Jalena Keane-Lee

Photographer: Kapulei Flores @kapzphotography

HOW DID YOU IDENTIFY YOUR PASSION AND THE WORK THAT SATISFIED YOU VERSUS WORK THAT JUST PAID THE BILLS?

Right now my passion work is documentary, which rarely pays even one bill. However, I’ve found ways to use what I love to pay for my life through client work and freelancing on other people’s sets. In the past year I learned how to shoot and edit. Those skills allowed me to have the option of one woman banding shoots, gave me more technical confidence, and expanded my marketable skills. Being able to shoot and edit not only makes me a better director, and better team member at my production company, but it also gives me a lot more freelance opportunities.

I also purposefully have chosen to pursue this work right now, while I’m in my early twenties and my standard of living is pretty low. Not to say that it isn’t stressful or challenging or scary to not have stability, but I’m lucky to have a wonderful network of friends and family who have let me sleep on their couches around the world and have supported my work. I feel grateful that my passion and money work are very connected and the work that sustains me financially also helps hone my general craft.

WHO WILL ETERNALLY BE A WOMAN YOU ADMIRE AND RESPECT, AND WHY?

I was raised by an amazing Mom who fed me stories of female accomplishment. In our house we honored women like Dolores Huerta, Rigoberta Menchú, and Yuri Kochiyama. I grew up knowing about Nu Shu the secret all female language, once spoken in the Hunan Province of China. My Mom also works in arts education, and I grew up at the arts center she worked at in Richmond, CA where I played saxophone, and danced kathak, son jarocho, and hip hop. I will eternally admire and respect my Mom because she is my most trusted advisor, friend, and raised me immersed in my full power.

IN LIGHT OF YOUR UNDERSTANDING OF OUR HASHTAG #WHYITRIBE, WHY DO YOU THINK IT IS IMPORTANT TO CELEBRATE WHO WE ALREADY ARE TODAY?

We need to acknowledge the brilliant work womxn across industry are doing and creating today, to break the cycle of leaving our accomplishments in the shadows. We have to recognize each other and lift each other up so that all other people young and old alike can know what’s possible. My work centers around this idea. For so long we, particularly us womxn of color, have been left out of history books. Many of us were only taught about our powerful womxn ancestors through oral history. If we were fortunate enough to know about them at all. With my work I use the tools that for so long only people of power held to tell our stories and memorialize our struggles and accomplishments.

NAME A TIME RECENTLY WHEN YOU SAID SOMETHING GOOD ABOUT YOURSELF/HOW DID THAT MAKE YOU FEEL?

I compliment myself all the time! The most recent I can think of is when I was showing Hawane, a brilliant musician and activist, some of the footage I filmed of her for her forthcoming music video. I hadn’t seen the footage in a while and we were watching it was I was like, damn I really am that good! A lot of time when I’m shooting and directing, and sometimes also producing, production is rather hectic so it’s nice to get to go back and really take in what I captured.

I try to bask in my accomplishments, always full of gratitude, and I think that’s what helps me when I face rejections. In creative life we usually only post or share the news when we get something, but for every fellowship or award won there are at least 5-10 that we didn’t get. Appreciating myself and my talent and work sustains me through the ups and downs of creative life.

WHY DO YOU THINK WOMEN SHY AWAY FROM CELEBRATING OR PRAISING THEMSELVES SO MUCH?

Internalized misogyny.

It’s really that. Womxn are taught that we must be “non threatening” on order to be deemed attractive. Being shy and coquettish is seen as sexy because those traits are indicative of subservience. Best way to fight the patriarchy is to love yourself unabashedly and love and uplift the people, particularly womxn, around you.

HOW DO YOU OVERCOME THE TENDENCY TO DISCREDIT COMPLIMENTS YOU ARE GIVEN?

It’s hard because I was raised performing and being onstage all the time. As a young performer there was a lot of praise thrown around, and my mom told me that if I listened to every compliment I would have to listen to every criticism too. As I got older and began writing and directing, sometimes people were not pleased with the stances I took and I heard a lot of backlash that was sometimes even violent and threatening (we all sadly know how the internet can be). So I’ve taken this idea of not being too susceptible to any outside comment to heart.

I think it’s really important, especially as an artist, to value my own opinion of my work above all else. Of course that’s not really possible and way easier to say than put in practice. I’ve developed a community of different people whose opinions I really trust and I usually send them my work, and then if they like it, it means a lot to me.

HOW DOES SOCIETY REINFORCE THE IDEA THAT WE, AS WOMEN, ARE NOT ENOUGH AND HOW CAN WE TAKE THAT POWER BACK?

We take our power back by seizing the means of production and creating for ourselves. We create the world we want to see, a world where we are more than enough. We can create through our art but also through our everyday interactions, the communities we surround ourselves with, and what we chose to do with our time. We take our power back by fundamentally changing what power means. We create a power that is collective and creative and lead by womxn.

WHY IS THE TRIBE MOVEMENT IMPORTANT?

The Tribe Movement is facilitating and creating the culture shift we desperately need. The Tribe Movement is giving womxn their power back, and expanding the available narratives on what it means to be a powerful womxn. I’m honored to be a small part of it!

Occupation: Filmmaker

Website: www.jalenakeanelee.com/

Instagram: jalena.kl