This story is the third installment of a four-part series created in partnership with Hoodox. Indy Maven is proud to be a sponsor of Hoodox’s Women Filmmakers Collection, featuring films directed and/or produced by women.
Growing up in the ‘80s as a child of immigrants, with a mother from Jamaica and a father from India, Dija Henry felt alone and different since she was young. Without constant access to film and TV like we have today, Dija wasn’t sure what it was that made her feel so alone — she didn’t even know what a word like “immigrant” meant as a child. It wasn’t until her dad took her to her first film, “Dick Tracy,” that she felt connected to something so strongly and less alone.
“When I saw the lights go down and the New York skyline appear on the screen, it was like feeling a velvet blanket get draped over me. I was like, ‘I don’t know what this is, but I want it,’” Dija said.
Connecting to characters on screen helped Dija feel less alone, and she made it her life’s mission to be part of something that did the same for other children. With a theatre background, Henry has performed in plays and musicals, in commercials, and done voiceovers. After getting married, Dija and her husband moved into a little blue house, and she got pregnant quickly.
“After getting pregnant, I was scared I wouldn’t achieve my dreams,” Dija said, adding, “I thought, ‘I’m going to be a mom; what does this look like?’ I’d be walking the halls and I’d be praying and crying and asking God, ‘Am I going to do this?’ I just didn’t know.”
After having children, Dija wrote and performed a one-woman show, “Sweatpants and High Heels,” a work about postpartum depression. After having three kids, Dija stepped away from theater to prioritize raising her children. Still, she found other ways to pursue her dreams.
With a passion for social impact entertainment, Dija and her husband Darye Henry co-founded Blue House Entertainment (named after the house she lived in after getting married). The organization has a non-profit side that teaches film camp to children ages 6-23 in the Martindale-Brightwood area. Aside from this, Dija and her colleagues have produced six short films, including her most recent, “Rasheeda’s Freedom Day,” which was recently featured in the Indy Shorts International Film Festival.
“Rasheeda’s Freedom Day” is a short based on a play that ran at the Harrison Center in the Martindale-Brightwood area. It tells the true-life story of Joanna LeNoir, a young woman from St. Louis with an abusive stepfather. After she gets pregnant by him, she does not tell her mother who the father is. However, after she saw him moving in on her sisters and continuing to abuse her mother, LeNoir — who was only 16 at the time — plotted to get her mother and sisters out of the house. LeNoir successfully helped her family move to Indianapolis, where they had extended family to support them.
Dija was connected to a member of the Harrison Center team through Americorps. The Harrison Center works to preserve stories of those in Martindale-Brightwood area, and Henry was eager to turn the play about LeNoir into a narrative film so that the story could be seen by more eyes.
“I’m really passionate about telling stories about women who overcome things in their life and come out on the other side living an authentic life,” Henry explained. “That can surpass genre — comedy, drama, horror. I also want to tell multicultural stories that reflect a diverse group of people — coming from when I was younger, seeing that representation made me feel like I could do it. I think representation is important in the media to help people see themselves psychologically and being connected to heroes.”
“Rasheeda’s Freedom Day” was the first short Dija and Blue House Entertainment had featured at Indy Shorts, which was a dream of the team’s for a long time. Because it is not a documentary, the film is not available on the nonfiction, Indiana-focused video streaming platform Hoodox; however, Dija is excited to potentially partner with the Hoodox team in the future.
“Hoodox is important because it helps Indy filmmakers learn about each other’s work. It also serves as a galvanizing point to help us connect,” explained Dija, who was connected to Hoodox through her Harrison Center connections. “It also helps the general public understand the type of work that can come out of Indianapolis. With the tax incentive starting in July, we will hopefully attract more filmmakers and help the creative economy.”
Dija’s films are available on her YouTube channel and on Amazon Prime. Though “Rasheeda’s Freedom Day” will not be available for streaming until next year, viewers can expect to see Dija’s oldest child starring in the film, walking through the halls of a little blue house — the same halls Dija paced through 20 years ago as a young, pregnant woman wondering if and how she could be a mom and still achieve her dreams.
As Dija reflects upon this full-circle moment, she realizes that all those years ago she was living in her destiny and didn’t even know it.
Featured photo by Mick Hetman; hetmandesign.com.
Kylie Stine is a regular contributor to Indy Maven who shares Dija’s passion for telling Indy women’s incredible stories.