Is 2016 the year that black girls began to publicly love themselves? From Alicia Keys’ make-up free red carpet looks, Beyonce’s ‘Lemonade’, countless essays and an abundance of carefree black girls, it certainly seems to be that way. Of course, self-love is not just a movement that’s sprung up overnight in 2016; it is a journey, and how better can a journey be documented than via film? As part of her ongoing project, the Remani Love Project, filmmaker Remani Love has sought to detail not just her journey to finding self-love as a black woman, but the journeys and stories of her family and peers.
Shot in two parts and featuring eight women from different walks of life who speak frankly and honestly about their journey to self-love and self-acceptance, the Love Doc is a much needed document of the modern black woman’s journey to find love and acceptance within herself. Before the film had its London premiere at Unmasked Women, an exhibition focused on black British Women and mental health, gal-dem spoke to Remi about her work, inspirations, and her personal journey to self-love.
gal-dem: What made you start Remani Love Project, and how did this develop into the documentary?
Remi Mckenzie: Self love is something I’ve always struggled with. From a very young age I’ve always been very self-aware…I used to always wonder how I could overcome my issues. My mum was really big into personal development, but a lot of the time she was very busy, so she would give me books. So when I was younger I was reading things like 7 Habits of Highly Successful People and started to get the message about self-love, but there was a gap between reading about it and implementing it in my day-to-day life.
I got to uni and in my final year I was struggling with anxiety. I thought I was failing, I was stressed, I wasn’t eating and sleeping, and it turned into depression. I guess this was that crisis moment where I said to myself “I cannot afford to be back in this position again.”
I attended different types of counselling, I tried different spiritual mediums like healing, and I started to wonder about how to love myself. There are lots of books on it, but I needed to know how I could love myself every day, and especially as a black women. Some of the books were great, but they weren’t addressing my specific day to day life and how the world perceived me.
Then I went to a house gathering with my sister-in-law and it was an older, artsy crowd. There was a group of women in their 40s talking about life and relationships and it was the most beautiful conversation I ever had. Hearing a conversation full of women speaking honestly and vulnerably was so comforting, and to see people say that they had overcome similar issues to me – especially people that weren’t celebrities or gurus, but everyday women – was my biggest motivation, and I knew that I needed to document this. I needed to help others as well as myself. I see self-love as a collective thing, as well as something that you should be doing for yourself.
Leading on from this, one of the most moving sections in the film is one of a conversation between your mother and aunt. Do you feel there is a relationship between self-love and female friendship?
I think that in my life, one of my most healing experiences was meeting one of my best friends at university. That kind of friendship represents an unconditional relationship. It’s kind of like having the best boyfriend in the world, minus the sex so minus a lot of the “how do I look” self-esteem crap. It’s you and your friend with your headscarf on, no makeup…they see you at your worst, with tears, when you’re anxious and angry. It’s the perfect place to be honest and have heart-to-heart relationships. A big influence on my work was bell hooks’ Sisterhood of the Yam, which changed my life. She talks about a sister circle, which is having a group of friends who are fully committed to their wellness, who can sit and discuss the issues in their lives and not be judged. She also writes that the act of speaking the truth is where true healing comes. Good, positive friendship is crucial in terms of self-love.
You used crowdfunding to source some of the money for the film. What were your experiences with it – would you recommend it?
I had a really positive experience with it actually. Most of the film was self-funded as I worked full-time and had a good job so I was able to just pump money into the project. The part that was crowdfunded was sound production, and then I also worked with an expert editor who made it ready for cinema as it was the first film that I made. I worked with a photographer who was just going into film so some of the footage is quite raw, and I wanted someone to smooth it out. I also used the money to pay for the venue that I premiered the film in.
The response to the crowd funding was so lovely and it was really good to feel the support of friends and family as well as people I didn’t know – people I didn’t know gave donations of £100! I would definitely recommend trying it, as you never know who will take an interest in your film.
Did you deliberately choose a female editor?
Yes I did! Ines Dalal was amazing. She worked tirelessly with me over 9 months, from my initial idea of a 15 minute film to the final feature. I really have to commend her for sticking through the whole process with me. Scott Johnston, the expert editor was also amazing. He gave us so much expertise and time. I was really blessed to find these people to help me.
Did you have specific influences when it came to how you wanted the film to look?
A huge influence was Cecile Emeke. She’s a really good friend of mine and we went to the same university. When she told me that she was quitting university to make films I was shocked, but she really opened my eyes to the power of film, and I think that was she does is so beautiful because I’d never seen anyone do what she does before. The way that she puts black women at the centre of her films…I can’t sing her praises enough. What she’s managed to achieve is so inspiring; she had an idea that affected her, and then it impacted the world around her.
Do you think now that self-love and self-care is beginning to be addressed widely in relation to women, the same is going to start happening with men?
Definitely, and I hope so. Self-love is a human issue, and it’s related to everyone. I feel like the more people that can be involved with it, the better. Why carry baggage and issues when that can be helped, in whatever way works for different people.
Can you remember the first time you heard the phrase self-love?
I would say it was probably from my mum. But also, whenever I went to carnival, I’d get random men saying to me “Just love yourself darling!” I used to be like “But how? How is it that easy?”. So I think that was the context where I first heard it, people telling me to just love myself.
Why do you think that self-love is so crucial for black women in particular?
Unfortunately a big part of it is the environment in which we live. bell hooks said it perfectly when she talked about “the continued devaluation of black womanhood”. This is the society in which we live. Black women are constantly facing issues like racism, sexism, microagressions. If you’re going to survive that, it’s even more important for you that you’re going to love yourself, so that you’re in the best position that you can be in this environment that we’re living in. Bell hooks says that all black women have “a quality of heartbrokenness” just from our environment, from when you were at school and you wanted to be the princess but the princess didn’t look like you, or when you wanted tights but the tights weren’t the right colour for you, little things that told you that you didn’t quite fit in, and how over time this starts to erode your self-worth. We are taught that we’re not any better than these negative feelings, which is why doing the work to build ourselves back up is so important.
Something that I thought was really interesting in the film is the link between lack of self-love and women in the film that were either born in the UK or moved here at a young age. Do you think there is an issue with self-love for black British women?
I was having a similar conversation to this with my cousin who lives in Jamaica. They don’t have to think about things like racism there, because everyone looks like you and everyone shares one culture. One of the women in the film, Camille, who was born in the Caribbean and moved to the UK when she was 14, says something similar, she says that her community affirmed her, so the concept of self-love was alien to her. When she moved to the UK she noticed that the community wasn’t so close-knit, plus there was a more violent, confrontational racism. But at least women born outside the UK and moving here had that initial affirmation through their communities. For us, being born in Britain, you’re automatically born into a society that starts to put their shit on you from day one. That’s the struggle that we have, and that’s why its so important that we do the work, because we are in a different environment.
How did you find the selection of women that star in the film?
The pieces were partly self-exploratory, hence why I wanted to feature my mum and my aunt in it. Other people, such as Bekke from Black British Girlhood are friends of mine, and I just love her energy, so I just had to have her, similarly to the women I met at the party who also features. Camille, who stars, is like an elder in the community. I just wanted to have a group of women who would be as relatable as possible. I didn’t want women who had it all together, that would be pointless. I feel like I’ve had this idea for so long, so I knew that the universe would make it happen. I just wanted it to be organic and real.
You just screened the film as part of the Unmasked Women exhibition, what drew you to the project?
It was the theme, black British women and mental health, which is basically the theme of the documentary. What I like is that it doesn’t just focus on the downsides of mental health, it’s about celebrating, overcoming, and telling people how they can get help and help themselves. It was also a way to bring it to London, to test the waters before I do my own screening of it here, and also to collaborate with some amazing artists.
Do you think that dialogues about black women and self-love have changed since you set out to make the project? Has there been any progress?
I do think that there’s been progress, even just generationally. My mum’s generation were talking about self-love in their 40s, whereas I feel in our generation I feel we’re making these decisions a lot sooner. I’m asking my mum “how do I love myself now?” because I can’t wait until I’m 40! The quicker we can self-actualise, the quicker we can focus on other things – things like natural hair, mental health…Stigma around self-love is being broken down and I feel that times are changing. Every generation has a different struggle – my grandparents struggle was to get here and get the basics, my mum’s generation was to go to uni and get educated, and our generation are aiming straight for self-fulfilment. We want to be self-fulfilled and have free, creative, loving, beautiful lives.