This June, Kaia Naadira stood in the spotlight of the New York City Pride parade — dancing, weaving, waving, and celebrating their place as a Community Hero. But when Naadira first climbed aboard the “Daring to Be Different” float that sunny day, draped in a barely-there flowing red gown, it was just one more step on their path to fame.
“For me, being at Pride, it’s really nice to be open and honest about who I am and to be able to walk proudly in my truth without having to feel like I have to perform an identity,” says the gender-nonconforming visual artist.
Naadira, 21, was born in Selma, Ala., to Tarana Burke, an African-American civil rights leader who later birthed the #MeToo movement as a rape survivor — though she’d been active in that work for more than a decade, long before her #MeToo took off as a hashtag. Now the senior director of the nonprofit organization Girls for Gender Equity, Burke tours the world speaking about issues faced by young women, particularly underprivileged women of color impacted by sexual abuse. Earlier this year, she was awarded The Ridenhour Courage Prize for persevering in “acts of truth-telling.”
“Being the parent of someone who is both genderqueer and queer, [my mom] is really proud of me for being proud of myself, and I know that she’s sending me moral support,” says Naadira.
Sometimes Naadira accompanies their mother on trips, including one to Sweden last January, where Burke told a reporter at Faktum about her relationship with Naadira, saying, “I’m glad that we get along so well and that I can offer the kind of support that my mother didn’t show me.”
Naadira’s filmmaking has earned them a 2017 BlackStar Film Festival Audience Award Favorite Youth Film (Ages 19-23) for the short I & She. Their work has also been screened at other film festivals (including the 2nd Biennial Black Trans Media Film Festival). Although they took filmmaking classes through Howard University, Naadira acknowledges they are largely self-taught. The Femme Oasis reported last year that Naadira has found lessons in “making connections, building community, codeveloping projects, and using their experiences to learn and grow as an artist.”
Their commitment to community and connections is reflected in their Twiter feed, and short films — like An Ode to My Lover(s), submitted to the Sundance Ignite Fellowship competition — which features their chosen family and closest friends.
“The videos that I make are centered around the narratives of trans folks and queer folks that I know, or [things] that I’ve experienced personally,” they say. “So that’s what I draw from whenever I make any of my films—the truth.”
Watch An Ode to My Lover(s) below.