An Interview with Niema Jordan | BAVC

An Interview with Niema Jordan

February 10, 2021
Isa Nakazawa

We are thrilled to announce Niema Jordan as Co-Director of our MediaMaker Fellowship! 

Niema is a storyteller from Oakland, California. She is an alum of Northwestern University, Medill School of Journalism and UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. 

Niema Jordan, the new Co-Director of BAVC's MediaMaker Fellowship for Documentary Filmmakers, sits on a couch in front of her bookshelf organized by color from red to purple. Her hair is very short, she is surrounded by her plants, and she looks at the camera with a sparkling ahlf-smirk. Her gorgeous teal skirt fans out across her statement couch.

Her film, Oasis, tells the story of a struggling medical clinic that treats underserved populations battling Hepatitis C. Her production credits include The Chosen Life, Fatherless, Bobby Kennedy for President, and Vernon Jordan: Make It Plain. She is currently a story producer and the host of the podcast, Fertility, Mothering, and Other Things. Jordan serves on the board of Oakland Kids First. She is also a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. 

As Co-Director of BAVC’s MediaMaker Fellowship in partnership with filmmaker Rodrigo Reyes, Niema Jordan works to support first and second time documentary filmmakers with the resources and connections necessary for them to thrive in the field. 


BAVC: Happy Birthday, Niema! Indulge me. What is your Sun/Moon/Rising sign? On a scale of 0 to Bruja, how into astrology are you? 

Niema: Thank you! Aquarius, Virgo, Virgo (that usually gets an “oooh, that makes sense.”). Enough to tell you that my Mercury and Venus are both Aquarius, but not enough to explain what it all really means. 

BAVC: What are you currently watching? Reading? Listening to? Give us 1 of each. 

Niema: Watching: Married at First Sight. I started with Season 9 only to find out that it’s not the most current season. I guess I would need cable in order to be current. Such a fascinating experiment. I don’t watch a lot of TV, but I love relationship content --- I was a health and relationships editor in my magazine days. Also, always watching This Is Us because Beth and Randall. #RandBForever

Reading: Collective Courage: "A History of African American Cooperative Economic Thought and Practice" by Jessica Gordon Nembhard. Sometime last year, a few friends started a reading group. I dropped in on a session where we discussed the connections between capitalism and racism. It got me thinking about how we confront the issues with capitalism while existing in a capitalist society. I purchased the book from Mandel Grocery in West Oakland -- which is a worker owned cooperative -- and have learned a lot so far. 

Niema Jordan Holds A Copy Of Collective Courage By Jessica Gordon Nembhard Which She Is Currently Reading

Listening: Grand Nationxl’s Twice on Sundays. We have so much talent in the Bay.

BAVC: How did you get into the field of independent media, journalism and film? Elaborate, if you’d be so kind, on your journey - personally and professionally. 

Niema: I’ve been a writer since forever. Growing up, my main focus was poetry. Starting with the Martin Luther King Jr. Oratorical Fest and through my days with Youth Speaks. When it came time to apply for college, most folks advised against creative writing as a major, so I started looking at journalism programs. Around the same time, my teacher Darrick Smith made a comment about information being stored in ivory towers and not being shared with the people. I decided that journalism would be a powerful way for me to share information with my community. I ended up attending Northwestern University and majoring in journalism and African-American studies. 

After undergrad, I moved to New York and started working at Essence Magazine. During my years at Essence, I worked in the Health and Relationships department. Seeing the health disparities affecting Black women and wanting to understand more about the causes and solutions, I moved back home for a dual masters program in journalism and public health at UC Berkeley. There, I studied documentary film, which has been my primary focus for the last few years, although I still write. 

BAVC: Why does representation matter? Can you share an example of when seeing yourself reflected in the media impacted you personally?

Niema: Ah. There’s an essay in here. My first thought is: seeing yourself is powerful. I remember learning that Danyel Smith was from East Oakland and feeling like I could be the editor-in-chief of a major magazine!

One of the reasons I love working in media and have been so committed to diversity in media is because I understand that media is one of the agents of socialization. Media teaches people how they should behave, it helps you make sense of the world. Representation on screen, in writing, behind the camera, all of those things matter in terms of what stories are being told and shaping how people perceive reality. 

BAVC: What are the limitations of representation? 

Niema: Just because someone looks like you, comes from the same place, has the same gender identity, etc., does not mean they have your best interest at heart. We have to be very careful of “representation” that is really just about optics. 

A young Niema Jordan grins joyfully in a lovely striped dress, bangs curled, hair gleaming in a half knot on top of her head, she wears almost the same expression, as in her adult portrait, if a bit goofier
BAVC: What are 3 things that currently bring you joy?

Niema: Family, walking the Lake, and dance breaks. 

BAVC: Remember when we didn’t cook every meal? Me neither. But let’s time travel back to 2019. Favorite lunch spot in Oakland. Go!

Niema: Ah, that’s hard. My go-to brunch/lunch situation is Lakeshore Cafe. Dinner is Sidebar...that burger… [insert Homer Simpson drooling at the thought of donuts].

BAVC: What is one unexpected thing you’ve learned about yourself since shelter-in-place?

Niema: I like getting dressed up. I always complained about having to get dressed up for things and now I miss it. I actually got dressed up for NYE even though I was in the house by myself watching D Nice’s Club Quarantine. 

BAVC: What are you most excited about in taking on this Co-Creative Director role?

Niema: Helping filmmakers! As a filmmaker, I know how important it is to have support. I’m looking forward to being a resource to the folks who come through this program and building community with fellow creatives. 

A bouquet of green and magenta flowers fill the frame. Photo taken in Niema Jordan's home.
BAVC: I’ve been admiring your plants on Zoom, how long have you been a plant mama? Tell us your top green thumb secret. 

Niema: Thanks, Love! It’s been about a year now. I put eggshells in jars of water that I keep under my sink. I water my plants with them. I remember my mom’s godmother doing that when I was a kid. I started doing it as a way to honor her and memory, and my plants are flourishing. 

BAVC: What stories do you want to see better supported, funded and celebrated? And why?

Niema: I would love to see more stories of joy funded. Joy is powerful. Joy is revolutionary. 

BAVC:  When did you first cross paths with BAVC and what about the organization resonates with you and your work?

Niema: It’s hard to say when I first learned about BAVC, I feel like it’s always been on my radar.  As an org, BAVC understands the power of storytelling to create change and inspiring, creating, and sustaining change is why I make media. 

BAVC: What advice would you give a young person who has a story to tell but doesn’t know where to start? 

Niema: Don’t get caught up in how the story will end, or who the audience is, or distribution. Often, that’s where the pressure comes in. Start where you are, listen to yourself, and believe that your story is worth being told. 

BAVC: Thank you so much for sharing a bit of your story with us, Niema! We are so excited and honored to have you officially join the BAVC staff!


Don’t forget: Applications for the 2021 MediaMaker Fellowship are due February 14th! Apply Here.