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Adia Ivey Shapes Cinematic Narratives Through An Intersectional Lens

Written by on July 20, 2023

Adia Ivey is a visionary filmmaker whose storytelling brilliance shines a spotlight on the beauty and complexity of the human experience.

Adia Ivey is a Chicago-based producer and director whose artistic vision goes beyond the boundaries of conventional storytelling. As a passionate advocate for inclusivity and representation, Ivey is on a mission to shed light on the complexities of relationships – both with oneself and within the broader community – while tackling the obstacles that influence our journeys through life.

Embracing a Black Queer womanist perspective, Ivey weaves a tapestry of narratives to celebrate diversity and authenticity. Their films provide a compelling glimpse into the intricacies of the human experience, where personal struggles and collective triumphs find a resonant voice on the silver screen.

Adia Ivey hopes to make films reflecting the Black queer perspective, both in documentary and narrative works. Ari Mejia/Vocalo Radio

With a distinctive approach to storytelling, Ivey adeptly navigates various genres, effortlessly shifting between scripted narrative and documentary styles. This fluidity allows them to capture the raw essence of truth, blurring the lines between reality and fiction in their cinematic creations.

In this installment of “This Is What Chicago Sounds Like,” Adia Ivey takes us on a captivating journey as they delve into their mission of exploring Black queer identity through film, their involvement with the reservoir collective, and their deep-rooted love for Chicago.

What do you focus on in your films?

I think these past few years have helped me figure out what themes I really want to narrow in on as a filmmaker, especially going forward. I’ve been looking and reflecting on Black and queer identity in a general sense. I’m excited to focus more on how our identities interact with everyday obstacles. I think, especially late-stage capitalism has been something that I’m kind of interrogating with one project that I’m working on, but that also seems to be speaking to me with projects that are brought to me. 

Where are you from?

I grew up in Oak Park, right now I’m living in Rogers Park and I’ve been in Chicago for the past four years. Over the years of connecting with other friends, I’ve just found that a lot of people are also based up here. I also don’t have a car, so I’m able to take the train and see other friends just as easily. I mean, I was in Uptown for a bit and I was in Logan Square. Those were okay, but I think this is the first time I felt more at home. 

With work focusing on underrepresented communities, Ivey strives to be intentional and increase accessibility to their films. Ari Mejia/Vocalo Radio

Did you always want to be a filmmaker?

I actually started out with pre-law in undergrad. I’ve always had an interest in politics and social issues, but I think I’ve also always been a storyteller. After taking a documentary class in undergrad, I started to shift to documentary – which also just felt more accessible, because I can make films with the limited resources I had. I didn’t have a lot of funding, I had a camera and a mic. 

Kartemquin is an independent documentary company in Chicago. They are very intentional with filmmaking, but also impact producing, and that’s when I started learning more about what the life of a film can look like outside of its screening. After undergrad, I interned at Kartemquin for a bit. I think it sparked interest for me, because I found that, with my focus on Black and queer stories, I need to be intentional with who my audience is and how I’m connecting with them, just because festivals can very often be very expensive. That also brought my interest for impact producing, and although that started with documentary, it also shifted to scripted narrative. So now I do a bit of both.

What is, “impact producing?”

Impact producing, that means finding other avenues for distribution outside of the theater run. For me, that looks like community screenings and collaborating with other organizations that align with the values of the film, and hosting events to, again, make the screening more accessible for our target audience.

I think these past few years, my films have more so been an exploration of identity, with Black and queer identity especially. I think the documentary work that I produce tends to be intimate everyday stories, and the scripted narrative projects I work on tend to explore the ways that our imaginations can be realized in our everyday lives. Whether that be in memory, or in storytelling. 

What else do you do?

I’m in a collective called the Reservoir. It’s a mutual aid collective that pools funds for Black, queer and/or disabled artists in the Chicago area so that we can finish our projects, or at least not be worrying about rent while doing these projects. While on top of that, continuing to do our community events and screenings that we enjoy doing. I think that collective is a response to inflation, yes, but the overall stage of late-stage capitalism, and that our labor continues to be exploited. Although that’s affecting everybody, very vulnerable communities tend to be the first who are directly impacted. That’s honestly something that I’m still reflecting on, and that it needs to be solved. Or addressed, rather, in a systemic matter.

The goal of the collective more so is to figure out what we’re going to do now in the meantime, and what community support can look like. Right now, that looks like making sure people have a house to stay in, have food. As artists, we’re very often put in a position where we’re depending on funding from very elite institutions, sometimes they don’t always align with our values. It’s really crucial that our stories aren’t put on pause, because they’re not considered valuable by these elite institutions. In our everyday life, we’re hoping that, through collective action, through supporting each other, we can at least share our own stories and document and archive our history while making sure that we’re all taken care of. 

Originally from Oak Park, the filmmaker found home in Rogers Park. Ari Mejia/Vocalo Radio

What does a producer in film do?

I think my job as a producer is to also prioritize the stories while ensuring that the artists who are telling them have agency in how that story is being told, without it being watered down. I think something that I keep circling back to is how do we create art without depending on these institutions that are exploiting us in the first place? 

What has kept you in Chicago?

I think Chicago is always going to be home for me. My family is here, I have so many friendships that I can’t imagine just disappearing. I’m really grateful for the sense of community, and I think that is very unique to Chicago in itself, especially in an industry city. I’ve been to LA and I visited New York, and sometimes it can feel a bit more individualistic. In comparison, I’m really grateful for the people I’ve connected with these past few years. I think something else I’ve been navigating with Chicago is how segregated the city is. I think, in particular, with the Reservoir collective, how do we really make sure that we’re not only just hosting screenings, but making them as accessible as possible in South and West neighborhoods? I’m really grateful for my support system. I think collaboration like that just makes me really, really excited for the future, and just what’s possible. 

Since 2016, we have been profiling people who give their all to Chicago and enrich us socially and culturally by virtue of their artistry, social justice work and community-building. Take a listen. Read their words. Become inspired.

Interview and audio production by Ari Mejia

Photos by Ari Mejia, edited by Omi Salisbury

Introduction written by Omi Salisbury

Transcription and editing for length and clarity by Morgan Ciocca

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