Sojourner Truth Festival of the Arts 2023

Ayoka Chenzira

Dr. Ayoka Chenzira is an award-winning filmmaker, visual artist, television director, educator and pioneer in Black American independent cinema. 

She was nominated for an NAACP Award in 2019 for Outstanding Director for an episode of Queen Sugar and received an Emmy nomination for directing in 2021 for the series Trinkets. She earned a B.F.A. degree in film production from New York University; a degree in education at Columbia University/Teachers’ College; and is the first African-American to earn a PhD in digital media from the Georgia Institute of Technology. As an educator, Ayoka is a Diana King Endowed Professor of Film, Television and Related Media at Spelman College, as well as, the Division Chair for the Arts.

Ayoka is one of the first African American women to write, produce and direct a 35 mm feature film, Alma’s Rainbow (developed at the Sundance Institute), which was recently re-released by Kino Lorber to glowing reviews. She is also noted as the first African-American woman animator with her film Hair Piece: a film for nappy-headed people. In 2018, Hair Piece was one of the twenty-five films inducted into the National Film Registry at the Library of Congress. Her animated film, Zajota & the Boogie Spirit, was designed on an early Macintosh computer and is one of the first to incorporate film, frame-by-frame video, and computer-generated imagery. For this achievement she received a Sony Innovator Award. In 2020, Ayoka received the Cultural Innovator Award from Black Women Animate and the Cartoon Network for her body of work as an animator.

Always interested in new forms of storytelling with the moving image, in early 2000, Ayoka began exploring how digital technologies could be used to support her original interactive cinema stories. With support from the National Endowment for the Arts, she created the groundbreaking sci-fi/fantasy interactive cinema project, HERadventure with her daughter, HaJ. The project features a rarity — a sci-fi story with a female protagonist of color that combines film with gaming. The work premiered at South-by-Southwest, where it was projected onto a building while participants explored the game. The project led to an invitation by TEDxAtlanta where Ayoka presented the Power of Diverse Sci-fi/Fantasy Storytellers.

Ayoka’s films are part of the permanent collections at the Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art. Her early films were recently restored by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences as part of its permanent collection. In September 2021, her work was featured at the inaugural events of the new Academy Museum of Motion Pictures. In 2018, Ayoka began directing television when Ava DuVernay hand-selected her to direct episodes of her hit series Queen Sugar (OWN/Warner Horizon). Since then, she has directed back-to-back episodes of Trinkets (Netflix/Awesomeness TV), Greenleaf (OWN/ Lionsgate), Dynasty (The CW), Delilah (OWN), A League of Their Own (Sony/Amazon), 4400 (The CW), Kindred (FX) and Beacon 23 (AMC Networks).

As an educator, Ayoka is one of the first African-American women to teach filmmaking in higher education. While at The City College of New York (1984 – 2001), she taught filmmaking and co-created the acclaimed MFA program in Media Arts Production. At Spelman College, she reimagined the arts and created documentary filmmaking and photography majors, the first such majors at an HBCU. She has lectured extensively on filmmaking throughout the United States, and trained emerging filmmakers in Nigeria, Senegal, Kenya, and South Africa.

Ayoka Chenzira is a member of the Directors Guild of America.

She is represented by John Ferraro of Valleywood Entertainment and Adam Van Dusen and Greg Pedicin of The Gersh Agency.

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