Above: Photo by Lluvia Higuera

Melinda James approaches cinematography as a language.

“Each image is a letter or word, and then the question is how you put it all together,” said James.

James graduated from Chico State in 2008 with degrees in sociology and psychology, but didn’t really immerse herself in filmmaking until she was living in San Francisco and took a free, 16-week class for queer women of color in media.

That class sparked her love of filmmaking, and she applied for UC Santa Cruz’s Social Documentation, or “Soc Doc” Program, which yields socially conscious films that address injustice, bear witness, and bring long-overdue attention to neglected subjects.

That’s where James learned the foundation for the work she does today, using film as a way to tell stories.

“What I learned was how to be mindful and respectful of the communities I’m working in,” she said.

From the beginning, she wanted to put women and underrepresented communities at the forefront of her filmmaking. For her thesis project she focused on the food justice movement in the Oakland area, featuring the African American community.

After graduating from UC Santa Cruz, James was hired at GoPro, editing and shooting “people doing amazing things all over the world.” She moved to Pandora as an editor and camera operator, interviewing and filming musicians for branded content for the streaming music service’s social media.

In December 2017, James left the Bay Area for Los Angeles, where she continues to grow as a filmmaker, both for corporate clients and her own documentary projects.

She’s one of just a handful of women of color working behind the camera in Hollywood, and strives to hire a diverse crew on set. Her documentary work continues to focus the camera on people of color. Her latest work is Oklahoma is Black, an intimate portrait of the African American community on the northeast side of Oklahoma City.

“I find what already exists in the world, and let the story come through,” said James.

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