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Five to Follow: Mercedes Cooper's Picks

3 min
By Mercedes Cooper
Honoree Mercedes Cooper speaks onstage at Spirit of Independence during the 2016 Los Angeles Film Festival at Arclight Cinemas Culver City on June 4, 2016 in Culver City, California.
Photo by Amanda Edwards | Getty Images
Mercedes Cooper is the director of programming for ARRAY, a company founded by filmmaker Ava DuVernay that is dedicated to amplifying independent films made by women and people of color globally. We asked Mercedes to recommend five storytellers—authors, artists, filmmakers, and more—this community should be following. Here are her picks.

UPILE CHISALA | @beingupile

A Malawian storyteller based in Johannesburg, Chisala has published two books— soft magic and Nectar—but I follow her day-to-day work on Instagram, as do many members of my social circle. Her words are affirming and soothing—gentle reminders that my joy, sorrow, anger, and desires are valid. The beauty of her pieces is in sharing our present, everyday stories.

Elizabeth Colomba | @elizabethcolomba

Colomba uses 18th and 19th-century painting techniques to depict black and brown bodies during those times. Given that women of color are still too often erased or relegated to supporting roles in the mainstream retelling of history, it makes me happy to see women in my image inserted back into the narrative of those eras.

Eve Ewing | @eve.ewing

Chicago-based writer Eve Ewing’s first book, Electric Arches, is a treat. The stories are rooted, yet magical. Each page is an invitation for conversation. She had me at “Ode to Luster’s Pink Oil.”
 Film directors Taika Waititi, Hepi Mita, film producers Chelsea Winstanley, and Cliff Curtis attend the "MERATA: How Mum Decolonised the Screen" Screening/Q&A at the Ahrya Fine Arts Movie Theater on May 12, 2019 in Beverly Hills, California.
Photo by Ray Tamarra | Getty Images


ARRAY recently released a documentary portrait about this filmmaker and activist, who is referred to as the grandmother of Indigenous cinema. Mita’s work in the ‘70s and ‘80s highlighted the injustices of Māori people—and the telling of those stories often put her in harm's way. I have a degree in film, and yet I first heard about Ms. Mita this year. This shouldn’t be the case. But, a wonderful reminder that there is always more to learn than what is taught.
Director Julie Dash poses for a portrait at the Roger Ebert Film Festival on Day four at the Virginia Theatre on April 21, 2018 in Champaign, Illinois.
Photo by Timothy Hiatt | Getty Images

JULIE DASH | @JulieDash

No list of women storytellers of color would be complete without Ms. Dash. Her exquisite film Daughters of Dust was the first feature directed by an African-American woman to be distributed theatrically in the U.S. I didn’t realize the significance of that “first” when I was introduced to the film in the ‘90s. I just knew that those images and the story centered around black people—and specifically on black women—was unlike anything I had ever seen before. I am a fan for life!