Chrishenda Dawkins, My Mother's Voice, 2023 Official Selection Winner, Shows How Human Rights Issues Can Impact Entire Families

Chrishenda Dawkins, 2023 Official Selection Winner, Shows How Human Rights Issues Can Impact Entire Families


Sometimes it’s hard to find the words to convey how we feel about the tragedies that impact our lives. For Chrishenda Dawkins, making My Mother’s Voice turned out to be a profound way to show what she couldn’t say out loud.

Chrishenda directed and filmed My Mother’s Voice, which was named a 2023 Free Speech Film Festival Official Selection winner, during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic and in the wake of the murder of George Floyd.

The film depicts an encounter between two black men – Malcolm and his friend – and a white police officer. Although it would seem like this is the focal point of the movie, Chrishenda conveys that the real main character of the film is Malcolm’s mother, Charlotte. As Chrishenda describes it, in the film we see how “Charlotte’s love for her son has turned into a nightmare” and that “preparing Malcolm how to handle himself when stopped by the police may have become reality.”

Chrishenda Dawkins, My Mother's Voice, 2023 Official Selection Winner

Chrishenda Dawkins, Director

While the film was inspired by the global heartache the African American community was facing, Chrishenda said her decision to create it also came from a very personal place, too.

“We were living in a crazy time. COVID just started, my culture was hurting; we lived in such a loud, silent world. It was scary and I wanted to show that not only the person being pulled over is affected, but other people we are close to are as well,” she said. “When people were protesting (about George Floyd), my cousin’s mom made a post about how watching her son leave the house scares her that he may not come back. I just sat back thinking, ‘This really can’t be the life we live. This world.’ It stands out because, like I said, it’s not only the person who is being detained or connected with the police who are affected; this is about so much more.”

Although she always knew she wanted to work in the film industry, Chrishenda had a unique path to get there. She was born and raised in Tacoma, Washington, and fell in love with film at a young age. However, because she was raised in a very religious household, she wasn’t allowed to watch many films as a child. This led to her writing her own stories that she would act out with her cousins. She followed that by writing plays and skits for church and school. Once she hit her 20s, she realized she needed to make this her profession so she moved to California and committed to studying writing and directing.

She enrolled at Columbia College Hollywood and actually made My Mother’s Voice as a class project. Although she learned a lot in school, Chrishenda said her real filmmaking education came through working on film sets under the tutelage of her mentors, Meiko Taylor and Jovan Dawkins. Today, the 32-year-old mother of two is preparing to launch a filmmaking career that will give a voice to her thoughts and feelings.

“Making my film impacted who I am today by proving to myself that I am capable of what I put my mind to, and I’m allowed to write and speak what I feel and think. It showed me I can show what I can’t say or feel out loud,” she said.

Chrishenda feels it’s important for everyone to exercise their Free Speech rights but emphasized that Free Speech is just as much about listening to the views of others as it is about speaking out yourself.

“It’s so important that everyone has the power of Free Speech. But, I want people to understand you can have the power to speak but it’s also an opinion and we must understand that people are not always going to agree with your freedom to speak. But what are you going to do to make them believe or feel it?” she said.

For those who may feel intimidated about vocally expressing their right to Free Speech, Chrishenda said there are alternate ways to stand up for what they believe in, including volunteering, marching or simply being a listening ear.

Chrishenda said that My Mother’s Voiceyells Free Speech” so the Free Speech Film Festival was the perfect festival for her to enter. She encouraged others who want to find their voice, to enter the 2024 Free Speech Film Festival.

“If you are holding your tongue or feeling afraid or skeptical, that means that it needs to be heard,” she said. “Don’t be afraid to speak your truth in a respectful way. Sometimes it’s the only way someone will get it and hear you. We need your voice; start here.”

After taking what she called “a needed health and maternity leave,” Chrishenda is taking her first steps back into filmmaking and is hoping to release more films soon.

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