The Reel Black List: Okema Gunn, Film Critic and Writer

Okema "Seven" Gunn

Okema “Seven” Gunn

Okema “Seven” Gunn has been an educator for several years in New York City and the Chicagoland area. She has a Bachelors degree in Psychology and Masters in Secondary Education in Social Studies.

She has written articles for Empire Radio Magazine, Scene Chicago, Exposure Magazine, Chicago Now, and N’digo Magapaper. Currently, she works as a film critic, blogger, editor, and content creator.

Some of her affiliations are with Chicago Independent Film Critics Circle, Women Film Critics Circle, and Community Council at Black Harvest Film Festival.

What was your first fond memories of breaking into the entertainment industry?

When I was living in New York City, I volunteered at the Tribeca Film Festival, the FIFA Awards, etc. where I gained great experience and networked. I briefly met Matthew Modine, Lawrence Fishburn, Spike Lee, Paula Abdul, Donna Karen, P Diddy, John Legend, Vivica Fox, Robert Deniro, etc. Volunteering in the beginning is a great way to get your foot in the door, along with internships, and mentoring opportunites as well . Also, I volunteered at my local church in the media where I learned editing and cinematography. I began blogging and film critique because I love to discuss films and meet with people who share a passion for film, tv, and other media forms. I love stories and began my journey as a blogger/writer many years ago.

What event demonstrated that there was a need for more black voices in the industry?

When I was growing up in the suburbs, sometimes I felt like my voice was not heard. I wished there were move novels about black teens and black women superheroes back then. Many times I was the first black or first African American female to do things. Now there are more diverse voices in film, television, and books for children and teens of color.

Best thing to ever happen to you to remind you that showcased your pride of Afrocentricity?

In high school, I helped found a group called UYSB (United Young Sisters and Brothers). It is still there today( 25 years and going strong). This group discusses race issues, acts as an open forum for kids to discuss topics of concern, and highlights African American culture and people of color. Also,my lasting friendships with people at Hampton University and support of work that showcases artists of color.

Work you are most proud of?

I am most proud of film criticism and article writing that I have done, but the verdict is still out yet on what I want to accomplish as far as being an emerging screenwriter and filmmaker. I would like to do all successfully. When I was a young girl, my mother and I would watch “At the Movies” with Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel. I am proud that I am on the Community Council of the Black Harvest Film Festival at the Gene Siskel Film Center now. Currently, I am one of the few black female film critics in Chicago, IL.

How has the business changed since you broke in?

The entertainment industry has changed since the early 2000’s. There is more awareness of diversity in film, television, etc. The boom of the internet and social media has catapulted artists and people into places they would not normally be highlighted. Some people are recognized for things and they have not paid their dues, which sets a bad precedence and allows disrespect of the craft. However, if an individual is talented it makes no difference. But, today the amount of followers and audience determines relevance instead of quality and persistence. The new generation are allowed and encouraged to do whatever they want without boundaries. This is both a blessing and a curse.

Film Criticism has changed even within the past couple of years, too. Everyone wants to be a critic of sorts, but few study the craft of it. I am also still learning and making my mark. Now anyone can make a film or critique a film. Social media makes this possible. I’m just glad that I finally found a group of people that are supportive with the same goals and passion that I have.

Trapped on an island what are the creative essentials you must have?

A Bible, food and water, shelter, another human being with intergrity. Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day. Prince’s Greatest Hits Album. Purple Rain was one of the first movies my mother took my brother and I to see. She covered our eyes on the nudity parts. I was only nine, but I can still remember this film vividly.

If you had a time machine, what would you say to your past self?

To trust your instinct about people. Be ahead of the trend and be steadfast in prayer. Surround yourself always with supportive and enriching people. Never give up on your dream, no matter what pitfalls or detours may lie ahead.

If you could have a one-on-one with anyone who would it be? And why?

I don’t think it could be just one black female leader. These are the women that are producers and/or filmmakers that I would like to have at a round table discussion. Many of these women are firsts in their field and women of excellence: Ava Duvernay, Oprah Winfrey, Julie Dash, Debbie Allen, Gina Pince-Bythewood, Neema Barnette, Tina Mabry, Dee Rees, Kasi Lemmons, Amma Asante, Jesse Maple, Angela Basssett, Salli Richardson, Regina King, Lonette McKee, Pearl Bowser, Alile Sharon Larkin, Madelin Anderson, Leila Djansi, Zeinabu Irene Davis, Darnell Martin, Euzhan Palcy, and many more.

To see other honorees on The Reel Black List, click here.