Jalena Keane-Lee on Redefining Womanhood Through Film

Meet the Homegirl: Filmmaker and CEO of Breaktide Productions

by Abeeda Hussain-Kasim

Jalena Keane - Lee, an Asian American documentary film-maker from California, has set out to showcase the strength of women of color that society so often disregards.

With a bubbling laugh and a sparkle in her eyes, Jalena’s drive behind her work is crystal clear. As a filmmaker, Jalena’s main priority is to showcase the capacity women exude in their everyday and extraordinary lives. To Jalena, film-making is more than just a responsibility, it’s her kuleana--a Hawaiian term that represents a responsibility or right. In Jalena’s life, her kuleana is to find the crossroads between her passion for filmmaking and her innate passion for promoting social justice and change.

Growing up in an all-female household where activism was a family tradition, it was no doubt to anyone that Jalena would follow her dreams and carve out a path for herself with women of color at the forefront. After attending an all-girls elementary school and a women’s college, Wellesley, Jalena realized the gravity of sisterhood within all environments. This led her to focus her work on women of color.

Jalena was surrounded with people who made it a point to work with and for others through activism. Her grandfather marched alongside Martin Luther King Jr. and Cesar Chavez, and her mother started a self-funded arts education non-profit. To her, that’s what directors and film-maker should be doing: starting revolutions. Jalena makes it a point to build a sense of trust and cooperation between the primary subjects of the film and the film-makers. Delving into an industry with a history of disrespecting the subjects of documentaries has made Jalena realize the importance of collaboration.

Jalena always admires whoever she’s working with, respects their space, and portrays them in a way that they agreed to. She takes pride in her ability to find beauty in all women and see them as powerful and inspirational. She showcases them as the icons that they are, challenging the rest of the world’s view along the way.

Through her work, Jalena not only challenges the world’s perspective towards women of color, but she also challenges the filmmaking industry by catering to a audience separate from the norm.

In addition to her countless films, she has co-founded the company Breaktide Productions, a platform specifically for the empowerment of women of color.

Always on the go, Jalena is currently embarking on another project in Hawaii to film the women of an activist group named Ku Kia'i Mauna.

Her creative nature, never-ending drive, love for learning, and fearlessness towards the unknown establish Jalena as one of the great filmmakers of our generation. Jalena draws her inspiration directly from the people around her. She finds herself in environments and communities where everyone inspires and learns from each other and works together. She attributes one of the reasons she loves filmmaking to the power it brings. When she films women of color, she gives them power, too.

It is no doubt her passion for filmmaking and advocating for the empowerment of all women shines in her work, values, and speech. Through this, Jalena Keane - Lee is the hero all women of color deserve.