Film director Yoruba Richen advises future filmmakers, activists during Elon’s Liberal Arts Forum Lecture

Richen, a filmmaker, screenwriter and producer, addressed the Elon community on Thursday, Oct. 6 in Whitley Auditorium.

Filmmaker, screenwriter and producer Yoruba Richen (right) with J. Earl Danieley Distinguished Professor Naeemah Clark on Thursday, Oct. 6 during the Conversation with Yoruba Richen event.

As the first Liberal Arts Forum lecture of the 2022-2023 academic year, film director Yoruba Richen discussed her career creating documentary films that are catalysts for social change. Naeemah Clark, J. Earl Danieley Distinguished Professor and professor of cinema and television arts, moderated the conversation held on Thursday, Oct. 6 in Whitley Auditorium.

Richen’s award-winning work has been featured on Netflix, MSNBC, FX and HBO, among other outlets. In addition to her career as a film director, screenwriter and producer, Richen is also the director of the documentary program at the Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at The City University of New York.

Claire Lancaster ‘23, a member of the Liberal Arts Forum, began the event by introducing Richen and Clark.

“My goal is not to change people’s minds, my goal is to expose people to different narratives, and hopefully inspire people to learn more about topics. For me, telling stories about community has always been a part of who I am,” Richen said.

Richen first discussed her documentary, “The New York Times Presents: The Killing of Breonna Taylor,” which won an NAACP Image Award and is streaming on Hulu.

The film was shot during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 and provided Richen with a myriad of challenges. Most of the interviews had to be shot outside due to pandemic restrictions and Louisville, Kentucky, which was the primary shooting location, was in a state of unrest following the protests related to Taylor’s death.

“I could not hide how the film was affecting me,” Richen said while speaking on how she grappled with the emotional content of the documentary. “But I wanted to accurately convey these investigative themes while also painting a portrait of Breonna.”

After sharing a clip from the film, Richen discussed the importance of creating films from a social justice lens. Her other works include “How it Feels to Be Free,” which aired on American Masters, and “The Green Book: Guide to Freedom,” which was broadcast on the Smithsonian Channel. Both films were nominated for an Emmy Award.

Richen also reviewed the creative process behind her upcoming documentary, “The Rebellious Life of Mrs. Rosa Parks,” which will be available to stream on Peacock on Oct. 19. The film is centered around pivotal women from the civil rights movement, and Richen hopes the documentary will give these women the recognition they deserve.

The conversation concluded with a Q&A period and Richen answered questions from audience members, which included the risks associated with filmmaking, advice for future filmmakers and the inspiration behind Richen’s work.

“You do, and you will, figure it out,” Richen said when asked how she dealt with obstacles in her career.

This event was put on by Elon’s Liberal Arts forum. The group hosts similar events throughout the year and invites students to work together to discuss which interests are most prevalent on campus and what type of speaker may draw a wide range of students and faculty at Elon.