perspective of the type of films that are produced for, and by, people of color. While directing Watch Out For The Big Grrrls, Onuorah elaborated on her approach and what needs to change in the reality genre.

Photo By: Allyson Brown

“I want to revolutionize the reality series,” Onuorah said. “Because it’s very format driven. Stories that are important are character driven. So, we needed to use these women and their stories as a testimony to what it means to be plus-sized, really do a ‘docuality,’ – it’s what I called it.”

Simmons and Ozah detailed their individual journeys prior to meeting each other. Simmons started off as a comic and cable television show host, while Ozah had an artistic upbringing before working at MTV. It was at the popular music television network that the two met, which led to them collaborating for Kanye West’s first video, “Through The Wire.”

There are many obstacles that African Americans face in the industry. Onuorah gave her perspective as a Black woman and the keys to success; mainly setting goals, finding good mentors, and properly mapping out your future to ensure prosperity in your career.

Terrence J then presented the question to the panelists: How does one stay committed to a goal(s), without being swayed by finances, resources, and other forms of temptation? God, of course, was the only answer.

Photo By: Cameron Foster

“That was the whole concept behind our film – it isn’t so much about Kanye and Coodie as it was about showing the blueprint on how to move in your passion,” Ozah said. “When you’re moving in your passion, you have to have tremendous faith in God because you’re going to come across so many different adversities, and that’s the only thing that will help you get through it [those adversities].”

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