Aishah Shahidah Simmons | Documentary Filmmaker | Lecturer | Activist Biographaphical Sketch
Aishah Shahidah Simmons is an award-winning African-American feminist lesbian independent documentary filmmaker, television and radio producer, published writer, international lecturer, and activist based in Philadelphia, PA. She is presently an adjunct faculty member in the Women’s Studies and Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender (LGBT) Studies program at Temple University where she teaches the undergraduate course Gay and Lesbian Lives, which examines the her/histories and contemporary realities of LGBTQ people in all of their diversity. Additionally, in the spring 2013 semester, she created, developed and is teaching the graduate and undergraduate seminar titled, Audre Lorde: The Life and Work of a Silence Breaker.
In spring 2009, she was an Artist-in-Residence at the Center for the Study of Race, Politics and Culture and Lecturer in the Department of Cinema and Media Studies at the University of Chicago. During her residency, Ms. Simmons created, developed, and taught an undergraduate course entitled, Sisters Outsider: Diasporic African Women Narrative and Documentary Filmmakers. The syllabus from ‘Sisters Outsider’ is one of five syllabi featured in the Resources section of the 341-page Facilitating Campus Climates of Pluralism, Inclusivity, and Progressive Change at HBCU’s. Funded by the Arcus Foundation, this first ever in-depth study on any historically Black college campus was Phase II of Spelman College’s Women’s Research & Resource Center’s Audre Lorde Black Lesbian Feminist Project.
For more than twenty-years, Ms. Simmons has been both motivated and engaged as a cultural worker because she believes each one of us has the birth right to live in a world where oppression and exploitation based on gender, race/ethnicity, national origin/citizenship, sexual orientation, class, and/or religion of anyone is non-existent.
In 1992, she founded AfroLez® Productions, an AfroLez®femcentric multimedia arts company committed to using the moving image, the written and spoken word to address those issues which have a negative impact on marginalized and disenfranchised people.
Coined in 1990 by Ms. Simmons, AfroLez®femcentric defines the culturally conscious role of Black women who identify as Afrocentric, lesbian, and feminist.
For three years she co-produced two monthly public television programs for a PBS affiliate in Philadelphia. Her internationally acclaimed short videos Silence…Broken and In My Father’s House, which were produced in 1993 and 1996, explore the issues of race, gender, homophobia, rape, and misogyny.
An incest and rape survivor, she spent eleven years, seven of which were full time, to produce write, and direct NO! The Rape Documentary. This award-winning, internationally-acclaimed, groundbreaking documentary explores the international reality of rape and other forms of sexual assault through the first person testimonies, scholarship, spirituality, activism and cultural work of African-Americans. NO! also explores how rape is used as a weapon of homophobia.
AfroLez® Productions is distributing NO! in partnership with California Newsreel, the oldest non-profit social issue documentary center and distributor in the United States. On February 14, 2006, NO! had her world premiere at the Pan African Film Festival in Los Angeles, CA. In September 2006, NO! won the Audience Choice Award and a Juried Award at the San Diego Women Film Festival. NO! also won the juried Best Documentary Award at the 2008 India International Women’s Film Festival. In 2009, NO! was among the invited 50 documentaries and short narrative films from 22 countries, which were featured in the Open Frame Film Festival, which is organized by the Public Service Broadcasting Trust (PBST) in New Delhi, India. NO! was also included in JustFilms, a new online archive of social justice films that the Ford Foundation has supported over the past 30 years.
NO! has been screened throughout the United States, in South Africa, Canada, Italy, Spain, Hungary, Croatia, Serbia, Romania, Macedonia, Kosovo, Czech Republic, Moldova, Slovakia, Slovenia, Austria, Nepal, Bulgaria, Rwanda, Kenya, Nepal, Sierra Leone, Jordan, Burkina Faso, Peru, Colombia, Guadeloupe, Venezuela, Brazil, India, France, England, Haiti, Guam, St. Thomas, Turkey, Malaysia, and Mexico.
Alice Walker, the Pulitzer Prize winning author of The Color Purple says, “If the Black community in the Americas and in the world would save itself it must complete the work this film [NO!] begins.”
Several years after her world premiere in 2006, NO! continues to have an impact across the United States and globally. In fall 2011, Project STOP NOW!, an important Office on Violence Against Women/U.S. Department of Justice (OVW/USDOJ) funded-initiative that focuses on the prevention of violent crimes committed against women at United Negro College Fund (UNCF) member colleges and universities, purchased 26-copies of NO!. This purchase resulted in NO! being used as an anti-rape educational resource/tool on 26 Historically Black College/University campuses in the US. Most recently, at the end of 2012, the Iowa Coalition Against Sexual Assault purchased 30-copies of NO!, 30-copies of Breaking Silences: The Supplemental Video to NO!, and 30-copies of Unveiling the Silences: NO! The Rape Documentary Study Guide. Each set of materials will be distributed to Sexual Assault Centers across the state of Iowa. During this same time period, Ethiopian feminist scholar-activist Dr. Mulumebet Zenebe who teaches at the Institute of Gender Studies (IGS) at Addis Ababa University shared that NO! will be included in their Master of Arts curriculum. As stated on their website, “[t]he IGS is the only institution in Ethiopia that provides post-graduate program study in gender studies.
Raised as a Sufi Muslim, Ms. Simmons is featured in Farah Nousheen’s award-winning documentary Nazrah: A Muslim Woman’s Perspective. Since 2002, Ms. Simmons has been a practitioner of Vipassana Meditation as taught by S.N. Goenka, in the tradition of Sayagi U Ba Khin. She credits her practice as one of the non-negotiable tools that support her work on gender-based violence issues. In December 2009, she had an opportunity to travel to and spend some time in India to delve deeper into this ancient, non-sectarian technique, which was originally taught by The Buddha, and has been practiced continuously for over 2500 years. She is on hiatus from post-production on her forthcoming documentary titled, Liberation from Within, about the first 10-day Vipassana Meditation course, held in India in December 2009, for people of African heritage worldwide. Liberation from Within will explore both how vipassana meditation is being used as a tool for social change; and why African descended people from Ethiopia, Egypt, Kenya, Ghana, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Seychelles, Zambia, England, United States journeyed to India to learn and practice this ancient technique together, with people from India, Mongolia, Russia, France, Argentina, and Singapore for 10-days.
Aishah Shahidah Simmons is the recipient of numerous grants, awards, and honors including but not limited to:
- 2011 NO! included in the Ford Foundation’s JustFilms online archive
- 2010 Co-Recipient, with Gwendolyn Zoharah Simmons, Ph.D., Scarritt-Bennett Center’s Ann L. Rescovac Courage Award
- 2010 Artist-in-Residence at Emporia State University
- 2009 Artist-in-Residence at the Center for the Study of Race, Politics, and Culture at the University of Chicago
- 2008 Philadelphia Black Gay Pride Legends Award
- 2007 International Federation of Black Prides Award
- 2007 Media Award from the Institute on Domestic Violence in the African American Community
- 2007 NO! designated as the Featured Event during the National Sexual Violence Resource Center’s 2007 National Sexual Assault Awareness Month Campaign
- 2006 Ford Foundation grant to support the international educational marketing and distribution of NO!
- 2006 DC Rape Crisis Center’s Visionary Award
- 2006 National Award for Outstanding Response to and Prevention of Sexual Violence from the National Sexual Violence Resource Center
- 2005 Inaugural Transformation Award from the Leeway Foundation
- 2005 Artist-in-Residence at Spelman College’s Digital Moving Image Salon
- 1995-2005 several research and development, production, and post-production grants from the Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Justice, the Valentine Foundation, the Bread and Roses Community Fund, the Gloria Steinem Fund of the Ms. Foundation for Women, the Delaware Valley Legacy Fund of the Philadelphia Foundation, the Open Meadows Fund, the Women’s Way Discretionary Fund, Amnesty International Women’s Human Rights Program, the Funding Exchange, Prince George’s County Sheriff’s Department, Prince George’s County Council, Pennsylvania chapter of the National Organization for Women, Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, Philadelphia Independent Film & Video Association (PIFVA), Cercle des Libres Penseurs des Bruxelles (Belgium), Group du 6 Novembre (France), Amnesty International-French Section, Ufficio Politiche di Genere Della Citta di Torino (Italy), La Casa Per Non Subire Violenza di Bologna (Italy), Azione Gay e Lesbica di Firenze (Italy), Coordinamento Lesbiche Romane (Italy), Casa Internazionale delle Donne (Italy) Arcilesbica Bologna (Italy), Associazione Cuturale Artemisia (Italy), Fuoricamp Lesbian Group (Italy), Circolo Maurice (Italy), Associazione Iroko Onlus (Italy), Associazione Le Bisce d’aqcua (Italy), and Collettive Femministe Libere Tutte (Italy).
- 2000 Bread and Roses Community Fund’s Waters Award for Intergenerational Activism
- 1998 NAACP (Philadelphia Chapter) Exemplary Citizen Award
- 1998 Audre Lorde Legacy Award of the Union Institute Center for Women
- 1995 Atlantic City Black Film Festival “Filmmaker” Award
- 1994 Philadelphia Gay Pride Female Grand Marshall
Ms. Simmons is also featured in Tiona McClodden’s (aka tiona.m.) internationally acclaimed, award-winning documentary black./womyn.:conversations with lesbians of African descent.
Ms. Simmons has screened her work, guest lectured, and facilitated workshops and dialogues to educate about, heal from, and work towards ending all forms sexual violence; queer identity from an AfroLez®femcentric perspective; the grassroots process of making social change documentaries; and non-Christocentric spirituality to racially and ethnically diverse audiences at colleges and universities, high schools, conferences, international film festivals, rape crisis centers, battered women shelters, community centers, juvenile correctional facilities, and government sponsored events across the United States and Canada, throughout Italy, in South Africa, France, England, Croatia, Hungary, The Netherlands, Mexico, Kenya, Malaysia, and India.
She is the author of the foreword to the Dear Sister anthology, which will be published by AK Press in 2013. Edited by Lisa Factora-Borchers, Dear Sister is an anthology of letters and other works created for survivors of sexual violence from other survivors and allies. It is a collection of hope and strength through words and art. Simultaneously, Ms. Simmons is working on a co-edited anthology (along with feminist scholars, writers and activists Stephanie Gilmore and Darnell L. Moore), which examines the intersections and convergences within America’s contemporaneous moments of radical protest. Ms. Simmons is the author of numerous published essays, some of which have been translated into French and Italian, all of which are featured in anthologies and journals in the United States and internationally including Just Sex: Students Rewrite the Rules on Sex, Violence, Equality & Activism (Jodi Gold and Susan Villari, eds., Rowman & Littlefield, 2000); Violence in the Lives of Black Women: Battered, Black, and Blue (C. M. West, Ph.D., Ed. Haworth Press: Binghamton, NY, 2003); INCITE: The Color of Violence (various eds., South End Press, 2006); The Black Scholar (special ‘Black Women’s Activism’ edition – Jennifer Hamer, Ph.D., and Helen Neville, Ph.D., eds., Summer 2006); Shout Out: Women of Color Respond to Violence (Maria Ochoa, Ph.D., & Barbara Ige, Ph.D. Eds., Seal Press, 2008); Savoring The Salt: The Legacy of Toni Cade Bambara (Linda Holmes and Cheryl Wall, eds., Temple University Press, 2007); and WHO SHOULD BE FIRST? Feminists Speak Out on the 2008 Presidential Campaign (Johnnetta Betsch Cole and Beverly Guy-Sheftall, eds., SUNY Press, 2010); Black Feminist and Womanist Pedagogies: When the Personal is Political and Academic (Gary L. Lemons and Aaronette M. White, eds., SUNY Press, forthcoming); and Queering Sexual Violence (Jennifer Patterson, Ed. forthcoming).
Her cultural work and activism are featured in anthologies, periodicals, and blogs including, but not limited to Ms., ColorLines, The Root.com, Forbes, Crisis, Alternet, Racialicious, Left of Black, The Philadelphia Weekly, In These Times, Peace X Peace and The Chronicle of Higher Education. She has also appeared on local and national radio and television networks including National Public Radio, Black Entertainment Television, and Pacifica Radio Network.
Ms. Simmons is a proud member of the editorial collective of The Feminist Wire. Additionally, she blogs at AfroLez®femcentric Perspectives, Ms. magazine, and Liberation from Within. Follow her on twitter at @AfroLez and @InnerLiberation; and connect with her on Facebook.
Breaking Silences: A Supplemental Video To NO! © 2008, USA,
Color/Digital Video/112 minutes
For Women of Rage and Reason © 2006, USA,
Color/Digital Video/4:45 minutes
NO! © 2006, USA,
Color/Digital Video/94 minutes
NO! A Work-In-Progress © 1997, 2000, 2002, USA,
Color/Digital Video/8 minutes, 20 minutes, and 74 minutes
In My Father’s House © 1996, USA,
Silence…Broken © 1993, USA,