Okema “Seven” Gunn
into a light-hearted
tale about four
Cursive writing leads the way to teenage enlightenment in A Sisterhood of Signatures, a Chicago-made short screening September 21st at the Oak Park International Film Festival.
Written and directed by Seven Okema Gunn, the 17-minute film presents the traditional and, in some cases, lost form of communication as a mystery and a right of passage for four junior high school girls who form a club based on their mutual inspiration to learn it.
The plot begins to take shape when one of them discovers a World War 2-era letter from her great grandmother.
The girls call themselves the Sisterhood of Signatures and agree to complete assignments with pen and paper. Over the ensuing year, they enjoy kid stuff and explore historical issues, especially those pertaining to African Americans, while learning lessons that are skillfully woven into a junior high school adventure.
A Sisterhood of Signatures premiered at the Black Harvest Film Festival and has earned a positive review from Chicago critic Don Shanahan, who described it as “an extraordinary accomplishment for the writer and filmmaker.”
ALSO READ: The Reel Black List: Okema Gunn, Film Critic and Writer
A meeting of the sisterhood
An important skill
Besides being an independent filmmaker, Gunn is also a dedicated CPS substitute teacher who earned a Masters in Education from Roosevelt University. She was inspired to shoot Sisterhood by a belief that cursive writing is “an important skill for kids to have in their toolbox.”
“I wanted the discussion to be had that cursive writing is an important thing,” says Gunn. “For certain documents, whether it’s a will or a mortgage, if you don’t have a signature, you’re going to have a problem. I think it’s a travesty that, for the past ten years, they haven’t taught it.”
Among the people who agree with her is Chicago actor Cynda Williams (Mo’ Better Blues, Tales of the City) who plays mother to one of the girls in the film.
“Cynda was drawn to the historical significance and she really liked the story,” says Gunn.
The pair originally met “about three years ago” at a Soul Train impact event and began discussing the film in 2017.
“I told her I wanted to make a film about teenagers and she was interested in that,” recalls Gunn. “I called her up and said, ‘hey I actually have a script,’ and she helped me develop it. It needed some fine-tuning. She also has a story credit.”
The mood and style of Sisterhood reference classic favorites that rely on cursive writing to some degree, including The Lake House, which Gunn describes as “a love story about two people from a different time period who correspond through a mailbox,” and the scenes in The Outsiders “where Pony Boy writes in his journal.”
Lessons on the set
Ability to write in cursive was an essential requirement for the young cast members, and it continued throughout production.
“The prerequisite was that the actors had to know how to write in cursive,” explains Gunn. “They had fictional names that I made up, and I made them write their real names and their fictional character names in cursive.”
They also gained some real life experience by working together.
“They definitely learned about diversity,” Gunn continues. “It really challenged them to get to know each other and ask about each other’s backgrounds.”
As a young girl, Gunn learned the finer points of handwriting by watching her own mother, who used to do calligraphy.
“I borrowed her calligraphy set and kind of experimented and taught myself,” she recalls.
While Gunn is obviously pleased that the filmmaking experience taught the young actors a thing or two, she is equally happy knowing that they enjoyed themselves along the way.
“The greatest thing for me was seeing that the girls were having fun,” she says. “They had their own dressing room and they had pizza and pop up there. After it was all over, I gave them stickers and they went into the yard and they were just being kids.”
To learn more about Sisterhood’s screening at the Oak Park International Film Festival, click here.
About Okema “Seven” Gunn
Okema “Seven” Gunn has been blogging for 7 years and worked as an educator for over 17 years in New York City and the Chicagoland area. She has written articles for Empire Radio Magazine, Exposure Magazine, N’digo Magapaper and Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle. Currently, she works as an award-winning educator, blogger, writer/editor, and social media strategist. Also, she provides a unique spin on critiques…especially in film, theater, music, and television. She is a member of the Women Film Critics Circle (First National Association of Women Critics), African American Film Critics Association (AAFCA), and the Community Council for The Black Harvest Film Festival at Gene Siskel Film Center. She has recently written, produced and directed “A Sisterhood of Signatures” and is working on a documentary and other short film projects.
Send your indie updates to Reel Chicago Editor Dan Patton, firstname.lastname@example.org.