If you ask filmmaker Arielle Knight if she thinks the power of film is real, don’t be surprised if she pulls Exhibit A out of her bag of tips. Knight says that thanks to the film Black Panther, we now have a collective image of reference.
“When we talk about Pan-Africanism and a Black collective African diasporic collective, we have Wakanda. That's the work that stories are doing. It's changing the way that we can imagine ourselves and imagine the world,” reflects Knight.
For her film A Song of Grace, Knight shares the story of 12-year-old composer Grace Moore as she navigates the challenges of today’s world and uses her gifts to compose an extraordinary piece of classical music that ultimately alters her life and that of her mother. Knight’s film is one of four selected to be part of this year’s Queen Collective, for which Procter & Gamble has partnered with hip-hop, television and film icon Queen Latifah and Tribeca Studios to spotlight and promote the work of women of color telling diverse and rich stories.
Knight shares that for her next work, she plans to explore generational trauma from a unique perspective. “Sometimes there is this really beautiful thing that happens with trauma, which is that it generates something quite opposite. I hope to add to the conversation that struggle, pain and trauma can be passed on, but it can also be transformed into something quite brilliant and beautiful and very different from the origin,” reflects Knight.
We spoke to the New York-based filmmaker about the transformative power of film and what it means for her to be part of this year’s Queen Collective.
BET.com: As you know, your film is going to be featured on BET Her as part of the channel’s Juneteenth programming. What does having your film air nationally and supported by the Queen Collective mean to you?
Arielle Knight: I think it's really important that African Americans in this country have Juneteenth for ourselves as a celebratory day. A day where we not only reflect on where we've come from, but where we're going. I love to see that Juneteenth has become this really joyous day where people remember not just our enslaved past, but the beauty of blackness, and the uniqueness of being a Black American person. There's a lot of struggle and pain tied to that experience, but Juneteenth is an opportunity to say I’ve survived, and we continue to survive.
The fact that my film is playing as part of the Queen Collective is extra special, because these films are really about celebrating Black life in all of its beauty, complexity and wonder. My film is about celebrating Black genius and Black motherhood, and I think it really ties in nicely with the meaning of Juneteenth.
BET.com: What compelled you to make this film?
Arielle Knight: I was enthralled by the story of a 12-year-old Black girl from Brooklyn, Grace, composing music for the New York Philharmonic. This [is a] really special and beautiful story of a single, Black mother raising an exceptional child, and being really intentional about how she's raising her daughter.
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BET.com: Was there a time when you struggled to own your voice and vision as a filmmaker, and what turned things around for you?
Arielle Knight: Every day I have to wake up and tell myself that I'm capable and that I am worthy to be doing what I'm doing. Every single day is a battle against self-doubt and external forces doubting me. I just have to wake up and put on my armor. And my armor is other Black sisters doing this, my mother who I see working hard, and my communities—that's my armor. It’s like waking up every day and reminding myself that I'm not the first, I'm not the last because we deserve to be here. Just by being really generous and saying it's O.K. also to make mistakes. It allows me to keep creating and keep trying things and keep pushing myself to do things that are not always comfortable to inhabit spaces that weren't created for me.
BET.com: Why do you think it's so important to continue to fight for the right to tell our stories?
Arielle Knight: I think we underestimate how much stories shape our world-view and shape our sense of empathy our sense of imagination, and our ability to see ourselves in others. When you have this lack of diverse images of people of color, of women of color, of Black people on the screen, what you get is a world where people cannot imagine us in our complexity. And we can't even imagine ourselves in our complexity, because the stories that have been told about us are so limited. It's super-duper important that we continue to make films that push the boundaries of our imagination of what Black people can be and can do.
BET.com: As a member of this year’s Queen Collective, is there anything you’d like to say to the icon herself, Queen Latifah?
Arielle Knight: She’s definitely an icon, and when I get an opportunity to meet her, besides just being super grateful for this opportunity that [she’s] created for young women like myself, I also just would express gratitude to her for being that person who has paved the way. It's hard to be that person. She’s not only paving the way but she’s looking back and opening the door, making sure that it stays open for the women who are coming behind her. And that's everything.