Breaking Barriers: Tameka Citchen-Spruce Shatters Stereotypes as Disabled Film Producer
Today we’d like to introduce you to Tameka Citchen-Spruce.
It’s an honor to speak with you today. Why don’t you give us some details about you and your story. How did you get to where you are today?
Growing up as a Black young woman with a physical disability, I never saw stories on the TV or big screen that reflected my life. I never met a woman who used a wheelchair until I was nearly 21 years old. Representation matters and I couldn’t see what my life would be like as a woman, little alone a woman with a disability. I strongly believe if you want to see change, you can’t be afraid to change it.
So with my passion for advocacy and storytelling, I wanted to create more diverse representation in the media. At community college, I performed theater and wrote a “one-act play.” Then I pursued and received a Bachelor’s degree in Journalism from Oakland University. And then I learned the art of filmmaking as a film producer and screenwriter. Shortly after getting the opportunities to be on a film set, I thought of an idea to give voice to the challenges of growing up as a Black teenager girl today.
I thought of my younger sister and the challenges I faced, so I decided to embark on the journey of producing my first documentary, My Girl Story.
My Girl Story tells the stories of two African American girls from Detroit fighting to be the young women they want to be. I’m happy to share that the film has been shown at multiple film festivals, conferences, had film talk backs internationally and is now publicly released on Tubi and Amazon Prime.
I’m sure your success has not come easily. What challenges have you had to overcome along the way?
One of the challenges for any film producer and filmmaker is raising money for a film project. And when you’re starting out it’s even harder to raise money so I decided to self-finance 90% of My Girl Story. The rest of the 10% didn’t come until the film was mostly finished. I am thankful for the finishing funds. It was a hard sacrifice at the beginning but I was passionate about telling the story so I made sure to get it done.
Another big challenge was given an opportunity to be a filmmaker as a woman with a physical disability. When I initially tried to go to school for video production, I was actually denied admission on the grounds of having a physical disability. Remind you, there’s a law, American with Disabilities Act that prohibits discrimination towards people with disabilities. But I wasn’t knowledgeable about my rights then, so I accepted the denied access. Over time, I was given an opportunity to pursue the arts and now proved I can indeed be a filmmaker and live with a physical disability.
Let’s talk about the work you do. What do you specialize in and why should someone work with you over the competition?
I specialize in advocating, educating and telling stories of race, gender or disability. I have over 15 years advocating for access to affordable and accessible housing, fighting against voting oppression towards people with disabilities, racial and gender injustices, and health equity. As for films, I have produced for 10 years. I have produced two short films, where I wrote one of the short films and produced a documentary. I’m always looking for partners and individuals to collaborate with to create films and further the cause of diverse representation, disability empowerment and inclusion.
What’s your best piece of advice for readers who desire to find success in their life?
Based on my experience, the best piece of advice is to believe in yourself. As I shared, I wasn’t initially given an opportunity to get an education in video production; the school denied me access because of my disability. But I had a vision and passion to pursue filmmaking as a producer and screenwriter, so I found a way to get into the industry anyway.
I wouldn’t have pursued it unless I believed in God first and then myself. We live in a world where some people are given more opportunities than others, but you must believe in yourself when others say no. Accompanying the belief in oneself, the passion and dedication to learn the craft and business in whatever you want to do can help you move forward. This is what I learned and my advice.
Speaking of success, what does the word mean to you?
Success means to me that I accomplish what I set out to do. It’s easy to dream, but it’s another thing to make it a reality. So success is accomplishing my goals and living the life I want.
What’s next for you?
Now that my film, My Girl Story, is available on Tubi and Amazon Prime, please check it out. If you have a teenage girl, it will resonate. And if you’re a Black woman, you will relate.
Currently, I’m developing two upcoming projects. One of them is a documentary called #AutisticWhileBlack. The documentary features stories from numerous Black autistic people across the autism spectrum. They will share their emotional journey. It has been reported 1 in 36 children are born autistic and Black children are diagnosed with autism at the same rate as white children, but it’s still at a later time. Also, keep in mind many people have been diagnosed as autistic while an adult, so I’m super excited to work with my producing partner, Diane White, who is autistic and founder of Autastic.com, to uplift these stories.
I’m also working on a reality show with Dr. Donna Walton from Divas with Disabilities Project. This reality show features powerful black women with physical disabilities navigating their busy careers and love lives.
I enjoy producing TV and film projects. And also, I’m passionate about advocacy. I have a speaking engagement at a conference to discuss disability justice in the workplace. I will receive a disability advocate award from the American Public Health Association in November 2023. I also work with the Michigan Disability Rights Coalition, where I work with BIPOC non-profits to help them learn how to include people with disabilities. I genuinely believe I’m fulfilling God’s purpose for my life.
Finally, how can people connect with you if they want to learn more?
If people want to learn more about me go to www.tamekacitchenspruce.com. You also can find me on LinkedIn and Facebook under my name.