By Shaley Howard
Women make history in a multitude of ways. Some make changes through politics, some through art, some through protest, and many simply by living authentic lives, being true to themselves. They carve their own path, despite any opposition from our culture and society. National Women’s History Month is a time when we are able to spotlight a few of the many women who have made or are making history. We continue the quest to forge new, better futures, while knowing we truly do stand on the shoulders of giants. Proud Queer Portland would like to showcase a few queer women in our own backyard who, in their own way, make history.
Meet Dawn Jones Redstone – a queer Latina filmmaker here in Portland Oregon whose recent short films, We Have Our Ways and Sista in the Brotherhood, have won numerous awards and are changing the narratives of queers, women of color and women in the trades. Through her lifetime of personal experiences, working in the trades and now filmmaking, she is fighting discrimination, prejudice, and giving voice to the marginalized.
With a degree in geology, and a focus on Latin American studies from the University of Texas Austin, Jones Redstone says she “floundered for a while” before discovering the union apprenticeship program. She worked as a union carpenter for six years and truly loved the trade despite the difficulty of that work environment both physically and culturally.
“As a gay Latina working in construction, I never fit in and there were lots of times where I felt unwelcome or downright hated because of my social identity by people who knew nothing about me other than that I was different. That was not my experience all the time, but it was there. I had no choice, but to just keep my head down and focus on the work.”
When an opportunity arose in 2004 to teach at OTI, she leapt at the chance. As an instructor, she developed the women in construction training curriculum, expanded outreach, taught construction math, intro to hand and power tools, and basic carpentry skills on jobsites. Initially, she was excited to use her skills in carpentry and adult education in one job and help women get the knowledge they needed to procure a job where they could support themselves and their families. However, getting this job was also a huge awakening.
“When I worked as a carpenter, I was focused on my own experience, but when I began work at OTI, I saw what was happening on a larger scale in terms of the discrimination women faced both in trying to get work on the job and actually working in the field. I also came to understand how the construction trades offered a chance for many women to earn a real living wage without needing a college degree. It could be a truly transformative thing for the women who were able to succeed in these careers.”
Throughout her career at OTI and working in the trades, Jones Redstone was also making films on the side, making a number of videos about tradeswomen. As her skills and interest grew, she soon realized it was time to make the career leap from teaching to full time filmmaker. In 2013, she started Hearts+Sparks Productions with a focus on telling stories and in particular, raising the voices of those least heard in our community.
“I saw how the commercial world uses media against women and people of color, omitting or whitewashing our stories and I wanted to be a part of the solution. I wanted to use my skills to amplify the messages of the many individuals and organizations seeking to bring equity to our world. What had started out for me as a passion for filmmaking had evolved into activism.”
Jones Redstone’s 2016 film, "Sista in the Brotherhood," is a story of an apprentice carpenter facing sexual and racial discrimination starring Sidony O’Neal. It is now screened around the world and has won multiple awards. Redstone received the Lilla Jewel Artist Award from MRG Foundation and was named a Woman of Vison by the Daily Journal of Commerce.
Her recent short film, We Have Our Ways is on the festival circuit after being named a “Favorite Portland Film” by the Willamette Week and just won Best Oregon Short at Portland International Film Festival. It is about a woman of color who begins to find ways to take power in her own life and help those around her and stars Sidony O’Neal.
“Films have the power to transmit beliefs, ideas and dreams. I want to continue to use the medium to tell compelling stories that center the experiences of women of color. Our perspective is underrepresented in the media landscape and also, much needed right now.”
Jones Redstone has long been a big supporter HRC, Basic Rights Oregon, Bitch Media and the Women’s Foundation. Being from Texas, where the queer community is even more marginalized, she has been motivated to support the organizations that protect her and her friends and family. Some of the issues that concern her the most are the rescinding of DACA, the chipping away of Roe v Wade, diminished basic rights for trans people and refugees, and ongoing, brutal violence against black people specifically as well as other POC. Nevertheless, she optimistic saying, “This is a good space to think about intersectionality and how we are ultimately all in this together. In these times, we cannot be divided or we will certainly be conquered. We have to show up for everyone experiencing oppression, not just ourselves.”
When asked what it takes to change history, Jones Redstone replied,
“Multiple angles of attack. Love and fierceness. Fierceness and love.”
For information about Jones Redstone’s upcoming film on March 21, check out Gabby Antonio Smashes the Imperialist, White Supremacist, Capitalist Patriarchy! This is a pilot for a comedy web series, about a woman of color trying to “do good” at a nonprofit while also living in one of the whitest cities in America—Portland, Oregon.