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Unapologetic About Racial Justice

Ashley O’Shay’s documentary follows the work of two Chicago women at the fore of the Movement for Black Lives.

oshay unapologetic
Ashley O’Shay, right, and activist Janaé Bonsu.Image: Bob Simpson

By Lena Elmeligy
Winter 2021
People

Ashley O’Shay attended her first Black Lives Matter protest in 2012 following the killing of Trayvon Martin. After graduating with a radio/TV/film degree, O’Shay ’15 decided to focus her documentarian lens on the nascent movement.

What began as a short film for her internship with Kartemquin Films turned into Unapologetic, a feature-length documentary that premiered in August at the BlackStar Film Festival in Philadelphia. O’Shay follows the work of two young Black women, Janaé Bonsu and Bella BAHHS, who organize for Black political, economic and social liberation. (Morgan Elise Johnson ’11 is the film’s producer.)

O’Shay knew she had to make the film when she witnessed the “electric atmosphere” at a Chicago Police Board accountability hearing in response to the killing of Rekia Boyd by an off-duty officer. “I was taken aback that the voices at the center of this space ... were those of young Black women who I could identify with in a lot of ways,” says O’Shay, who grew up in Indianapolis and now lives in Chicago.

The project picked up momentum after the killing of Laquan McDonald caused the movement to gain even more attention. O’Shay says it was important to capture this moment in Chicago’s history by featuring women “who reminded me of the Black women in my life. I wanted to give them the respect that they’ve always deserved within movements around Blackness.”

O’Shay became more outspoken on issues of racial justice thanks to Northwestern. “I was always very much a rule follower and didn’t want to stir the pot,” she says. “But because of the strength of the Black community, Northwestern was a space where I could explore my politics and activism.”  

While O’Shay is also interested in pursuing commercial and branded content, documentaries flow most naturally for her.  

In September she was named to Newcity’s “Film 50 2020: Chicago’s Screen Gems,” telling the magazine that “being a Black woman with the talent to wield a camera is a superpower.”

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