Arts

'Don't forget about us': Ashley Iris Gill's films paint a brighter world for queer black youth

The 26-year-old emerging filmmaker isn't afraid to take up space and make change from within an industry often dominated by straight white men.

The 26-year-old emerging filmmaker isn't afraid to take up space and make change from within

(CBC)

26-year-old emerging filmmaker Ashley Iris Gill says an enthusiastic "yes" to every challenge and opportunity that comes her way. Strikingly, though, she has the calm confidence and wisdom of someone who's well aware of their long-term game.

I've had the privilege of working with Ashley through POV 3rd Street — an organization that provides training, career mentorship and work experience for youth who face barriers to the media industry. Watching her grow as a filmmaker and artist has been very exciting: Ashley champions distinct voices in her work and is passionate about celebrating blackness, queerness and womanhood. The act of celebration here is political for her because it offers a complimentary narrative to the countless stories of struggle and oppression she's used to or the dehumanizing representations she's used to seeing.  Would Ashley use the work activist to describe herself and her work? Not necessarily — but she's leading some charges.

To be a creative you have to be very vulnerable, and I don't think you can create anything for others if you don't know yourself.- Ashley Iris Gill

The youngest subject in the Queer (Self) Portrait Series, Ashley's experience with both queerness and filmmaking stands out from the rest as carrying the distinct marker of a 90s millennial. As she describes in her Queer (Self) Portrait video, both her queer identity and passion for filmmaking were discovered and nurtured online. Here, she found education, inspiration and community all at once (heck, she probably found a couple of dates too). She also carries a pragmatic idealism when it comes to the change she wants to see in a media industry that has historically marginalized queer people of colour like herself. Rather than rejecting the institution entirely and opting for alternative media, her act of defiance is to confidently take up space — to use her presence and voice to create change from within. Right now, this often means being the only person of colour or queer person on set, at the office or in the meeting. However, eventually Ashley hopes it translates into "creating content for the mainstream that tells the stories of people like me who never saw themselves represented on screen growing up."

We can all be filmmakers. We can all be happily black, making power moves.- Ashley Iris Gill

Ashley is now honing her craft shooting and directing music videos and short films as well as working as crew on commercial and independent productions. Her most rewarding project to date has been working as a DOP on an upcoming documentary about the Black Lives Matter TO Freedom School (directed by Lu Asafa and currently in post-production). Most recently, she received media attention for shooting the music video for "Ladies Night" — a modern take on the 70s Kool & The Gang track reconceived by the all-female rap collective The Sorority. The track and video were used to raise money and awareness for the Toronto Rape Crisis Center on International Women's Day.

As a colleague and friend, I look forward to seeing more of Ashley's work and the impact it will have on the communities she cares about so deeply.

See more of Ashley's work here.

Queer (Self) Portraits was born out of director Gabrielle Zilkha's participation in this year's 10X10 Photography Project. 10X10 is an annual art exhibit and book curated by James Fowler and produced each year to mark Pride Month. Each year, ten queer and trans photographers are selected to take portraits of ten queer and trans people whom they wish to celebrate for their contributions to the arts. Watch the full series here!

About the Author

Gabrielle Zilkha is an award-winning director and producer with experience in scripted, documentary and interactive content. She comes from a family of funny neurotics in Montreal and currently resides in Toronto.

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