Interview By Lissa Alicia
Cecile Emeke is a filmmaker, poet, and visual artist based out of London. Emeke uses these mediums to explore black and feminine identity. In this interview Emeke and I talk about fear, male feminist, and the significance of astrology. Her recent project, "Strolling", is a short documentary film series where she goes on a stroll with various people to talk about the issues affecting them.
Identity seems to be a major part of the “Strolling” series. It makes sense because identity can be a difficult subject for children of the diaspora to explore. How do you identify and how has being a child of the diaspora affected your identity?
Being a woman of the diaspora means my identity is pulled from everything around me. But I think Johnny (Episode 9 of Strolling) put it perfectly when he said that identity is complicated in general because it is a human thing and being human is a very complex and strange experience. Being a person of the diaspora just highlights that inevitable element of human existence.
In what ways has your identity been challenged living in Europe?
I have always felt that there was not a fully encompassing place or identity that fit for me, so living in Europe has been a case of constantly creating my own identity which can be challenging. I don't think this is exclusive to living in Europe however.
Where exactly do you live in Europe and have you always lived there?
I'm from London and I am still based there.
In one episode of “Strolling” your subject Beke informed us that her biggest fear “is not fully loving and accepting” herself. What is your biggest fear?
I've been sitting here trying to figure out the answer to this for a while, because it's like an unwritten rule that every human has one deep, huge fear and I like to always be honest. But honestly when I look deep, deep down within myself for my biggest fear, I can't find anything. I have flickering, surface doubts like any human but they aren't real to me. I honestly feel like they are a physical, involuntary, reflexes to the fearlessness I have. The same way when the doctor hits your knee, it's not you kicking your leg up, it's just a reflex; the same way I honestly don't see those doubts as my own, it's just a reflex to greatness and lack of fear. So my biggest fear would have to be me not always acting out of my fearlessness and letting those reflexes slow me down. But again, I'm not really fearful of that to be honest.
Scene from Strolling Episode 11
How do you challenge stereotypes in your work as well as your personal life?
The more voices you acknowledge the harder it is to be small minded and navigate via ignorant stereotypes.
Many of the women in your series speak about conscious/pro-black men and their interpretations and ideals of the black woman - an Afrocentric Ideal. What is this ideal and do you think that it can be harmful to the black female identity? Why? Why Not?
I think any ideal is harmful. By definition as an ideal defines what is perfect it also implicitly defines what is imperfect. I think affirming and appreciating all different types of identities is "ideal".
Do you believe that men can be feminist?
By definition a feminist is someone who supports the equality of the sexes, so that could be a man or a woman. But, that being said Junot Diaz's words resonate with me: "We [men] can’t be feminists, I think. Our privilege prevents us. We can be feminist-aligned in some way. And so the women kept saying to us dudes, the best thing you can do is draw maps of masculine privilege. You can go places we can’t. Draw maps so when we drop the bombs, they land accurate." That being said though, I think that men calling themselves feminists is a way of them expressing their "feminist-alignment". At the end of the day labels don't really mean anything to me, they just point to what matters - do you really get it and are you really doing the work. Call yourself a feminist, feminist-ally, feminist-aligned or whatever, it doesn't matter to me - are you doing the work? I know men that are doing the work and are also aware that they will always operate from a place of privilege so I know that men can be feminists - or whatever you would want to label them as.
I am sure that you saw the street harassment video that went viral a couple of weeks back - the one with the white woman being catcalled and harassed by men of color. What is your opinion of this video?
I thought it was problematic that the editors admitted to purposefully editing out men who aren't of colour. It's a shame because street harassment is a huge problem and that video could have been extremely powerful but the dishonesty and lack of intersectionality prevented that from happening.
Do you mind sharing your experiences with street harassment?
I did an interview recently and they asked me to give an example of my experiences with patriarchy, and I said that it's like asking a fish to explain what water is. I think that also applies here. Street harassment is something I've experienced since I was child all the way into adult life. And honestly it's traumatizing, particularly as a child. I don't particularly like having to go through my memory and think about all the different times. I don't think women like you or myself should have to relive those experiences and publicly tell stories of our most extreme experiences with street harassment or any form of abuse patriarchy produces for people to care or to believe us. We rarely ask men to "prove" the abuse happening to them.
What is your astrological sign and are you true to its characteristics?
I'm an Aries. Some traits are definitely true and some definitely aren't. I think astrology is indicative, not definitive.
Scene from Ackee & Saltfish
What is “Ackee & Saltfish” and where can we see it?
Ackee & Saltfish is a short film and it is also a web series. It's looking like the film will be available in very early 2015 online, and then the web series will follow. Subscribe at Youtube.com/CecileEmeke to stay updated on the respective release dates. We are planning on doing one more screening in London before it goes online which is why I'm still waiting on a final date and there is also going to be a screening in Baltimore.
What projects are you currently working on?
I'm currently finishing up the Ackee & Saltfish web series, working on Strolling and also working on writing new material for a short film.
What advice do you have for young people of color, especially women, when it comes to finding one’s voice and identity?
I'm definitely still finding my voice and I think the path to finding your voice is really different for each person. But one thing that helped me was trusting my gut feelings. Not blindly trusting them, but listening to them and trying to understand why they were saying what they were saying; Why does that thing get me really excited and happy? Why does that other thing make me nervous or angry? I listen to myself and figure out what is really being said and why.
To view more episodes of Strolling subscribe to Cecile Emeke's channel on YouTube. For more information on Cecile Emeke and her projects please visit strolling.cecileemeke.com.
Melissa "Lissa Alicia" Simpson is a 23-year-old freelance journalist, media & marketing specialist, event curator and amateur model. Her interests include binge watching Dr. Who, writing creative nonfiction and street art. Find out more about Lissa at lissalicia.com.