voyage la | Meet Denise Khumalo of Mnandi Productions
"Today we’d like to introduce you to Denise Khumalo.
Denise, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
I was born and raised in Harare, Zimbabwe. I have always been creative since I was a little kid, I enjoyed anything that kept me active. My parents told me I had the most creative/interesting stories so they knew I was destined for the arts industry. In high school I gravitated towards sociology and fashion, I genuinely enjoyed being around people and helping them. Style/Fashion came naturally to me as well, I always try to incorporate a good outfit whenever I go to an event.
I moved to America to pursue my film career, I received my BS in Communications: TV and Film at SUNY Fredonia in Upstate New York and proceeded to acquire my MFA in Filmmaking at the New York Film Academy in Los Angeles.
From my perspective, documentaries are the definition of cinema veritae, I love how organic it is and people allow themselves to be vulnerable. Ever since I have not looked back.
Has it been a smooth road?
It has not been a smooth road at all lol but they give you the best stories and it makes you appreciate all the little things in life. Being an immigrant in America is not easy, the struggle to get a visa and a work permit has been a battle but what is meant for you will be for you and no one can take it away.
Finding your voice and being accepted in the film industry is also tough, there is so much competition but you have to believe in yourself and be consistent. There aren’t a lot of Zimbabwean women directors in the industry, let alone women at all therefore it is difficult to get into certain rooms because you are not a man." [...]
Loyola Marymount University magazine | Crowning Achievement
I am not my hair, I am not this skin, I am the soul that lives within —India Arie, “I Am Not My Hair”
Rumi wrote about it. India Arie sang about it. But scores of Black women choosing to wear their natural hair in professional spaces are too often penalized for it.
“On the topic of natural hair — and accepting our natural hair as Black women — people are always going to have an opinion about what’s growing out of your personal scalp,” says Stephanie Bell ’20 while talking about the making her capstone documentary film, “Defending Our Crowns.” The 13-minute final undergraduate project at LMU examines the pressures Black women face in fashion and entertainment to conform to European hair standards.
Respectability politics is for real, and oftentimes our worth as Black people is tied to how we wear our hair. In fact, according to Bell, the issue of “good hair” and colorism has become so problematic that generations of Black women have internalized this discrimination as a normal fact of life.
She’s right. And in 2019, California became the first state in the U.S. to pass the CROWN Act — Creating a Respectful and Open World for Natural hair — which ends race-based hair discrimination in workplaces and in K–12 public and charter schools. Championed by then-California Senator Holly Mitchell and galvanized by Esi Eggleston Bracey, former COO and head of beauty and personal care for Unilever PLC North America, the CROWN Act has become a movement in government and private sectors aimed at ending hair discrimination nationwide.
“This isn’t about hair,” says Mitchell, now a Los Angeles County Supervisor. “This is about discrimination, and us creating a culture shift where we acknowledge that a Eurocentric standard of beauty, i.e., straight hair, is not true to us.”
“It certainly doesn’t define professionalism,” adds Mitchell, who wore locs for 17 years, “and it certainly shouldn’t justify little girls being suspended from school because their mothers sent them to school with box braids.” [...]
my africa magazine | Exclusive with US-Zim based filmmaker Denise Khumalo
"Denise Khumalo is an independent filmmaker born and raised up in Zimbabwe then moved to America to pursue her film career. My Afrika Mag had an interview with Khumalo to discuss on her journey in the filming industry and how she is supporting the people at home.
CB: Can you please tell us a brief background about yourself from Zimbabwe to Los Angeles.
DK: I was born and raised in Harare, Zimbabwe and I left in 2008 to attend University in the United States. I studied at SUNY Fredonia for my BS in Communications: TV and Film in upstate New York. After graduation in 2012, I wanted to move to a bigger city with more opportunities and that is what led to my move to Los Angeles where I received my MFA in Filmmaking at New York Film Academy.
CB: How does where you live currently influence the films you make?
DK: I live in Los Angeles, California and it’s a melting pot of people from around the world. It has allowed me to see and experience so many diverse cultures; in addition it has helped me evolve as a person. Living here has made me realize how much I appreciate my country and people, that is why my films focus on immigrants and people of color as I always try to highlight the underdogs.
CB: What was your drive behind making films?
DK: I wanted to be the voice for those who can’t or don’t have the access or opportunity to have themselves heard. Film is universal and it has a way of touching people’s hearts. Documentaries on the other hand, are a way of educating people and that is why I love them so much. You can learn about different cultures and traditions from across the globe from your living room." [...]