About Ayo


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  • With my mother who we call Ladyi

People often ask me when I knew that I wanted to make films?

As a girl, while sitting in my mother’s beauty parlour — a special world where women conversed, dreamed, complained about injustices, admonished, whispered, laughed, cried and comforted each other. There, I secretly listened to her clients share personal stories that informed me about what it was to be a grown-up woman in the world. I didn’t understand all that was being said. What I did know was that the parlour women were not reflected on the portable black and white television at home no matter how much I turned the channel knob or moved the rabbit-eared antennae, their stories never came into view. When I told my mother that I wanted to go to college to study film, she was supportive, she loved movies, but wasn’t sure what I meant. Her friends thought that I wanted to be an actress. When I explained that I wanted to make movies and that I needed a camera, she purchased for me a super 8 film camera. I still recall the perplexed look on the salesman’s face. He was glad to sell the camera, but confused about how a teenage African American girl in the 1970s could go to school to study filmmaking.  

(Working at the Steinbeck editing machine at New York University)

While he remained in Philadelphia sorting it out in his head, I went off to New York to study film. I went to New York University, then to Columbia University/Teachers College to study film, theater and education, and more recently to Georgia Tech to study digital media.
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  • On location for interactive movie HERadventure with daughter HaJ who is in hair and makeup for the character HER
  • With my husband Tim
I’ve created many different types of films — dramas, comedies, documentaries, animation, shorts and am one of the first African American women to write, produce and direct a 35mm feature film (Alma’s Rainbow), developed at Sundance Institute, as well as to produce animation (Hair Piece and Zajota & the Boogie Spirit). I’ve taught filmmaking in Africa and currently teach at Spelman College where I am the founding director of the Digital Moving Image Salon (DMIS). Along the way I’ve picked up an award or two — a Sony Innovator Award for my early work with converging film, video and computer animation, and an Apple Computer Distinguished Educator Award for my work with storytelling and digital technology. My films have been shown to people from Brazil to Egypt and many places in between. Some are in permanent collections including the Museum of Modern Art and the Schomberg Center for Research in Black Culture and most recently the Whitney Museum of American Art. Some of my films have been translated into French and Japanese. On occasions, I am fortunate to collaborate on productions with my daughter HaJ. Recently, we worked together to create HERadventure one of the first interactive films funded by the National Endowment for the Arts. She knows how I think and is often one step ahead in terms of bringing what I need to make a project come alive. My husband Tim makes my life sweeter.  We were married in 2007. I quickly put him to work helping me with filmmaking. He claims not to know anything about filmmaking, but it’s not true — as he’s the family still photographer who documents everything. Currently I am adapting the novels of New York Times Best-selling author Pearl Cleage to the screen. The first projects will be Babylon Sister sand What Looks Like Crazy on an Ordinary Day. I’m also focused on working with the moving image outside of its traditional theater setting. This takes me into the world of interactive movies and games and continuing to push the envelope on how stories are told for 21st Century audiences.