Sharon Lewis

Artist and activist Sharon Lewis’s (BA ’89 Innis) stories speak brilliantly and unapologetically for her diverse communities

I am living the dream, which doesn’t mean it’s always dreamy, as, like most artists, I am constantly doing a balancing act. In between hustling the fun and well-paying gigs, like directing television shows such as Law and Order, I am also carving out time to direct films that welcome my bold cinematic lens, and tell stories that reflect my own experience and those of my communities. What is true is that I bring who I am to everything that I do. I am a proud hyphenate: queer/Black/South Asian/artist/activist/mother/partner/... (and the list goes on), who loves my job as a director. Oh, and as this is an interview for Innis, a proud Innis College graduate!

headshot of sharon lewisYou graduated in 1989 with a BA in political science from Innis. Now you are an award-winning director, producer, writer, showrunner, actor, and storyteller who elevates the voices of Black women, Black queer women, and the BIPOC community. Was there a defining moment that set you on this journey?

I recently returned to Innis College to screen Brown Girl Begins, my Afrofuturist feature film. I felt that same sort of awe and remnants of the “not belonging” that I did when I attended the College some thirty-plus years ago. Back then, as a child of immigrants who came here for a “better” life, I was too afraid to change my major from political science to cinema studies. Studying film would not have cut it with my parents. But I believe that the thought that I could be an artist started to permeate my unconscious by being around film posters, artists, discussions, and filmmaking. And that—fused with my political awakening—began to form my artist/activist self.

You founded your own boutique production company in 2002 as a way of creating stories that showcase voices of often marginalized communities. Twenty years later, have those stories changed—and have audiences changed too?

Yes, the global majority is a changing, evolving, complex system of communities that are no longer defined exclusively by being “other.” My own storytelling focuses on giving voice to stories that are for and by our community with no eye to “translating” those stories for those outside our communities. I am taking the same privileges as a young, straight, white, male filmmaker who makes a story about falling in love with a young girl during the summer at camp, and doesn’t have to defend the film as universal, as it is assumed ALL audiences will relate to a “good” story.


(Photo of Sharon Lewis by Shayla Anderson)

This story originally appeared in the 2021/22 Innis Alumni & Friends magazine.