Aishah Shahidah Simmons is an award-winning Black feminist lesbian independent documentary filmmaker, published writer, international lecturer, professor, and activist. For twenty-six years, Simmons has been both motivated and engaged as a cultural worker because she believes each one of us has the birth right to live in a world where oppression and exploitation based on race/ethnicity, gender/gender identity, national origin/citizenship, sexuality/sexual orientation, class, and/or religion of anyone is non-existent. Aishah credits both her 27-year work with a Black feminist licensed psychologist and a dedicated 17-year practice of vipassana meditation as two integral tools that support her work, which are located at the intersections of race, gender, sexuality, and spiritual practice.
An incest and adult rape survivor who was fortunate to have a safe and legal abortion during her sophomore year in college in 1989, Simmons began cinematically telling stories in the 1990s with her self-defined AfroLez®femcentric camera lens. Produced in 1993 and 1996 respectively, her widely acclaimed short videos Silence...Broken and In My Father's House address race, gender, homophobia, rape, reproductive justice, and misogyny.
She wrote, directed and produced NO! The Rape Documentary, the 2006-released, award-winning, internationally acclaimed film funded by the Ford Foundation. NO! broke taboos that hid heterosexual rape and sexual assault in African-American communities. Subtitled in Spanish, French, and Portuguese, the film brought together leading African-American scholars, theologians, artists, activists, men, women, and survivors to break silences and commit themselves to reshape patriarchal cultures of violence against women and queer communities. NO! was ahead of its time. Its’ 2006-world premiere at the Pan African Film Festival in Los Angeles, CA occurred one-year before Title IX was successfully applied to campus sexual assault cases, nine-years before the award-winning film “The Hunting Ground” was released, and eleven-years before the powerful #MeToo and #TimesUp hashtags that represent long-term movements to end sexual violence and sexual harassment raised national and international awareness in unprecedented ways.
Since 2006, NO! and its supplemental materials have been used continuously in high schools, colleges and universities, rape crisis centers, battered women's shelters, community centers, correctional facilities, churches, and at conferences and government-sponsored events in the U.S., and countries in Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean.
Alice Walker, the Pulitzer Prize and National Book award-winning author of The Color Purple, says,
“If the Black community in the Americas and in the world would save itself, it must complete the work that [NO!] begins.”
NO! is available for streaming Vimeo On Demand
There is still more to be done, and for Simmons this is to address child sexual abuse. She fully believes that child sexual abuse is a core factor in all forms of sexual violence. Its occurrence, treatment, and research about it must be seen in the current heightened awareness of sexual violence. She is one of the 2016-2019 inaugural cohorts of the Just Beginnings Collaborative (JBC), a group of eight fellows and ten grantee organizations that address child sexual abuse. Her JBC-funded Project, #LoveWITHAccountability journeys deeper than NO! to pull up the roots of child sexual abuse. #LoveWITHAccountability examines how accountability is a powerful and necessary form of love needed to address child sexual abuse. It also examines how the silence around child sexual abuse in the familial institution plays a direct role in creating a culture of sexual violence in all other institutions—religious, academic, activist, political and professional. The project grew out of Simmons' personal incest healing work. Demanding a conversation with her divorced parents about their lack of response to her being sexually abused as a child, Simmons signed "Love WITH Accountability" in virtually every communiqué to them. In doing so, Simmons was trying to emphasize that her deep love for her parents could not shield their lack of accountability for the sexual violence she endured as child.
Simmons is in the final stages of editing the forthcoming, Fall 2019-released, Love With Accountability: Digging Up the Roots of Child Sexual Abuse anthology (AK Press), which will be a hybrid of the revised contributions to the 2016 online forum, and original contributions. The anthology will feature approximately 40- diasporic Black, cisgender, transgender, gender non-binary, straight and queer, child sexual abuse survivors and advocates who use transformative storytelling to explore how we can disrupt and end the global epidemic of child sexual abuse without solely relying on the criminal justice apparatus that has historically and contemporarily harmed Black and other communities of color.
Simmons is also a 2016-2019 Visiting Scholar at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Social Policy & Practice (SP2). While in residence at SP2, she continues to develop her #LoveWITHAccountability project under the auspices of her four-year JBC Fellowship. This work includes editing an anthology of writings by diasporic Black child sexual abuse survivors and advocates, and hosting a national convening. The interlocutors that she engages with at SP2 include the Evelyn Jacobs Ortner Center on Violence and Abuse in Relationships, the Slought Foundation, Penn Violence Prevention, and CAMRA, an interdisciplinary collective of researchers and educators committed to participatory and experimental media-making.
The Committee was thoroughly impressed with your important cultural work at the forefront of intersectional feminist praxis. We agree that NO! The Rape Documentary was indeed “ahead of its time” and that it thoroughly reflects and builds on the vital tradition of work generated by women of color activists, cultural workers, and scholars.
Given the strong affinity with Anzaldúa's oeuvre, vision, and political commitments evident in your work and personal experience, we are delighted to present you with this this award, which honors Anzaldúa’s outstanding career as an independent scholar and her labor as contingent faculty, along with her groundbreaking contributions to scholarship to feminist, women of color and queer theory.
Previously, Simmons was the 2015-2016 Sterling Brown Professor of Africana Studies at Williams College, an Adjunct Professor in Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies Program at Temple University, an O’Brien Distinguished Visiting Professor in the Feminist, Gender and Sexuality Studies Department at Scripps College, an Artist-in-Residence at the Center for the Study of Race, Politics and Culture and a Visiting Lecturer in the Department of Cinema and Media Studies at the University of Chicago, and an Artist-in-Residence at Spelman College’s Digital Moving Image Salon.
An Associate Editor of the online publication The Feminist Wire, Simmons’ published articles focus on archiving and documenting Black women’s herstories and contemporary realities because they exemplify intersectional theory and praxis. Her essays and articles have also been published in several journals and anthologies including the Dear Sister: Letters from Survivors of Sexual Violence and Queering Sexual Violence: Radical Voices from Within the Anti-Violence Movement anthologies. Simmons is also a member of the editorial board of The Feminist Wire Book series at the University of Arizona Press.
Her cultural work and activism are featured in anthologies, periodicals, and blogs including, but not limited to Essence, NBCNews.com, CASSIUS, The New York Times, Ms, Colorlines, TheRoot.com, Forbes, Crisis, Alternet, Racialicious, Left of Black, The Philadelphia Weekly, In These Times, Peace X Peace, The Chronicle of Higher Education, HuffPost Black Voices, and Imagine Otherwise. She has also appeared on local and national radio and television networks including National Public Radio (NPR), Black Entertainment Television (BET), and Pacifica Radio Network. Click here for an in-depth listing of Simmons' writings and media coverage.
Simmons has screened her work, guest lectured, and facilitated workshops and dialogues to racially and ethnically diverse audiences at colleges and universities, high schools, conferences, international film festivals, rape crisis centers, battered women shelters, community centers, juvenile correctional facilities, and government sponsored events across the United States and Canada, throughout Italy, in South Africa, France, England, Croatia, Hungary, The Netherlands, Mexico, Kenya, Malaysia, India, Switzerland, St. Croix U.S.V.I, Germany, and Cuba. You can follow Simmons on twitter @AfroLez and #LoveWITHAccountability at @LoveAccountably
Click here for Simmons' full Filmography.