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Pittsburgh Filmmaker Najaa Young On African American Women In The Industry

Najaa Young
Producer/Writer/Director Najaa Young on the set of her film, "Blood First."

Currently sitting on display in the lobby of the City Council building is an exhibit honoring African American filmmakers with ties to Pittsburgh. The exhibit, known as “A History of Film,” features writers, directors, producers, and more. Among those honored is Najaa Young, whose most recent movie, “Blood First,” was shot in the Homestead area. Essential Pittsburgh’s Paul Guggenheimer sat down with Young to discuss her thoughts on the honor and her history making movies.

When she was told about the exhibit, Young was initially taken aback. As filmmakers are constantly moving from project to project, she said it felt strange being honored for something.

“It’s overwhelming, actually,” Young said. “It feels great, but it’s almost like you don’t know how to accept that kind of accolade because, all you really set out to do was just do the work.”

A longtime fan of movies, Young spent her childhood going to see independent films and cultivating her self-described over active imagination. As she grew older, she decided to make a career of her hobby and attended film school.

“Once I decided this is what I wanted to do, it was hard to do anything else,” she said.

Her film “Blood First” actually started as an idea pitched to her by her brother. The film deals with themes of loyalty and snitching within the drug trade.

“If you are a member of that lifestyle that is kind of like an oath you take,” Young said. “Like, you don’t tell on another criminal because you are a criminal.”

Young choose to shoot in Homewood because of her familiarity with the area and because she had seen events similar to the film happening in real life while living there.

“I didn’t want to make a film about New York because I’m not from New York,” she said. “I lived in LA, but I’m not from LA.”

So far, Young says she has received positive reception to the film, especially from younger people. The themes of following in a father’s footsteps and the bond of brothers connected with many teens, according to her, and they were able to pick out many deeper meanings from the film.

As to the upcoming Academy Awards, Young did not believe the awards mattered to her as a film maker, despite the attention given to them.

“I think that diversity is very important,” she said. “Whether or not Hollywood recognizes those stories… I’m sort of like, ‘I don’t need your recognition to do what I need to do as an artist.’”

Young hopes to shoot more films in Pittsburgh, saying that the city has a unique vibe and culture to it and that the city should not be shot for scenes taking place in other cities. She currently has a documentary called “American Africans” in post-production, and is also making a TV series about the afterlife. 

More Essential Pittsburgh segments can be heard here.