Mignotae Kebede

A native Californian and graduate of The George Washington University (GWU), Mignotae Kebede is dedicated to exploring the intersections between creative expression and social change.

After graduating with a Bachelors of Arts in International Affairs and Anthropology with a concentration in International Development, Mignotae served as the Development Manager at Life Pieces To Masterpieces (LPTM) in Northeast, Washington, DC. It was through her work at LPTM, an organization serving African American boys and young men east of the Anacostia River, that she developed the concept for the forthcoming film What Happened 2 Chocolate City.

Mignotae found herself experiencing the binary composition of Washington, D.C. as a transplant residing in a renovated unit in Columbia Heights, yet working in the districts most underserved communities just miles away. After months of experiencing the cities’ stark dichotomy, she began to unpack the implications of being a black ‘gentrifier’. Hit with an initial sentiment of guilt, she researched Chocolate City’s complex history attempting to understand it’s polarized social, political and economic climate. In pursuit to answer the underlying question, “what happened to Chocolate City?”, Mignotae is conducting ethnographic research on the evolution of the district and its relations with native Black Washingtonians through an intergenerational lens. It is at the very intersection of creative expression and social change that Mignotae will bring to life her findings and explorative journey using film and varying mediums of visual and fine arts.

Mignotae Kebede in her own words

1. Being a part of the Ethiopian diaspora to me means?

I find it to be a true blessing to be a part of the Ethiopian and Eritrean diaspora. We have a strong sense of community, which has provided me with so much support. I would not be where I am today without my community back in LA or the community that I have here in the DMV as well. I owe much of my development as an individual and as a part of the larger diaspora to my parents. They taught me and my brothers to respect and cherish our culture, all while understanding the importance of individualism, allowing us to truly find our voice and how to use it for the greater good of humanity.

2. What advice would you give a younger you?

While writing this film, I made a conscious effort to take an anthropological approach. By telling the story from the perspective of the characters, and excluding narration from the film, my goal is to allow the story to fully develop through the lives’ of the characters. That being said, it was crucial for me challenge my pre-existing perception at times, or understand where my voice is appropriate while telling a story that in many ways does not directly connect to my experience.

Overall, I think patience was the biggest lesson. In order to establish the rapport with the community, my characters, and the city in hopes of getting the raw truth and piecing together a powerful film, I had dedicate my time and flexibility, and grow comfortable with unpredictability. Had I not, I would not have the film I have today.

3. What is it that you hope your film will accomplish?

For far too long, we have painted Washington DC with one brush and one narrative, depicting the city as a playground for political elites. What Happened 2 Chocolate City looks to unearth the multi-layered histories of Washington DC, the people that have been burdened by this American dream, and the disparities that exist between these two realities. A key objective of this film is to bridge the ever-growing gap between the transient community and native community in the district.

My hope is that this film will not only serve as revival and recording of Chocolate City’s profound legacy, but also serve as a preventive tool for the continuous displacement of low-income families in Urban America, and a means of understanding the complex layers that have driven American cities to where they are today.

4. In creating, who inspires you and who do you look to for guidance?

Fundamentally, I pull inspiration from everyday encounters, more specifically for this film, everyday encounters in the district. Living in DC and navigating both worlds in the city has really been a guiding force for the direction of this film. Most importantly, my greatest inspiration has come from the stories of everyday Washingtonians who often feel silenced in the midst of all this change.

In regards to cinematic inspiration, I’ve looked to the works of Barry Jenkins and Ava DuVernay in capturing the beauty and layers of Black characters through film, in addition to conveying a multidimensional portrayal of Black characters (from writing to the screen), truly allowing people to grasp the full humanity of each character.

5. What is your message during black history month for your fellow Ethiopians and Ethiopian-Americans?

As I mentioned, What Happened 2 Chocolate City touches on an existing gap in the district, and cities across the country facing similar realities, that of the transient and native communities. Though I don’t have the opportunity to directly focus on it in the film, my goal through the outreach stage of the film is to spark more dialogue on the gap amongst the Black Community, that of the Ethiopian and larger African diaspora in the US and African Americans.

As an Ethiopian-Eritrean American working in a predominantly African American space, this is a conversation I encounter on the day to day. It has been such a beautiful experience to see the support I have received from the Habesha community (ranging in generations) thus far in creating this film, and the thirst for many to understand an experience that differs from theirs, despite many of the similarities that we may see amongst our generation. Overall, my message would be not just for Black History month, but everyday, to strive to end the history of self-segregation amongst the greater Black Community and celebrate the diversity amongst such a beautiful and powerful community, because we are that much stronger when we are working together.