UNAPOLOGETIC, the directorial debut of Ashley O’Shay and producer Morgan Elise Johnson is set to premiere as the opening night film in the BlackStar Film Festival, which runs between August 20-26. The documentary focuses on the unrelenting work of Janaé Bonsu and Bella BAHHS–young, Black women organizers who take on the Chicago establishment seeking justice for Rekia Boyd and Laquan McDonald, two young Black people killed by Chicago police. UNAPOLOGETIC also explores their quest to elevate a progressive criminal justice platform and center leadership by Black women and femmes within the city.
The film captures tensions between a police board led by Lori Lightfoot (now Chicago Mayor) and abolitionist organizers at Chicago Police Department Headquarters. O’Shay began making the film organically in 2015 while attending one such protest equipped with a camera-in-hand. “I never imagined that I was on the precipice of capturing what will likely be one of the biggest movements of all time,” she said. “What is so captivating to witness is the tapestry of this Black queer feminist movement that lies at the helm of fighting for all Black rights.”
Johnson concurs. “While the world witnesses this newly-infused Civil Rights Movement, I’ll argue that the blueprint can be mapped to Chicago,” she said. “This city represents a microcosm of what resistance looks like. And, the crusade is led by these young, Black feminist voices who are demanding justice for all.”
O’Shay would eventually document two powerhouse activists. Bonsu is a 24-year old who is pursuing her Ph.D. in social work while rising in the ranks of Black Youth Project 100 (BYP100), a national youth activist organization working to create justice and freedom for all Black people. BAHHS is a 22-year old “rap-tivist” who combines her music with activism to support women, like herself, who have been affected by intergenerational incarceration. Overall, the film peels back the curtain on 3 years in the
lives of two young women who balance the weight of leading a mass movement with becoming scholars and further entering adulthood.
UNAPOLOGETIC is executive produced by Yvonne Welbon, Gordon Quinn and Jolene Pinder. Rubin Daniels, Jr. is editor, and music is composed by Sam Trump.
UNAPOLOGETIC is produced through Chicago’s Kartemquin Films (MINDING THE GAP and HOOP DREAMS), and has received support through the Ford Foundation, the Field Foundation of Illinois, the Diverse Voices in Docs program, Firelight Media, Tribeca Industry Network, Film Independent, Bay Area Video Coalition, UC Berkeley’s Investigative Reporting Workshop, Cucalorus Film Festival, Hedgebrook, the True/False & Catapult Rough Cut Retreat, the Perspective Fund, and Chicago DCASE Individual Artists Program.
About Ashley O’Shay (Director/Producer) is a DP and documentarian based in Chicago, IL, whose work focuses on illuminating marginalized voices. She has produced work for national brands, including Lifetime, Ford Motor Company, Boost Mobile, KQED, and Dr. Martens. Most recently, she filmed the final episode of Dr. Martens’ “Tough As You” series, starring the band Phony Ppl, accruing over 65K views on social and web. In 2019, she co-produced the Chicago episode of KQED’s award- winning series “If Cities Could Dance,” which became one of their most viewed episodes to date. Her work also appeared in the critically-acclaimed Lifetime docuseries SURVIVING R. KELLY. O’Shay’s prestigious fellowships include Firelight Media, the Bay Area Video Coalition, Film Independent, Kartemquin’s Diverse Voices in Docs, Hedgebrook, Cucalorus Film Festival, and UC Berkeley’s Investigative Reporting Program. She is currently an associate with Kartemquin Films.
About Morgan Elise Johnson (Producer) is an independent filmmaker and publisher. Her documentary career was born at Northwestern University and nurtured by Kartemquin Films’ internship program. She grew to become a staff producer with Milwaukee-based 371 Productions. There she produced and co-directed the PBS/WORLD CHANNEL documentary THERE ARE JEWS HERE, which premiered at the San Francisco Jewish Film Festival in 2015 and then toured for two years before its national PBS/World Channel broadcast. She also associate produced a Virtual Reality documentary about abortion clinic harassment called ACROSS THE LINE which premiered at Sundance Film Festival’s New Frontiers exhibit. Her life and career evolved when she left 371 in 2016 and co-created The TRiiBE (www.thetriibe.com), a digital publication dedicated to reshaping the narrative of Black Chicago, which has earned Morgan a spot on Forbes’ 30 Under 30 Media Class of 2019 and Adweek’s Rising Brand Stars of Chicago.
About Kartemquin Films Kartemquin Films is a collaborative center for documentary media makers who seek to foster a more engaged and empowered society. In 2016, Kartemquin celebrated 50
years of sparking democracy through documentary. The organization has won every major critical and journalistic prize, including multiple Emmy, Peabody, duPont- Columbia and Robert F. Kennedy journalism awards, Independent Spirit, IDA, PGA and DGA awards, and an Oscar nomination. Kartemquin is recognized as a leading advocate for independent public media, and for its filmmaker development programs that help further grow the field, such as KTQ Labs, Diverse Voices in Docs, and the acclaimed KTQ Internship. Kartemquin is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization based in Chicago. For more information visit www.kartemquin.com.
About BlackStar Film Festival The BlackStar Film Festival is an annual celebration of the visual and storytelling traditions of the African diaspora and global communities of color—showcasing films by Black, Brown, and Indigenous people from around the world. https://www.Blackstarfest.org.