Shontina Vernon

Shontina Vernon is an award-winning filmmaker, theater artist, musician, and educator whose multidisciplinary practice explores memory, intergenerational trauma, and queerness.

Vernon excels in storytelling, innovating how audiences experience the personal narrative via poetic silos into the experience of people deeply impacted by the carceral system. These intimate portraits, somber scenes, and inferred actions tap into the emotional burdens carried by its characters—the shadows of real people from Vernon’s life. Acts of witness and empowerment, Vernon’s work is a testament to the power of speaking up.

Other recent works by Vernon include the single channel installation BODIES IN EXTREMITIES, a devised work titled HER BLACK BODY POLITIC, and FORGING AHEAD – an experimental solo work being developed using a hybrid form of film and theatre performance. She serves as the founding Lead Producer for Visionary Justice StoryLab, a film hub for visual storytellers whose work highlights the imagination necessary to dismantle the criminal legal system and evolve solutions to end systemic oppression in communities of color. Vernon is based in Atlanta, GA, and New York, NY.

Right of Return Project

Grrrl Justice

With support from Right of Return, Vernon created GRRRL Justice, Grrrl Justice is a short narrative film exploring the pathways of girls and queer youth of color into the juvenile justice system. It uses gender and sexuality as a framework for understanding their rising rates of incarceration. Through the lead characters in this powerful triptych, the audience comes to understand the power of story and the necessity of art in their healing and liberation. Produced by Visionary Justice Storylab, in association with Eclectic Brew Media, the film was completed in 2020.

On working at the intersection of art and advocacy:

“My work is meant to inspire people to really lean into the power that they have. I think that’s always a little bit of a challenge. Particularly in our communities where folx don’t actually know what power they have. And not just their individual power, but the power that they have when they collectivize. So, I feel like my work is about inspiring people to awaken, in some way, to the power that is inherent in who they are and what they bring.
I also think my work is to educate. If I can inspire someone to see themselves and what they possess in a different way, that in turn, you hope, inspires action. The film project I did for Right of Return included an in-depth toolkit. Ways that organizations and individuals could really collectivize around the issue. Really inform policy or programs in their communities. I do feel like that’s where the solutions come from. They come from the people who are impacted in their communities. I don’t feel like they’re always given opportunities to say “Hey, I have an idea about how we can address that issue.” My hope is that the film project—and I actually saw it in action—inspired a lot of in-depth intergenerational conversation. And those things then resulted in solutions that were broad and multiplicitous, and really addressed the issues that folx thought they had.”