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Focusing the Lens on Black Women’s Stories: A Look at Njaimeh Njie

After leaving for a handful of years, multimedia producer Njaimeh Njie is home again, behind the camera bringing the Black women of Pittsburgh into focus.

After leaving for a handful of years, multimedia producer Njaimeh Njie calls Pittsburgh her home again. Now, her time is spent behind the camera bringing the Black women of Pittsburgh into focus.

“My first, real-deal, favorite movie was Love and Basketball,” Njaimeh says, while slowly sipping her peppermint tea. We’re sitting in front of Zeke’s Coffee on Penn Avenue because despite the loud sounds of traffic and construction in the background, we both agree that 60 degree weather in the middle of November is too much of a rarity to not take advantage of.

This is my third time meeting Njaimeh in two weeks, this time for an actual conversation. Two weeks prior, I attended her opening exhibit of Power(ed) by Grace: Musings on Black Womanhood, a multimedia project dedicated to showcasing the diverse experiences and narratives of black women. A week after that, I attended Pop Up Premieres, a film screening event Njaimeh plans every few months. Our paths crossing twice in one week only affirmed for me my strong desire to connect with Njaimeh for some one-on-one time and to learn more about her love of film. I’m grateful she obliged.

Seeing somebody on screen who looked like me doing what I liked to do was a transformative experience for me.
Love and Basketball was the first time I saw, on screen, somebody who looked like me doing something that I liked to do,” she continues. “And that was a transformative experience for me.”

Njaimeh can’t exactly pinpoint where her love of film stems from, but she thinks the fact that both her parents are photographers might have something to do with it. She also considers her family to be a “family of storytellers.”

A 27-year-old Pittsburgh native, Njaimeh graduated from Schenley High School and went on to major in film and media studies at Washington University in St. Louis. Unfortunately, her program of study was mostly theory and not much in the way of actual filmmaking. So as an alternative, Njaimeh’s love of stories and storytelling led her to teach high school English after graduating colleg. She taught for Teach for America in St. Louis, not too far from Ferguson.

“[After Teach for America], I was going to take a leadership fellowship in Chicago,” she recalls,” but through the cosmos, I got hooked up with local director here [in Pittsburgh] and started apprenticing for him. That led to me doing my own independent thing, and there’s where I’m at now.”
Her interest in others’ stories led her to conceive Power(ed) by Grace. Through the project, she’s had the opportunity to speak with Black women from various neighborhoods, ages, and backgrounds. Njaimeh knew some of these women beforehand, but in several instances, she was challenged to introduce herself to complete strangers, explain her project to them, and ask them to participate. And while she’s a self-identified introvert, it seems the risk was worth it. Because for her, the goal of the project is visibility. “Even though there are more Black women on television [these days] and the media perception is changing a little bit, I still don’t see a lot of everyday Black women doing the very normal, basic, kind of mundane things that we do,” she says. “Granted, that’s not must-see-TV, but I wanted to provide a space for Black women to say: ‘This is who I am.’”

The project is comprised of a video series and a portrait series. Each portrait features a Black woman and a brief narrative account expressing what Black womanhood means to her. Each video in the five-part series features fourteen Black women sharing their most impactful experiences, struggles they’ve faced, and the legacies they’d like to leave behind. All photos and videos can be viewed at powerbygrace.com.

I wanted to provide a space for Black women to say: 'This is who I am.'
Shortly after coming up with the idea for Power(ed) by Grace in December 2014, Njaimeh was approached by Nina Sauer of Most Wanted Fine Art about a possible collaboration. Then, thanks to artist Darrell Kinsel’s feedback on her grant applications, Njaimeh received an Advancing Black Arts in Pittsburgh grant from the Pittsburgh Foundation and Heinz Endowments. Soon, Njaimeh was hard at work, interviewing and filming women. She quickly found the mentors she needed to help her succeed and grow. She felt as if stars were aligning. “I can’t say anything without mentioning Darrell and Thomas [Agnew] and Julie [Mallis] at BOOM Concepts. [They] have been in my corner, from the jump, since I met them. They’re kind of like big brothers. They annoy you and bug you, but it’s out of love. They’re very much about pushing people forward. They’re very savvy, and they’re very generous about what they know.”

When she’s not working on freelance videography projects, Njaimeh pays it forward by creating opportunities of visibility not only for Black women, but for Black filmmakers as well through her side hobby, Pop Up Premieres. The most recent Pop Up Premieres event highlighted both Black women and Black filmmakers, screening a handful of various web series created by and starring Black women. This was the tenth screening since the inception of Pop Up Premieres, and the next will likely occur in spring 2016.

Currently, Njaimeh is mainly focused on Power(ed) By Grace. So far, about eighty women are being featured in the project, and Njaimeh is looking for more subjects. Her goal is to capture 100 portraits and 50 scenes, which she hopes to accomplish before her next show at Most Wanted Fine Art in February. Anyone interested in participating can contact Njaimeh via her website, njaimehnjie.com.

About the Author

Akirah Robinson is a licensed social worker, writer, and therapist who loves helping women heal. She lives in Pittsburgh, PA with her handsome husband and their hyperactive hound dog, Walker. Her first book, "Respected" was released in November 2014.

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