5 Visual Artists That You Should Know About

In our society, it is not uncommon for people in positions of systematic privilege to have the most exposure (usually men, who may also be white and identify as heterosexual). If I were to ask you to name a list of directors who have made a name for themselves within the last 100 years, it would most likely be a man, first and foremost.  The next quality that they may have in common with other influential directors is that they are white, or in a position of privilege where they may not have had to think about their racial identity, nor did they face any opposition from it.

Contrary to the information that we have been given by mainstream media, there are many individuals who are making waves in the realm of directing and screenwriting. These individuals may belong to one or more marginalized groups, and it is important that they are granted recognition for their hard work and dedication. So, to counteract this pattern of these individuals not gaining the recognition that they deserve, here are five influential artists within the world of film and television that you should know:

1. Karena Evans 

Karena Evans is a 22-year old Canadian actress and music video director. She has directed numerous music videos for Drake, including his hits "God's Plan", "Nice for What", and "In My Feelings". All three of these singles instantly earned their respective spots into the Billboard Hot 100 list this past summer.  Each of these videos has become extremely popular, earning hundreds of millions of views. There was buzz surrounding each of these music videos as well, which is why it is extremely important that Evans gets the recognition she deserves. Just in being a young woman and a person of color, she has made a name for herself, simply by embodying these intersecting minority groups.  She is in fact the first woman to receive the Prism Prize's Lipsett Award for music video direction; she is also the winner of the Much Music Video Award for Best Director, for which she was nominated at the 2018 iHeartRadio MMVAs.

Needless to say, Evans is a pretty big deal. It is important to showcase her accomplishments and achievements not only as a woman, but as an artist and director.  Evans is just one of many women in our culture and the world who is making strides with her artistic abilities, and it is time that we give these individuals a platform and a chance to shine and gain the recognition they deserve for their extraordinary talents.

2. Sydney Freeland 

Sydney Freeland is an Emmy-nominated film and television director.  She is also of Navajo descent, and was raised on a reservation in Gallup, New Mexico, otherwise known as "Drunktown." She is also a transgender woman.  

Her 2014 film, "Drunktown's Finest," details the story of three characters and their experiences in life, love, and loss while living in the town. The storyline is described on VICE as follows:

"The narrative feature offers not one, but three harrowing interwoven tales of loss and triumph at or around a reservation in Drunktown. Felixia, a trans woman, pursues a spot in the "women of the tribe" calendar. Sick Boy confronts violence and drug abuse. Nizhoni seeks out her past, well after being adopted by a white family.  At its core, the film represents the ongoing search for identity and Freeland's desire to more honestly portray reservation life."

She has also directed the critically acclaimed web-series "Her Story," which details the lives of two trans women living on the west coast who navigate the dating world, as well as finding a balance for their careers and their own personal lives.

Freeland has continuously made efforts to tell the stories of trans women, giving them adequate representation to the rest of the queer community and beyond. She is truly an inspiration, and she continues to follow her own creative path, all while making history for herself, and telling the stories of those who may not have had one before her.


3. Dee Rees 

Dee Rees is a screenwriter and director.  She is known for her feature-length projects, "Pariah," "Bessie," and "Mudbound."  She is a self-identified queer Black woman, and she tends to focus primarily on themes of sexuality and identity in her work.  Her film Pariah touches on the experiences of a young black lesbian in New York City, trying to find solace in finding other people like her. For many, including myself, this is a narrative that I truly appreciated and sought out during my teenage years.  It is refreshing to see a narrative catered toward an audience that is not exclusively white, straight, or male. Rees is unabashed about her own identity, and does not bother to hide the struggles that may come with being a queer person - more specifically a queer person of color.

It is important that Rees is recognized, due to the fact that there are few women, much less women of color, receiving attention for their works.  She has impacted me personally, as Pariah is one of my favorite films. In 2017, she won the category of "Best Adapted Screenplay" for her film "Mudbound" at the Washington D.C. Area Film Critics Association. She has als been nominated for endless awards for her other works over the years.  Rees is another member of multiple minority groups and serves as proof that there are many individuals that could be, but are not listed along with the names of rich white creatives that hold a position of privilege over these creatives in some shape or form.


4. Zackary Drucker

Zackary Drucker is a multimedia artist, television producer, and and a self-identified activist and trans woman who is proud to discuss issues regarding gender and is willing to fight for awareness.  She is most known for the work she has done in producing the critically acclaimed show "Transparent", which details the life of a trans woman coming to terms with her gender identity, all while raising a family and dealing with feelings of uncertainty to reveal her true identity to them.  

Drucker has also worked on more personal projects detailing her life and experiences in being a trans woman, and how she navigated that relationship with her partner.  The photo series is titled, "Relationship", and it chronicles her timeline along her gender transition, as well as documenting her partner's as well. She earned her B.F.A from California Institute of the Arts, and her M.F.A. in photography from the School of Visual Arts.

Drucker is another example of a voice and force that should be reckoned with.  She is proud of who she is (as she should be) and does not plan to let anyone take away her creative streak.  I admire her strong creative presence and her willingness to speak out against any injustice.


5. Jennie Livingston

Jennie Livinston is best known for her 1990 documentary, "Paris is Burning," which examines the life of the drag/ballroom scene in Harlem in the late 1980s.  "Paris is Burning" has won multiple awards, including the GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding Documentary in 1992, and the National Society of Film Critics Award for Best Non-Fiction Film. The documentary has become a staple in queer ballroom culture, and continues to be referenced today.  The most recent example of this would be in the FX series "Pose," in which the storyline is based off of ballroom culture in the same era, and has close references to scenes, characters, and locations from the documentary.

Livingston is a self-identified lesbian, and has stated that she made the documentary with intentions of gaining insight into the culture, and specifically examined the lives of trans women, queer people of color, and poor individuals in the community.  For many subjects in the film, these identities intersected in one or more ways.

"Paris is Burning" is commonly considered as one of the most iconic film pieces of the century, however there are few people that have knowledge of the director's story.  Livingston deserves this recognition of being a woman to produce one of the most influential and important documentaries of our time.



Of course, this list is just a few of the many individuals who deserve recognition due to their outstanding contributions to media and the world.  I hope that within the next few years, our society will not put as much emphasis on people who are already at an advantage due to their identity and position of power in society, and that women, people of color, and members of the queer community will have their time to shine. In the meantime, I suggest that we make an active effort to seek out these filmmakers, visual artists, and activists so that we can become more aware of who is out there making strides to better the world that we live in today.



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