Carnegie Mellon University

Kaytie Nielsen

Kaytie NielsenMajors: Creative Writing and Directing
Minor: French & Francophone Studies
Adviser: Mame-Fatou Niang
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Two Documentaries on Afro-French Identity: Exploring Filmic Storytelling through Conventional and Experimental Methodologies

In collaboration with Mame-Fatou Niang, I am launching a yearlong documentary film project that aims to showcase the narratives of young black women from the disenfranchised suburbs of Paris known as the “banlieues.” Ultimately, this film will have two separate post-production processes: one iteration of this film will be produced directly after filming, while the second iteration will be produced after an intensive period of research on the methodology and history of documentary filmmaking.

Why this project is important to me: Academically, this project will build upon my years of French and Francophone study. Artistically, I will deepen my understanding of documentary filmmaking, a pursuit I intend to continue after my undergraduate career.

Why this project is important to the field: Ethnic Studies are in their infancy in Republican France, and there exists very little scholarly discourse that specifically addresses young banlieues women. Additionally, these women are largely missing from the narratives of French cinema, and are often misrepresented by harmful stereotypes in the few films that do focus on this demographic.

Why this project is important to the larger world: The recent Charlie Hebdo attacks, perpetrated by two banlieues residents, have ignited global debates on national identity, freedom of expression, and immigration. An atmosphere of fear and suspicion has contributed to a proliferation of violent hate crimes against banlieues residents. This documentary will be an important piece of the conversation, as it aims to provide a platform for disenfranchised youth from the banlieues to enter this conversation, sharing their stories in their own words.


I’ll start with where I’m from, though it may be misleading. I was born near Dallas, in a town called Flower Mound. The name comes from a little hill, which is supposedly a Native American burial ground. When my parents first moved there, Flower Mound was a two-lane road, a high school, and a Kroger. Over the past ten years, the trees have been razed, roads widened, and a Tom Thumb now smothers the west half of the Mound. No flowers anymore, just weeds. In August, you drive with the windows down because your A/C can’t keep up, past the strip malls and empty office buildings. You come to a stop light: Rush Limbaugh’s venomous croon floats in from the minivan on your right, and a 2/4 “conjunto norteño” bass beat pumps in from the pickup on your left.

The Texas plates on my truck might give the wrong impression. Or, not the wrong impression. Just not the whole picture. Here are some things that are true: I love shooting guns at the range. I love Willie Nelson. And yes, I remember the Alamo. Here are things that are also true: I am a vehement vegan feminist. I fluctuate between socialist and anarchist tendencies. And no, I’m not religious now, but I do find myself whispering prayers to St. Anthony when I’ve lost my keys (a habit from my California-born mother).

All this makes for some spicy Thanksgivings. My grandpa (dad’s dad) and I are notorious for getting into back-porch screaming matches about whether it was the Civil War or “The War of Northern Aggression.” And while he was vocally opposed to me going up to school with a bunch-uh-yankees, my mother and father would be damned if I thought I had to go in-state because of money. They both work two jobs to give my brother and me the freedom to fly up and out.

So here I am in the snowy ‘burgh, and I don’t make much sense to folks who have certain ideas about what it means to be Texan. I blame it mostly on the family business. My grandmother owns a theatrical costume shop called Costumes by Dusty, started about 30 years ago. The main location is in Arlington, just a stone’s throw away from the Cowboys Stadium, but we also have a booth out at Scarborough Renaissance Festival.

Before I came to college, every spring of my life meant Scarborough. Friday evenings we would make the hour drive, cutting South through the five-lane Dallas traffic to be spit out in the boonies. We’d get out to Waxahachie, the setting sun a fiery orange, and I’d roll down my window as we slipped off the highway. There’s a sweet windy smell I can’t quite explain as you head down the farm road to the fairgrounds, whipping past rippling fields of sorghum and wheat.

Scarborough is one of about 50 ren-faires in the U.S., and many people make a living by traveling from faire to faire. I was raised by these American gypsies (many of them old hippies, still without social security cards), and brought up in a world of make-believe. As a child, I would choose a costume for the day out of our stock and go explore, getting out of my mother’s hair. Vivian the Facepainter, with her kind, laugh-lined eyes and broken voice, would set me up with a fierce dragon arching over my right eye. I’d watch all the performers, and go and talk to shop-owners, and play in the secret parts of the faire where patrons wouldn’t go. I’d run barefoot through the creek that ran under the troll bridge and pretend I really was a fierce Viking, preparing for a voyage at sea.

It was less play when I grew up, facing 13-hour workdays to support the business. After washing costumes at the Laundromat, we’d sit around for a couple of beers with the guys from the Gutenberg Press next door. Scarborough saw me grow up: my first job, my first drink, my first kiss.

I blame Scarborough for my love of storytelling; both from the professionals during the day, and from the old guys at night after the gates were closed. I blame it for my inability to settle in to the mainstream culture of Flower Mound. And I blame it for my stubborn sense of adventure, which doesn’t seem to be fading any time soon.

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