Aishah Shahidah Simmons is an award-winning Black feminist lesbian independent documentary filmmaker, published writer, international lecturer, professor, and activist, whose work, for over two decades, examines the intersections of race, gender, sexuality, and sexual violence. 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. Her work is informed by her lived experiences as a child sexual abuse survivor, adult rape survivor, and Buddhist committed to disrupting and ending the inhumane, humanely. In addition to her 17-year meditation practice, Aishah also credits her 27-year work with a Black feminist licensed psychologist as integral tools that support her creative and activist work in the world.
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 decades-long 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. NO! is available for streaming Vimeo On Demand
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.”
There is still more to be done, and for Simmons, this is to address child sexual abuse.
Simmons 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, love WITH accountability journeys deeper than NO! to pull up the roots of child sexual abuse. love WITH accountability 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 the editor of the anthology, love WITH accountability: Digging Up the Roots of Child Sexual Abuse anthology (AK Press | October 2019). She invited 43-diasporic Black cisgender, transgender, gender non-binary, straight ,and queer child sexual abuse survivors and advocates to join her in transformative storytelling that envisions a world that ends child sexual abuse without relying on the criminal justice system. The anthology features compelling writings by child sexual abuse survivors, advocates, and Simmons’s mother, who underscores the detrimental impact of parents/caregivers not believing their children when they disclose their sexual abuse. This collection explores disrupting the inhumane epidemic of child sexual abuse, humanely.
Author and feminist activist Gloria Steinem says of love WITH accountability, "With this brave and healing anthology of truth-telling about sexual abuse within Black families, Aishah Shahidah Simmons sets an example for all families. If we could all raise just one generation of children without violence or the threat of violence, who knows what might be possible?"
Simmons is a Visiting Scholar at the Annenberg School for Communication and an Affiliate Scholar at the Ortner Center on Violence & Abuse, both at the University of Pennsylvania. She is also a member of the Advisory Board of the University of Arizona’s Consortium on Gender-Based Violence.
A recipient of numerous awards, Simmons most recently received the 2019 Breakthrough US Activist Impact Award, and the 2018 American Studies Association’s Committee on Gender and Sexuality Studies’ annual Gloria Anzaldúa Award for Independent Scholars, Contingent or Community College Faculty.
Previously, Simmons was a 2016-2018 Visiting Scholar at the School for Social Policy and Practice (SP2) at the University of Pennsylvania., 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’ essays and articles have been published widely in anthologies, journals, and other media. She 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 Truthout, People, Hematopoiesis Press, 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. Visit the “In the News” section for the latest media coverage. Click here for an in-depth listing of Simmons' writings and media coverage dating back to the 1990s.
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, Spain, 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.