Safiyah Chiniere’s experience in the industry lies with music videos, documentary filmmaking, editing, photography and now, directing in the ad industry. As she begins her journey at production company FAMILIA, she’s keen to amplify “the voices of people of colour, women and femmes.” As a woman of colour herself, she’s keen to highlight the importance of inclusion and diversity within the realm of storytelling.
Growing up, Safiyah lived in Paterson, New Jersey with Jamaican parents, her mother from Kingston and her father from Spanish Town. Her heritage played a significant part in her childhood, with a culture that she describes as, “spiritual, electric, lively, colourful, and beautiful.” Although she inherits many traits from both of her parents, Safiyah says, “culturally, the community of Jamaican and Black Americans impacts my life to help navigate my future in the art world to be able to tell multitudes of stories.” With her background, it’s no surprise that she describes herself as, “outgoing, goofy-fun, loving, caring, focused and ambitious.” She continues, “I'm the type of person that wants to motivate someone else to make sure they're doing what they're supposed to in this lifetime. I'll always big you up while still bigging myself up. Most importantly, I enjoy making people laugh.”
As a child, Safiyah describes her ever-evolving hobbies, “I guess I never took an interest in anything, except for always having fun.” While her mother tried to encourage her to try sports and activities such as ballet, piano and football, nothing quite stuck till she got to her secondary school drama class. “The school I attended was a theatre school, and I enjoyed that. I could get out of my comfort zone and become a different person. I even participated in plays every year and loved it.” It was her love for theatre that encouraged Safiya to pursue a creative career, “After graduating, I told myself whatever I end up doing has to be within the art space.”
Safiyah went on to study at the Art Institute of New York City where she majored in Fashion Design. “It was a two-year school, so my initial plans were to graduate with my associate's degree and then transfer to the Fashion Institute of Technology. But I quickly realised that I couldn’t actually sew (a pretty key element of a fashion course) and I dropped out.” Reflecting on her experience, Safiyah respects the premise of further education but says, “I wish I had waited it out a bit more to figure out where I wanted to exist in the creative world.”
Unsure of what to do next, Safiyah found her passion within the industry she is now in. “For me, it was something I actively tried to get into. Even though I didn't attend film school or have a network of connections, I had to figure out ways to get there. The first opportunity to be on set I actually found on Facebook!” While everyone has their own unique way of discovering the industry, it was social media that got Safiyah’s foot in the door, “I was a production assistant on this little music video, but I loved it. From then on I knew I would be forging my own less-than-conventional path into this industry, and making my network in my own way.”
While crafting her own path, there’s one thing that Safiyah emphasises as extremely important throughout her journey. “Research, research, research,” she says, “And a lot of behind-the-scenes and hands-on experiences helped sharpen my skills, I’m definitely a practical learner. Experiences from set, from pre-production to post-production truly helped me navigate this world—being consistent and trying new things really helped me.” Safiyah’s first professional project was working on a documentary-based project for Shea Moisture, “my favourite memory from that was working with people empowering women of many backgrounds with their businesses. It was motivating and imperative to shine a light on such beautiful women.” She also explains how the company trusted her within the role, even being relatively new to the industry.
“My favourite part is being on set,” says Safiyah, “watching the director's monitor and seeing the concept turning into reality in front of my eyes. It's a literal high for me!” As a visual and practical learner, this on set experience doesn’t lose its charm with Safiyah. And when dealing with the stresses of schedules, deadlines and unforeseen circumstances, she has her process. “I'm pretty big on meditation, no matter what,” she says. “It helps ground me and keeps me at peace. I most definitely believe having moments to yourself and getting away from the noise helps with achieving one's open mind to cultivate the next thing that comes in your way.” This also helps inspire her, allowing the chance to come up with new ideas, while being away from social media and living in the moment.
As a woman of colour, it’s a given that Safiyah believes inclusivity is something the industry could be making larger strides with. “I feel that we live in a world where things shouldn't be this complicated or blindsided. Many people believe only certain people deserve certain things, and this isn't a game of picking and choosing, or at least it shouldn't be.” Her sentiment goes past the industry and transpires into everyday scenarios, “There are a lot of expressions when it comes to socialism, racial and systematic issues. Having discussions with mature people about worldly matters where we can all benefit from communicating our feelings can help build solid humanity. I'm all about fairness and assisting others to learn, especially in the creative world.”
Looking forward to the future of the industry, Safiyah can’t help but be inspired by some of the talent that’s beginning to weave its way into the scene. “What gets me excited is the new wave of directors from Black and Brown communities and how the industry is opening up its doors to more beautiful perspectives.” Of course, this inspiration also comes from existing voices, including the likes of Lena Waithe, Cheryl Dunye and Issa Rae who Safiyah describes as “forces to be reckoned with.” She continues, “They inspire me to go even harder. Lena has a show called Twenties, and the show depicts me. I think it's important to feel seen in shows nowadays. These women have most definitely achieved that for me as a Black woman in the LGBTQ community.”
Safiyah’s biggest motivation is undoubtedly her family, who push her to strive for better and continue to be her cheerleaders. “They believe in me 100% and have always trusted my vision. It's always great to get support from the ones I love because that's the drive for me.” But most importantly, Safiyah believes wholeheartedly in herself.
“Self-motivation is a thing, continuing my research, watching as many films as I can to help calibrate more ideas in my mind, and just watching other creatives in the world. I want to keep up with the world and the changes throughout our artistic realm to continue feeding my expressions visually, with the new elements implemented. There's no doubt in my mind I'll be one of the best directors in the future.”