Monday, January 18, 2021

Fearless Abolitionist Leaders Janaé Bonsu and Bella BAHHS Are ‘Unapologetic’

*”Unapologetic” is a riveting civil rights film, a story producer Morgan Johnson said no one has told “through the lens of young women grassroots organizers.”

The opening scene is gripping; a freezing Chicago day, suddenly scores of determined millennial demonstrators including fearless Janaé Bonsu and Bella BAHHS (Black Ancestors Here Healing Society) descend on a packed restaurant. They walk and talk with determination around the room – urging the brunch goers, mostly White, to say the names of Sandra Bland (discovered in 2015 hanged in a Texas jail cell) and Rekia Boyd (shot and killed in 2012 by an off-duty Chicago police detective) and other Black men, women and children who were police brutality victims.

“In telling this story from the perspective of Black women we intentionally centered that identity throughout the narrative to really create a dialogue and conversation about what it means to organize and shout it out to your community,” Ashley O’Shay, the director of the documentary explained to

At the heart of the documentary is an up-close look at the private and public battles “that transformed Chicago” waged by Bonsu and BAHHS, two queer women organizers and self-described abolitionists.

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Bonsu explained why she considers herself an abolitionist saying, “Incarceration is the 21st century version of slavery,” when talking to Girl Crush magazine. “I feel like my role living in the 21st century is the same as those abolitionists who were alive during the slave era, like the Harriet Tubmans and the Frederick Douglasses.”

This avant-garde movie untangles millennials musings around the new reckoning with racial injustice. “Unapologetic” also ruminates about gender bias – why the police killings of Boyd in the Windy City and other Black women across the country do not get as much national attention as Black men murdered by cops in America.

“Rekia Boyd was a young woman who is around my age, well she would have been around my age if she were still alive. I’m 31 years old. Rekia Boyd was murdered shortly after Treyvon Martin, which we know Treyvon Martin kind of like sparked the movement for Black lives. But what we did not see was Black women’s names being uplifted with the same visibility as Treyvon Martin or Michael Brown,” said Johnson, co-creator of the digital media platform The TRiiBE.

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The documentary captures a heated 2016 Chicago Police Board meeting presided over by board president Lori Lightfoot. She heard from scores of speakers angry that Detective Dante Servin still had a job. They insisted that Servin be terminated without his pension for the fatal shooting of Boyd. Servin found not guilty of involuntary manslaughter for killing Boyd, decided to resign in 2016 just days before a departmental hearing that would have determined whether to strip him of his badge.

The city paid $4.5 million to Boyd’s family as part of a wrongful death settlement.

“Young people have attempted to impose upon me as president of the police board a power that I don’t possess. They want any police officer who kills an African American to be fired, stripped of their pension without any due process, any investigation,” Lightfoot says in the film. We don’t see her, just hear her forlorn sounding voice, as chants of “I am Rekia Boyd” fade away.

Johnson maintains this feature “kind of pulls back the curtain” on Chicago politics and politicians including Lightfoot, now mayor of Chicago.

“I think Mayor Lightfoot has a national persona of being like a darling of the progressive movement when in fact movement leaders of Chicago they very much see her as an adversary and have seen her that way for quite some time,” Johnson argues.

O’Shay revealed the catalyst for “her first venture into the feature world” centers around an issue she took to heart – unsung civil rights sheroes like Ella Baker, who was alongside Rev. Martin Luther King when he formed the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) and Fannie Lou Hamer, with only a sixth grade education was a “forceful personality” for voting rights.

“I don’t think the issue in the ‘60’s and the civil rights movement was that Black women weren’t there they certainly had their hands on many, many things. The issue is less about whether or not women were there and what they were doing it’s just about where that perspective has or has not been centered,” said O’Shay.

The film is produced by Kartemquin Films (behind National Geographic’s current CITY SO REAL series).

Check out “Unapologetic” at these festivals: the DOC NYC festival, moved online for the first time, ( through November 19, 2020 and the Black Harvest Film Festival, first-ever all-virtual edition ( through November 30, 2020.

The “Unapologetic” website is at

By Tené Croom





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