A photo of Darol Olu Kae in black and white, looking directly at the camera, wearing a black beanie hat and a black shirt.

Issue 003 Fall 2021

Letter from the Editor

by Darol Olu Kae

Can we see ourselves?
Can we see each other?
And can we see together?


I’ve been sitting with these questions since they were first posed to a group of Black, Brown, and Indigenous artists by Ghanaian filmmaker Nuotama Bodomo during her keynote address at the 2021 William and Louise Greaves Filmmaker Seminar. Bodomo offered this reflection in her concluding remarks as a way to encapsulate the possibilities of cinema as she sees it. I’d like to call attention to these questions because of how they subtly shift our focus away from prevailing notions of representation and visibility to indigenous forms of collectivism and intercommunal systems of seeing and making. When faced with the violent history of cinema and its logics of storytelling, Black, Brown, and Indigenous artists can’t afford to simply appropriate the prerogatives of white image makers. We have a different kind of history that requires us to move differently when we encounter the filmic medium. We must interrogate and, when needed, repurpose dominant storytelling tools, harnessing culturally specific knowledge and histories to create radically different ideas capable of rendering the full range of our complexity visible in cinematic terms.

Collectively, the pieces in Seen, issue 003, orbit around Bodomo’s questions, gathering up accumulative power, and extending her thoughts into new directions and terrain. The participating artists, writers, and filmmakers offer a multitude of critical practices and approaches that help think beyond the restrictions of film and visual culture as it is presently defined. As expressed in Jessica Lynne’s exquisite piece on photographer Texas Isaiah, “To be imaged is a deeply political process and can communicate, as an act of repair, multiple truths about the realities of those who are captured.” Lynne’s statement demonstrates the ethos of Seen, a journal of film and visual culture, and sets the stage for issue 3 by recognizing the reality that the camera is a colonial tool. But our engagement with the visual medium doesn’t stop there; it’s only our point of departure. We are interested in speaking a truer word about ourselves, to ourselves. The failures of cinema also signal its possibilities.

In addition to Bodomo’s keynote address and Lynne’s illuminating profile, issue 003 of Seen features an interview with filmmakers Sophia Nahli Alison (A Love Song for LaTasha [2019] and Eyes on the Prize: Hallowed Ground [2021]) and Merawi Gerima (Residue [2020]) on the power of Black filmmaking collectives in Los Angeles, conducted by Dr. Philana Payton; a penetrating review of Christopher Kahunahana’s first full-length feature film, Waikīkī (2020), by cultural critic and historian Jeff Chang; two seminal interviews with Moroccan filmmaker Ahmed Bouanani from the early 1970s, translated by Omar Berrada; Jonathan Ali’s rich exploration of the possibilities of Caribbean cinema through a serious engagement with Maya Cozier’s debut fiction film, She Paradise (2020); DJ Lynnée Denise’s richly expansive review of Sacha Jenkins’s documentary Bitchin’: the Sound and Fury of Rick James; and a layered conversation between Amir George and filmmaker Miko Revereza, to name only a few.

The current issue of Seen developed during a period of instability and loss. As a result, it required a great deal of patience, understanding, collective strength, and ingenuity to bring this publication to fruition. With this in mind, I would like to sincerely thank the entire Seen team, without whom this expansive project would have been impossible. Thank you to our managing editor, Nehad Khader, whose support and tireless commitment has shaped my idea of collaboration. To our art director, Caroline Washington, and design associate, Leo Brooks, thank you for your imagination, feedback, and rigor. Thank you to our diligent and sensitive editors, Yasmine Espert, Kavita Rajanna, Jasmine Weber, and Shauna Swartz. Imran Siddiquee, our communications director, thank you for your brilliant insights and support. And, of course, I owe a tremendous amount of gratitude to BlackStar’s founder, Maori Karmael Holmes, whose vision  and leadership continue to guide the way forward. I am indebted to you all!

This process has further entrenched my belief that communal spaces where we gather, commune, and share ideas are sacred. May this issue of Seen provide readers with the necessary tools to think and study collectively, moving beyond dominant storytelling systems and modalities of struggle and survival. After all, as Nuotama Bodomo reminds us, “We are all presenting ourselves just so that we can be seen amongst each other.”

Darol Olu Kae
Guest Editor
Los Angeles, September 2021