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Colette Greenstein
Colette Greenstein has been a contributing arts & entertainment writer for the Banner since 2009. VIEW BIO
Thato Mwosa’s ‘Memoirs of a Black Girl’ lands distribution deal
Director Thato Mwosa on the set of her first feature film, “Memoirs of a Black Girl.” PHOTO: COURTESY OF 1091 PICTURES

Thato Mwosa knows how rocky the teenage years can be. As a film instructor at Brookline High School and a mother of three children ages 16, 13 and 8, she sees the numerous challenges that many young people face each day — from cyberbullying and being jumped to snitching — as they try to navigate high school, friendships and their daily lives.

The Botswana native has poured all she has observed and experienced into her first feature film, “Memoirs of a Black Girl,” which she wrote, directed and executive-produced. A coming-of-age story set at the fictional Dudley High, the movie stars Boston native Khai Tyler as Aisha Johnson, a brilliant student who is up for a prestigious scholarship. When Aisha tries to do the right thing, her life is turned upside down, putting her promising future in jeopardy.

“Memoirs of a Black Girl” was selected to screen at more than 10 film festivals across the country this year, including the Boston Globe’s Black History Month Film Festival, where it premiered, the Pan African Film + Arts Festival in Los Angeles, the BronzeLens Film Festival in Atlanta, the African Diaspora International Film Festival in Washington, D.C. and the Hamilton Black Film Festival in Ontario, Canada, where it won two awards — Best Feature Film and Best Actress Feature Film for Tyler — and Mwosa was nominated for a Best Directing Feature Film award.

Khai Tyler as Aisha Johnson in “Memoirs
of a Black Girl.” PHOTO: COURTESY OF 1091 PICTURES

The filmmaker didn’t know what to expect when she submitted “Memoirs” as part of the film festival circuit, especially since many of the festivals were virtual this year. “You can’t really measure the reception, how people receive it, other than maybe just one or two emails or comments on Facebook,” said Mwosa in a recent phone conversation with the Banner. “The experience of premiering in film — we were robbed of that because of COVID. I didn’t know what to expect, and I was surprised.”

Her film had its first in-person screening at Boston’s Roxbury International Film Festival (RoxFilm), which she calls one of her favorite festivals. “I got to really feel the audience, see how they received it, talk to them, because we did a Q&A,” said Mwosa. “That really gave me a measurement of how the film was doing.” The film won the award for Best Narrative Feature at RoxFilm.

It’s not only movie-going audiences that have been receptive to the coming-of-age drama. 1091 Pictures, a distribution partner for independent film and series owners, recently acquired “Memoirs” for worldwide and digital broadcast rights after viewing the film at the Pan African Film + Arts Festival this past February. It’s also available to purchase or rent on digital and VOD platforms.

Mwosa has been directing for more than 15 years. Her first short film in 2005 was “Don’t Tell Me You Love Me,” about domestic violence and abuse within the immigrant community. It premiered at the then-named Roxbury Film Festival, where she received the Emerging Filmmaker Award.

Her interest in film began when she took a documentary filmmaking course at Emerson College. “I knew right away that it is what I wanted to do for my career. I was attracted to the power of film; how I could engage, educate and enlighten audiences through visual storytelling,” Mwosa wrote this past summer in an interview with the Banner.

The idea for “Memoirs” came about because Mwosa had been frustrated with the lack of representation in coming-of-age movies set in urban schools. She completed the first draft nine years ago, only 20 pages long at that time. “My students read it and loved it. They helped me hone the dialogue,” Mwosa wrote. “Over the years I expanded it, revised and workshopped it.” The film was finally shot in 2019. Production was completed before COVID-19 hit in early 2020.

“Memoirs” is a love letter to Mwosa’s students. “I wanted to honor their stories and celebrate who they are. A lot of times urban schools and urban students are depicted negatively in movies. I intended to present a counternarrative. I wanted to focus on smart Black and brown kids who excel despite the pressures and challenges of high school,” said the director. “The protagonist Aisha is a composite of the many brilliant girls I have encountered in my teaching career. I wanted to say, ‘I see you; I hear you; I applaud you, and you are doing all the right things. Keep going.’”

Now that her labor of love is completed and has been well-received, the self-described “filmmaker who teaches” is already hard at work at her next project — “A Blue Dawn,” a coming-of-age story set in a village in Botswana.