Film spotlight: Amira Jackson ‘24

Amira Jackson '24 details her vision for her past films and dives into creating her new film “The Figure.”

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Photo Courtesy of Amira Jackson '24

A theatre and film studies double major, Amira Jackson ‘24 has always had a passion for film and music videos but didn’t realize she wanted to create them until her senior year of high school. Forced into isolation by the pandemic, Jackson found her calling behind the silver screen. She recalls, “I remember watching countless movies, music videos and films during those many weeks of lockdown. And I began thinking to myself that making a film didn’t actually seem that hard. So I decided that I wanted to give it a try and I saved up to buy a camera. I started photographing and videotaping many things and fell in love with creating through the lens of a camera. Overtime, I have come to learn that making a film is indeed very, very hard, but my passion for creating has never wavered.”

Since beginning her journey behind the camera, Jackson has made a total of five films. With each one, both her passion and skill have grown. Recently, Jackson won Best Horror of 2024 from the KUUMBA Black Arts and Film Festival for the “Cycle of Women” film she created while studying in Prague. “Some are projects that I cringe watching, but they remind me of where I started and how much I’ve grown. As an artist, it’s important to sometimes look back on what you’ve created because it can also help you see patterns,” she advises.

By looking back on her previous films, Jackson realized a common theme, “Every film I made was challenging the way we perceive and talk about race. Knowing that my creative mind was subconsciously wanting to tackle those issues has shaped how I made my last two films. Now that I’ve noticed that about myself I can be much more intentional about the messages and themes I want people to know,” says Jackson. 

Her upcoming film “The Figure,” continues this analysis of race. In the film, the main character, Joshua, moves to a new town with his mother. There, “he endures a battle of having Christianity and whiteness forced onto him and must find his own freedom within or succumb to the beliefs around him,” describes Jackson.  

The film has an abundance of personal significance for Jackson, who grew up in a faith-based family. In explaining her reasoning behind writing the film, Jackson says, “I remember in high school learning about slavery. I was baffled at how large of a role Christianity played in such a gruesome event. I couldn’t process that my family celebrated and believed in the same religion that was forced down the throats of our ancestors. It was a religion that was used as another form of bondage to keep Africans enslaved for many many years.” 

Jackson continued to recount her struggles with this information, stating, “For a while I turned my back on anything related to God or Christianity because it felt contradictory and hypocritical to follow a religion that harmed Black bodies.” However, coming to college at Muhlenberg gave her a new perspective, as she learned about Africa’s long history before colonization and how Christianity was practiced in multiple places, such as Ethiopia. “It changed the way I viewed my relationship to religion. It showed me that Christianity has a very complex position in the history of Africans and African Americans. Since learning that, I’ve begun creating my own relationship with spirituality and learning about ways to infuse African traditions and understanding into the way I practice Christianity,” she shares. 

While much of Jackson’s inspiration came from lived experience, she was also heavily inspired by the film “Ganja and Hess.” Jackson explains, “I think my creative process sometimes varies depending on the genre of film I’m making. But I would say when I get inspiration for films it always comes in images. I always see an image before knowing the exact story!” Weeks after watching “Ganja and Hess,” Jackson remembers dreaming about a cross being nailed to the ground. She elaborates, “After waking up I couldn’t get the image out of my head, and eventually the story of Joshua emerged from that image I kept seeing.” 

After the period of initial inspiration, Jackson states, “I began writing beats or significant moments that I knew I wanted in the film regardless of what the overarching story was. Once I solidified those beats, I began working on a script and the rest is history.”

To Jackson, film is as much an art form as a platform. “Film is a medium that was once used to mock, exploit and dehumanize the African American community. And I see the films I make, and the films that other Black folks are making, as a passage of reclamation! Black films are a tribute to the African American people, it’s like saying, ‘I hear you, I see you and I adore you,’” she explains. 

Looking to celebrate Black bodies in her own film, she communicates, “I remember seeing a quote that there are very few films that zoom in on the faces of Black people, and very rarely do we get to see the intricacies of Black people. So while creating this film I kept that quote with me and I reminded myself of how important it is to show the complexities, but also the beauty of what it means to be Black. I did everything in my power to make sure there were Black and brown bodies involved in front of the camera, but also behind the camera. And I hope the audience can see and appreciate that effort!”

Beyond this, she also hopes that the audience will be moved to discussion after her film. “I hope that the audience will engage in conversations about religions [versus] spirituality… and recognize that, although race is a social construct, it is very real and has been intertwined into our basic understandings of the world. I hope that people will understand that race is a hard thing to grapple with and that we all have our individual journeys,”  she expresses. 

In working on this film, Jackson shares that she hopes to gain understanding of her craft, experience as a filmmaker, and increase her impact. She comments, “I believe that film is a form of art that is learned through doing, the more you do the more you learn!”

She reflects on how it feels to be making her own film, stating “It comes with a lot of weight, but it also feels so affirming! I didn’t make this film happen on my own.” While this film is born of Jackson’s experience, she asserts that it is the work of many creative individuals on campus. She elaborates, “I had the help of Jonathan Mindiak ‘24, Lorenzo Antigua ‘24, Desiree Oliver ‘25, Rachelle Montilus ‘24 and so many more. And it made me overjoyed to know that there were so many people that believed in this story and wanted to help me make it happen! The story was and still is mine, but the film belongs to everyone because it took everyone in order for it to come to fruition.” 

For those interested in the film, Jackson shares how you can get involved. She outlines, “In April 2024 myself, Rev. Janelle Nauber, and a few other student organizations will be collaborating to screen ‘The Figure’ on campus with some curated programming!” For those looking to support the film or screening, Jackson encourages you to reach out to her via email at ajackson@muhlenberg.edu. She expresses, “We hope that the campus body will come to show their support.”

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