Asia Johnson

Asia Johnson is a storyteller, writer, and filmmaker using dynamic narratives and film to envision a world without cages.

Johnson’s transformative work captures the voices and images of real women harmed by the criminal legal system, allowing them to share their experiences in an elevated and healing way. Juxtaposing their testimonies with their re-dressed and colorful selves, she emulates the rebirth they experienced after re-entering their communities.

Currently based in Los Angeles, Johnson works with several organizations in the criminal justice reform space including The Bail Project, cut50, Shakespeare in Prison, Prison Creative Arts Program, Hamtramck Free School, and the Michigan Prison Doula Initiative. She is a 2019 Right of Return Fellow, 2019 Room Project Fellow, 2021 Brennan Center for Justice Fellow, and 2022 Art for Justice Fellow. Her Chapbook, An Exorcism, was released in 2018 and her upcoming directorial debut, Out of Place, was released in 2022. Johnson is the Senior Associate of Storytelling and Local Organizing at Zealous.

Right of Return Project

Out of Place

As a 2019 Right of Return Fellow, Johnson wrote, directed, and produced the short film Out of Place. It featured original poetry and a cast of formerly incarcerated women she met after being sentenced to nine years in the Michigan Department of Corrections at twenty- three years old.

On the impact of a Right of Return Fellowship:

“he last year of my incarceration, I was very focused on the goal of making a film. And when I came home in October of 2018, everybody knew Asia wants to make a film! Asia wants to make a film about the trauma to prison pipeline, as it relates to women. All that plotting and scheming, I still didn’t know how much money it was gonna take, who I needed to know, or what a film budget looked like. I just knew I was going to do it. I had been looking but I didn’t find Right of Return on my own, my friend Jonathan Rajewsky sent me the link. And that was literally like— not even a month after I came home after being away for nine years. I remember the application, it might not be the same now, but you could either submit an essay about what you would do with the money, what your art practice was like—or you could do a video submission. I did the video submission. I planned the whole video. Shot it. Edited it. Didn’t have the money to reshoot it—so I submitted it. And then I remember being in the car with my colleague and getting a phone call telling me I had gotten the fellowship. I was so excited, I got off the phone, and called my family. Then Right of Return called me right back like “Don’t tell anybody!” And I’m like “Oh! I just told everybody!” I was crying.
When you come home and somebody says “I’m going to give $20,000 to make your dream come true,”—they might as well have told me I had just got $20,000,0000! Like, oh my god, the sky is the limit. I can do anything! It was a seed that has grown into a freaking forest in me. I know that I would not be where I am today had it not been for Right of Return, that whole crew, seeing something in me.”