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Changing the Conversation About Women of Color’s Resilience in the Workplace: An Interview with Filmmaker Jimi Okubanjo

Jimi Okubanjo

Arise Firebird” is a documentary film that follows the journeys of three inspiring women in the UK who faced toxic racism and sexism in the workplace, overcame deep trauma, and rebuilt their careers and lives on their own terms. Filmmaker Jimi Okubanjo, a former management consultant and one of the women featured in the film, was a special guest at the Gender Parity Collaborative’s Spring Solution Summit 2023, where she screened “Arise Firebird.” The film sparked a very powerful conversation, so much so that we asked our storytelling partner Amanda Hirsch to interview Jimi; what follows is an edited transcript of their conversation.

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Amanda Hirsch: To start, can you please tell us what “Arise Firebird” is about, in your words?

Jimi Okubanjo: Arise Firebird is a documentary film that celebrates the resilience of BIPOC and women in the workplace. It's a chance for people to experience the incredible journey of three inspirational BIPOC women professionals as they transcend barriers to discover joy and strength at work. It’s a celebration of the indomitable, resilient spirit of people of color and women in the workplace.

Amanda: The film is part of a campaign to drive broader change. Can you tell us about that, please?

Jimi:  What I hope the film will do is to create spaces for women and people of color, women of color, to be vulnerable, and to begin to really open up, whether in their ERGs within women's associations like HBA, their houses of worship, or with mental health support providers. [We want to] begin to understand what work could look like, and also to start redefining what resilience actually means. Resilience doesn't necessarily mean staying in a [workplace], suffering in silence...because at the end, there's no cash or prizes. Resilience is getting help, resilience is taking medication, resilience is questioning what you really want to do with your life, and accepting that not getting promoted this year is not the end of the world — it’s not a reflection of who you are.

We really would love people, when they watch this film — with their loved ones, with their peers, or colleagues — to begin to question some of the things we've all heard about how we should be at work, things that have not been helpful for us.

Amanda: Everyone, you should go to And we will talk more about ways to get involved. But for now, Jimi, I'm curious: With the broad view that you have, and in the context of all the work that you've been doing, what's interesting to you about something like the Gender Parity Collaborative? What made you want to come to talk to us?

Jimi: What I felt was really unique about the work you're doing, different from conversations I'd been having [with other groups], is your commitment to bringing in leaders from different organizations to have this conversation, as opposed to having the conversation with just middle managers and D&I leaders [within one organization]...Secondly, there was this ongoing work; you are working with leaders who are part of a journey, an ongoing journey. And being able to use “Arise Firebird” to augment an existing conversation was really, really powerful, because it allowed [participants] to, once again, retest their assumptions and stretch themselves a little bit further.

Amanda: I was at the Collaborative’s Spring Solution Summit where you shared the film, and we had breakout room conversations afterwards. And the film got people to engage in a very personal way. The conversation was no longer abstract or academic — all of a sudden, it was about me. I think storytelling is such a powerful way to take the conversations inside organizations to that intimate place.

Jimi: Absolutely. And we've done dozens of screenings since we last met, Amanda. And what we're learning is, for a lot of people, it’s making them reflect on, as an ally, how much more they really have to learn. 

I do think [the film is different] from a lot of the training — because we're not training; we’re just telling people stories. And because these women [in the film] have grown up on this journey, where many of them are in their [own] businesses, or they've now found very safe employers to work with, they can speak with a forthrightness, and I’m going to guess a clearness and conciseness, that we're finding many allies haven't heard. 

A friend of mine who has been through some of the worst parts of my career, he didn't realize how bad it was [until he saw the film], even though I told him everything. So there is something around hearing a story on screen that allows us to engage with it differently than even just hearing from somebody else.

Amanda: What is the number one message that you would want any woman of color to take away from watching the film, or even just from reading this interview?

Jimi: There is nothing wrong with you. Regardless of what an employer says, a coach says — we can always be more ourselves, and be greater, but we're not fundamentally damaged. I'd also really want to encourage people to take some time and watch the film, and to bring “Arise Firebird” into your professional groups, your sister circles, your employee resource groups. 

Amanda: And if I am a white person in the corporate world reading this interview and hearing about this film for the first time, what do you hope I take away? 

Jimi: I think that the biggest thing for me is empathy. I think many of us overestimate how much of it we have, myself included. I would say watching this movie, the benefit for allies is to help build their empathy. [And then] have this conversation with your team, have a discussion with your peers — not because you want to come up with solutions...this is not about another initiative. But [the film] really can help people build their empathy, because empathy grows with exposure. And so just watching this movie, and having the conversation around it, well, most of us will improve and increase our own empathy and compassion for ourselves, and also for people who are going through that struggle.

Amanda: Thank you so much, Jimi. Everybody, go to Bring this film to your organization, learn more about it. Here’s to empathy!