There is nothing pretty about the truth but there is beauty in understanding; wise words from rising college senior, Kenley Duke. The Hampton University student and filmmaker strives to uncover the newest, most innovative ways to spread truth, whether that truth is hers or someone else’s. With one year left in her college journey, Duke has a number of scripts and documentaries under her belt. Committed to being “raw and uncut”, Duke’s ultimate goal is to tell relatable, honest narratives of Black people with mental health being the consistent call to action.
Blossom: How did you get into filmmaking?
Kenley Duke: Watching movies was always a hobby of mine since I was a little girl. It wasn’t until high school that I realized that I watch films differently. I was genuinely intrigued with character development and the fluidity of a plot. My friends and family were certain that with [my personality], I would be an award-winning actress one day but I always knew that I belonged behind the lens. I wasn’t brave enough to enter college pursuing a degree in filmmaking, which left me feeling incomplete and hungry for something more. My junior year at Hampton University, I had an epiphany. I didn’t care how long it took, or what people said, I was going to be a filmmaker.
Blossom: What kind of content do you create?
Kenley Duke: I’m passionate about a lot but I always find myself creating content that the average black man or woman can relate to. I want to normalize being a woman of color. Our experiences, our history, our culture shouldn’t be told by anyone other than us. Nobody can tell your story like you.
Blossom: Any advice to other aspiring filmmakers in college?
Kenley Duke: Dive in headfirst. There is nothing comfortable about growth. Learn your craft, love your craft and most importantly, nurture it. Allow yourself to be open to criticism. With the film industry, there will be plenty of times where you feel like you have no idea what you’re doing. Sometimes, you really don’t know what you’re doing but the beauty of not knowing is that there is only room left for you to learn and make mistakes that you’ll benefit from in the grand scheme. Save up for that camera, figure out that editing software, write that story and don’t let anybody tell you that you can’t.
Blossom: Tell us about your doc “Bent, not Broken”.
Kenley Duke: “Bent, not Broken” is a semi-autobiographical short documentary on the good, the bad, and the truth about single parent family dynamics in the African American community from the perspective of the children stemming from these families. I’m transparent about my story and by doing that; I hoped to spark conversations about the immense need for parents to set their problems aside and co-parent in a healthy way for the betterment of their kids. I feel as though this could break the cycle.
Blossom: What inspired Bent Not Broken?
Kenley Duke: My parents do not communicate. This has ached my heart for years and it worried me that I’d be like them since that’s all I know. However, I realized one day that they are not all I know. I have access to the world at my fingertips. This curse can end right here. Being bent and not broken means that you’ve been through the trenches, but you did not become what you’ve always known, you became better.
Blossom: What challenges did you face in creating your doc?
Kenley Duke: Having to be real with myself. That was very hard. It was a few times where I subconsciously sugarcoated my life to protect myself. Having to shed off layers of hurt and denial was difficult but it made me a better person. I also realized that I am not in anyway a videographer (laughs).
Blossom: Mental health is a recurring theme in your work. Why is this?
Kenley Duke: Aside from being a filmmaker, I’m a mental health advocate. In the black community, we tend to put our mental health on the back burner. We take on so much that it can truly effect our day-to-day. It is okay to seek help from a therapist, we all need it. All you’ve really got is yourself at the end of the day, so you have to take care of your mind and body.
Blossom: How can we watch your project?
Kenley Duke: Easy, just visit sheroproductions.com.
Blossom: What’s next for you, any new projects? What are you working on?
Kenley Duke: I am currently in the development stages of my next documentary, Chasing Faith, a short doc on the everyday struggles of the young Christian. We will be exploring the battle against faith and the flesh from the eyes of 5 diverse young adults. This film will be released in October 2017 and we will be screening this film at churches and Christian related events along the east coast.