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Bronzeville, Near South Side

‘Still Searching’ Documentary Tells Stories Of Chicago’s Missing Black Women And Girls Through Art

Damon Lamar Reed and filmmaker Latoya Flowers-Rudd hope their documentary will honor the missing women and their families.

A mural of Kierra Coles by artist Damon Lamar Reed, whose project on missing Black women is the subject of a documentary, "Still Searching."
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BRONZEVILLE — It has been nearly three years since postal worker Kierra Coles left her East Chatham apartment for work.

Coles, who was three months pregnant when she disappeared Oct. 2, 2018, has not been found. She is one of several women featured in “Still Searching,” an upcoming documentary that follows artist Damon Lamar Reed as he tells the missing women’s stories through portraiture.

“I already thought the project was going to be big when it was just going to be an art show, but when the documentary idea came, it was like, ‘OK, this is going to be epic. This is going to be life-changing,'” said Reed, who finished a blues mural in Bronzeville in July.

Local filmmaker Latoya Flowers-Rudd and her brother, a producer on the project, had followed Reed’s work for years. When Reed mentioned he was creating portraits of missing Black women and girls, they approached him with their idea for a documentary about his work, said Flowers-Rudd, who has made movies since she was a student at Hyde Park Academy.

The duo will film through the beginning of next year, featuring Reed’s work as well as interviews from politicians working on better protecting Black women. They hope to have the film completed by 2023.

Reed said his artwork could expand to include missing Indigenous women, as well.

“I just want to raise awareness,” Reed said. “Some people are oblivious and have no idea that this is happening, and some have forgotten. I want to keep these cases in people’s minds and honor these women and their families.”

Flowers-Rudd had heard news stories about missing Black women and girls in the city, but she noticed an uptick in attention in the cases in 2016.

“It seemed like you were hearing about someone disappearing every week,” Flowers-Rudd said.

The FBI and Police Department created a task force in 2019 to look into the cases. They’ve found no evidence a serial killer is involved — a popular theory — after testing DNA in 51 unsolved murder cases, but Black women continue to go missing and these cases are rarely solved.

Stories like Coles’ struck a chord with Reed and Flowers-Rudd.

Coles was the subject of the first portrait Reed completed. When he posted a photo of the work online, a friend offered to put him in touch with Coles’ family, who appreciated the gesture.

Another mutual Facebook friend connected Reed to the family of the Bradley sisters — who were just 10 and 3 when they disappeared in 2001 — after he posted a photo of a portrait of them.

The duo hopes that as Reed makes more portraits of missing women and girls, their families will reach out. So far, Reed has completed six paintings and 15 murals. He aims to have more finished ahead of a planned October show.

Flowers-Rudd has struck a “first look” deal with Hulu through the Hulu/Kartemquin Films Accelerator Program, from which she received a $20,000 grant for the project. The filmmaker is a former Kartemquin intern.

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