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Black Arts and Culture

What’s In A “Black” Name? – ODU Premieres “Searching For Shaniqua”

Students, faculty and guests were on hand at Old Dominion University last Thursday (Nov. 17) for the Hampton Roads screening of the award-winning documentary film, “Searching for Shaniqua.” The hour-long film created by writer, educator and filmmaker Phill Branch examines the impact on persons with unique and nontraditional names such as “Shaniqua” and how these names and those who have them may be viewed by others.

The film was produced by ODU alumna Eleanor Earl, who along with Branch, attended the screening and fielded questions afterward. Earl currently is on the faculty of Hampton University. Co-producers Joseph R. Walters and Stephanie L. Sutton were in attendance, as well.

Branch told the audience he wrote the film to explore why some African American parents, in particular, choose to give their children unusual names such as “Shaniqua” and the impact of such names on their acceptance and interaction inside and outside of the Black community.

The film spotlights several women named Shaniqua (spelled different ways) and other nontraditional names and tells how they feel about their names. While some women value the attention and responses their name may create, others do not.

In a printed interview, Branch said he began filming in May 2013 and completed the film in May 2016, along the way meeting men and women who spoke candidly about their names, their experiences and why they think some hold onto the stereotypes.

The documentary has won praises from audiences everywhere, and earned the 2016 HBO Best Documentary at Martha’s Vineyard African-American Film Festival.

When asked how he plans to distribute the film, Branch said he is currently maintaining personal ownership and is traveling to select locations for screenings such as the one on the ODU campus. This, he said, allows him to engage with audiences on messages such as ethnic name stereotyping and other topics of interest elicited by the film. At a later time, he will consider mass production to make the film available to larger markets and for individual purchase.


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