Oge Egbuonu’s New Documentary Is ‘A Love Letter To Black Women’

Oge Egbuonu is no stranger to the ongoing healing journey, so it comes as no surprise that her new documentary film, “(In)Visible Portraits,” is all about healing — particularly the spiritual wounds of Black women in America. In the movie, which premieres March 2 on OWN, Black women tell their stories in their own words. Through interviews of Black women from across the country, Egbuonu explores the painful truths of Black women’s lives in the United States over the last several hundred years. But while the film delves into the histories of sexual violence, disenfranchisement, and invisibilizing Black women have experienced at the intersection of racism and sexism, it also shines a light on the triumph, the joy, and the beauty of Black womanhood.

The documentary marks the directorial debut of yogi and movie producer Egbuonu, who describes it as a “love letter to Black women,” a space for remembrance and healing. To hear her tell it, working on the film created space for her to heal. In the latest installment of “Getting Through,” Egbuonu discusses the importance of community, navigating heartbreak and the isolation of the pandemic at the same time, and why telling Black women’s stories is more important than ever.

I love that you asked that by adding the “really” part. Today has been a good day. Although it has just started, today has been a good day. Last week was not so great. For me, [this time has] been an opportunity for growth or learning how to maintain and sustain my mental health. And so there are some days, and frequently there’s been a week where I’m battling depression. And so, I am on the emotional roller coaster. I’m experiencing the full spectrum of emotions. And today isn’t that day. So I’m grateful for that. But you know, it’s been an experience. I will say that.

Black Women

Your new documentary “(In)Visible Portraits” explores the othering of Black women in America. What was the catalyst for your wanting to tell this story this way with these portraits?

The catalyst for my wanting to tell the story in the way that I said it was that I wanted to create something that served as a love letter to Black women first and foremost and as a reeducation for everybody else. And I say that because, frequently, Black women are depicted in the narrative, and storytelling is not life-affirming. And so, I wanted to create something that felt life-affirming and told the history of how we got to where we’re currently. In my research phase of making this documentary, it hit home for me how, for the most part, we’re taught revisionist history. We’re just not taught the true history of this country, which is inherently built off the backs of Black women.

And so, I wanted to create something that could serve as an entry point because there’s only so much you can get into in a 90-minute film. And also, the Black women’s experience is not a monolith, right? We have Black women that are cis and trans: the nonbinary experience, the disabled experience. There’s only so much that I could highlight in this. And I wanted to create something that could be an entry point. And hopefully, I’ll be able to expand upon the storytelling with a docuseries or other films about the Black woman’s experience in America.

There’s a point toward the end of the documentary where one of the women onscreen talks about how important it is to write Black women back into history. I think the film is part of that conversation and that effort. Can you talk a bit about the impact of images, telling Black women’s stories, and why it’s so crucial to the culture?

I think it’s essential because storytelling, in my opinion, challenges the imagination. I told someone earlier that we’re experiencing someone else’s vision in every aspect of our lives. Right? You and I are on this call because someone imagined iPhones, and enough people believe it to be accurate that we now have it. The clothes that we wear, the houses we live in, the cars that we drive every day, and every experience of our lives are experiencing someone else’s imagination. And when it comes to storytelling and culture or just Hollywood (because Hollywood is the gatekeeper of media), we’re constantly experiencing someone’s dream. And for the most part, it’s white men.

Their perception of Black women is very dehumanizing. And so, for me, I wanted to create content that was not only life-affirming but that re-humanized us. And I think it’s essential because the mind is so powerful. It is the entry point for us to create the experiences that we make. If you’re consistently only seeing yourself through the lens of someone else, and that lens is toxic and dehumanizing, you then start to believe that to be true for yourself.

I wanted to create something that challenged the current societal narrative of Black women and cultivated space for us to start healing. And so, I think it’s crucial for Black women, whether trans or cis, able or disabled, young or old, to see themselves in life-affirming ways. Because if you’re consistently only seeing yourself through the lens of someone else, and that lens is toxic and dehumanizing, you then start to believe that to be true for yourself.

Because I think that’s also a crucial aspect of it, right? In my opinion, there has never been a space where Black women have been able to heal. We had slavery and then went to Reconstruction, Jim Crow, the Civil Rights era, and where we are today. To begin to reimagine something different, we first have to heal. There have to be spaces for healing. And so I wanted to create something that could serve as an entry point. And I hope that it does.

What was the first life-affirming image of a Black woman that you remember impacting you?

It was Oprah, to be honest with you. It was seeing her on TV and being like, oh wow. Like, for people respect her, and people are listening to her. And then, as I got older, I realized that people only listen to her. She was cultivating space and content that was life-affirming. She’s growing reach and scope for people to reimagine something different, believe in themselves, and heal. And for me, that was the first time I was like, wow. Like shit, OK, I can do this.

How have you been finding ways to connect with people? 

I’ve found it challenging but for reasons outside of the pandemic. Before making this documentary, which I often say has served as a rebirth, I was an island. I would isolate myself, and I had a hard time trusting people. I kept people at a distance, so I didn’t have a community around me. I had associates, and then I had three friends that I would call and talk to all the time and trust. And this period of lockdown that we’ve been in for almost a year now has highlighted to me the importance of community. In making the documentary, my entry point was to understand that you can’t do life isolated.

It also was my entry point to understanding that I had a lot of healing to do. And so, even in making this documentary for about three years, the three years I made it was also three years of me beginning my healing journey. And then the pandemic hit, and then the pandemic highlighted the importance of community and how that would play a huge, significant part in my healing journey. I learned that in isolation. I’ve been trying to cultivate deep connections with the people in my life. I’m seeing if these connections are worth deepening or had they have always just been superficial.

But for the most part, I’ve been diving deeper into my healing process, which has been a lot of therapy, meditation, breathwork, and taking long walks myself. Because so many people are, you know, still being reckless with the whole COVID thing. I know a few people who are having house parties and stuff like that. So it’s been a challenge to build community during this time. But I’ve found ways to deepen connections with people who want that.

It sounds like you’re also finding a deeper connection with yourself. The more we connect to ourselves, the easier and deeper our relationships with others become. 

That is so true. I’ve been doing a lot of inner child healing. It’s been a lot of me meditating and bringing her into the space. When things are coming up for me, when I’m experiencing emotions, I used to suppress them or lash out. But now, when I start to experience low-level energy, I tend to sit with it. I breathe with it. I call my younger self and say, OK, what’s coming up for us? What are you experiencing right now? What is this reminding you of? And so I agree, it’s teaching me to return to myself and love. It has been this incredible human experience that I’m currently in. In my opinion, there has never been a space where Black women have been able to heal. For us to reimagine something different, we first have to heal.

What was the hardest thing that you had to get through last year?

The hardest thing I had to get through last year was heartbreak. Unfortunately, I decided to part ways with a person that I was seeing. It didn’t happen healthily, and it was tough, and it still is tough because I still love this person, and it has been challenging for me now, especially in the pandemic, to do life without them. But once again, I’m using this as an opportunity for growth. It is an invitation to get closer to myself so that I can understand the ways I showed up in that relationship and the ways that I didn’t show up in that relationship. And so, navigating heartbreak has also been challenging outside of the pandemic.

Wow, a double whammy; the universe is nothing, if not darkly funny.

Yeah. The universe said, “You about to get this night of the soul, girl, you about to get it, and you’re going to grow from it!”

What was something unique that happened last year?

Something unique… two things. The first thing is that I’ve gotten closer to myself. That has been the most incredible thing that has come out of this time. I’m getting to know myself again, rediscovering myself, and loving myself in all my complexities. And then the second thing is getting to partner and create a campaign and a PSA with Levi’s. I worked for them for three years when I was in college. And so, to have this moment come back, full circle, has been amazing.

So you mentioned that you’re doing breathwork, talk therapy, and taking long walks. In what other ways are you currently nurturing yourself and practicing self-care?

I have this routine on Sundays where I give myself a facial, which is unique because I didn’t use to do that before the pandemic. I would get facials done, but now I’m paying attention to my skin and pampering myself. I’m allowing myself to be in a state of luxury and not feel guilty about that. It’s allowed me to pay attention to my skin, what it is asking for, and what it needs.

Breathwork is another way that I’m immersing myself in self-care. Breathwork and meditation have saved my life and have been keeping my life for the past nine years. Another thing that I do is read poetry. During the day, I’m either on back-to-back meetings and calls or in deep research mode, so I’m reading books, and sometimes the books could be heavy. Every night, I permit myself to decompress. I’ll do a few stretches and then play some jazz music. I’ll dim the lights, and I’ll just let myself get lost in poetry.

What other music, art, books, films, etc., have been getting you through this time? 

I mean, all of it; I love art. So I’m constantly researching people I call my mentors even though I’ve never met them before. Like Carrie Mae Weems, I’m continually studying her work. Lorraine Grady. I’m always looking for art or reading poetry, whether Sonia Sanchez or June Jordan. I don’t watch films and TV. I know I should because I’m in the industry, but I find a lot of inspiration from mediums outside that. I find it in music. I find it in the books that I read. I’m a voracious reader. I’ve immersed myself in Audre Lorde, James Baldwin, and Lucille Clifton. So that’s where I get my inspiration from. If we were not in a pandemic, I’d visit museums, go to poetry slam sessions, and listen to live music in intimate settings. That’s really where I get my inspiration from.

Sitting and listening to live music is such a gift, a joy. And you forget you take it for granted when it’s not there anymore. I can’t wait until the outside opens up again.

It’s so true. Although the pandemic has been a space of pain for so many — especially given the over 500,000 deaths and the natural disasters that are currently happening — I also feel that it’s teaching all of us how to be grateful. It’s a master class in having gratitude for our life, the breath we have, and the space in which we get to commune. I’m hoping that people come out of this with a more profound sense of self and a deeper understanding of the importance of community and communion.

What are you imagining and manifesting for 2021 and beyond?

For myself or the world?

For yourself and the world.

What I’m manifesting for 2021 and beyond is a deep knowledge of myself. That’s first and foremost because I think the greatest fortune yields from our interconnection of self. I’m manifesting to continue this practice of getting to know myself and falling in love with myself. And from that, I think all my heart’s desires will manifest: the desire to write a children’s book, the desire to continue to create content, the desire to do more public speaking engagements, and the willingness to collaborate and create with people that I don’t know yet.

And for the world, I would say my hope is that what I said earlier: that folks come out of this time [of isolation] with a deeper understanding of self, gratitude, and community. So many people are only making it through because of society because of the importance and significance of mutual aid, a care system. I’m hoping that the values of the white patriarchal capitalist society, which is one of take, dehumanize, exploit, and criminalize, have fallen away by the wayside. And that we’re currently right now reimagining and setting the scenes for a society that is full of care, that is full of love, that is full of compassion and understanding, and’s inherently rooted in community.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity. This interview is part of the “Getting Through…” series, which explores how people from all backgrounds and walks of life — artists, scientists, entertainers, healers, activists, entrepreneurs, and “everyday” folks — are processing, connecting and taking care of themselves and others during these rough times. Read interviews with author Fariha Roísín, yoga instructor Mominatu, writer and actor Tavi Gevinson, singer Shingai Shoniwa, and actor Taylour Paige. Hopefully, these conversations will serve as a record and a guide for anyone who reads them.

Tyson Houlding
I’m a lifestyle blogger with a passion for writing, photography, and exploring new places. I started this blog when I was 18 years old to share what I was learning about the world with family and friends. I’ve since grown into a freelance writer, blogger, and photographer with a growing audience. I hope you find inspiration and motivation while reading through my work!