Two years ago today, Ashley O’Shay came out with her first feature film, Unapologetic, making today the perfect day to celebrate this incredible filmmaker!
Before venturing into writing and directing, Ashley was a director of photography and producer, primarily working in commercials. She produced and shot advertisements for many big companies such as Nike, Lifetime, and Dr. Martens.
Though they were brief commercials, Ashley’s work often centers Black stories, communicating important messages beyond which brand to buy from. One of Ashley’s most heartwarming commercials, shot for Wilson Tennis, features a young Black girl watching tennis legends like Serena Williams play on her TV. At the end, she looks straight at the camera with confidence and says, “I wanna do that.”
Along with commercials, Ashley has also worked on a few short films during her career. She served as the cinematographer for the short Viktory (2020), about a young girl who is thrown unexpectedly into the foster care system with her sister and learns to cope with her challenging circumstances through dance.
In 2020, Ashley released Unapologetic, a documentary for which she was the director and cinematographer. The film displays the Black Lives Matter movement in Chicago, after the police murder of Chicago resident Rekia Boyd. The film follows two leading activists, both queer Black women, named Janaé and Bella.
Through the lens of Janaé and Bella, Unapologetic deeply explores the personal lives and the incredible people (particularly the women) behind the movement, as well as the big-picture political implications of the protests. With her incredibly impactful film, Ashley won the 2021 Athena Film Festival Breakthrough Award, made DOC NYC’s 40 under 40 list, and was shortlisted for the International Documentary Association Awards.
“With Unapologetic, Ashley thought it was important to showcase the powerful women behind the movement.”
With Unapologetic, Ashley thought it was important to showcase the powerful women behind the movement. In 2020, Ashley attended monthly Chicago Police Board meetings where she was “captivated by not only the young Black people in the space. But that a lot of them were Black women I could directly identify with,” as she stated in an interview with FF2 Contributor Stephanie Taylor.
In this interview, Ashley further discusses what it means to portray Janaé and Bella in such a personal way, outside of and within their roles in the movement: “I’ve been around women my whole life, church, home, and community. As a Black woman, I felt I could bring a necessary perspective to pull out those moments that are more intimate or show nuances on how we exist in the world outside of the spectacle of protest or being on the mic.”
Whether she is shooting a commercial for a brand or creating her own documentary, Ashley never seems to lose sight of the vital stories that need to be told. As an incredibly talented DP, director, and producer, Ashley is exactly the right person to tell them.
© Julia Lasker (1/16/2023) FF2 Media
LEARN MORE/DO MORE
Explore Ashley O’Shay’s work further here.
CREDITS & PERMISSIONS
Featured photo and bottom photo: Special thanks to Will Zang (Ashley O’Shay’s publicist)