Unapologetic review: bringing female voices to the forefront

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“Our entire existence is resistance” is one of the many beautiful moments and words captured by first-time filmmaker Ashley O’Shay in her documentary Unapologetic.

Unapologetic puts faces, voices and bodies to the social media videos that flood our timelines of people in the streets demanding justice. O’Shay puts Black women at the forefront of this discussion, highlighting multiple change-makers making a difference in their communities and, subsequently, the world.

Unapologetic is beautifully grounded in an experience that many Americans face. It shows the real hurting from families grappling with the prison industrial complex, capturing moments of pure emotion as they plead with the powers that choose to ignore their voices. Rooted in community, O’Shay follows the Chicago chapter of the BYP100 and celebrates their joy as well as their work. 

O’Shay’s intimacy with her contributors allows her to capture spaces that we are not used to seeing, where women are relaxed, feeling joy, discussing dating and love. The female experience is rarely captured so unobtrusively on screen. We get discussions between mothers and daughters, where they learn from one another about sexuality and identity, showing the power of educating generations that may come before and after us.

O’Shay paints a picture of inclusivity where everyone is uplifted, including the historically silenced voices of trans, gender non-conforming and queer people aiming to break down barriers and stereotypes. Spaces where women learn from one another intellectually and spiritually where men are not in the frame get full attention. She utilises the homemade aesthetic of her film to her full advantage. There’s an incredible moment where a contributor addresses her by name, and the family has to explain why Ashley isn’t talking to them. It’s moments like this that add to the intimate charm of Unapologetic. Although its focus could’ve been narrower, the ‘in-the-action’ style does lend itself to some exceptional moments and invites you to shoulder the emotion of their successes. 

The conversation it centres on is one that we have ignored for centuries, utilising archival footage and speeches from Angela Davis and other activists showing the troubling way we continue to ignore and diminish the voices that can educate us. The strength of Unapologetic is that it doesn’t necessarily care to cater to the people who have silenced these discussions. From its opening sequence to shots of children and babies at the protests and community meetings, it showcases the lifelong experience that white privilege can selectively ignore. Unapologetic invites a new audience into those spaces to listen, learn and mobilise. 

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