June 19, 2020 - 1:55 pm
Updated June 19, 2020 - 2:15 pm
It took A’Kaeila Coulter a couple of days after she finished her finals to process the news that her documentary would be featured in a Smithsonian showcase.
“I was stressed and didn’t have time to be excited,” the 18-year-old Las Vegan said. “But now that everything is over, I was like, ‘I can’t believe I made it this far with this project!’”
Coulter, a junior attending the online charter school Leadership Academy of Nevada, conducted research, narrated and produced the music for her documentary “Yaa Asantewaa: The War of the Golden Stool.” Her 10-minute documentary catalogs the efforts of Queen Mother Yaa Asantewaa of the Asante Nation — now part of Ghana — to fight for independence from the British Empire in 1900.
Coulter’s documentary was one of 35 chosen to be showcased in the Smithsonian Learning Lab through a partnership among the lab, National History Day and the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. The documentaries will be available to watch on the Smithsonian Learning Lab website until June 24, according to a statement from the Leadership Academy of Nevada.
The films were made by middle and high school students to reflect the National History Day Contest theme “Breaking Barriers in History.” Coulter’s was the only film selected from Nevada.
When settling on Asantewaa as her topic for the documentary, Coulter realized, “No one is learning about this in school, so I thought it was pretty fascinating, and I had to do this.”
Coulter focuses on the War of the Golden Stool in her documentary, which Asantewaa initiated against British forces who colonized the Asante Nation for their influence in the gold trade. The Golden Stool was to the Asante what the Constitution is to the United States, Coulter said, and Asantewaa wanted to prevent British soldiers from stealing it and completely taking over the area.
Coulter aimed to highlight Asantewaa in her documentary as a female leader in Africa amid the context of the battle for women’s suffrage in America, which began just a few years before Asantewaa died in exile after leading the Asante’s fight.
“I was really blown away that this was happening in other parts of the world as well,” Coulter said.
The documentary began as a school project that Coulter ultimately decided to enter in the contest, taking about seven months to create in full.
Coulter also works at home with her mother, Jackie Michaels, for the business they co-founded called Di Xtreme Entertainment, where she makes commercials and helps organize sponsored events. Producing a video was nothing new for Coulter, but she had never worked on a project of this scale with so much research involved.
“I had to really teach myself the anatomy of script writing; I had to teach myself the anatomy of transitions and different effects,” Coulter said. “When we watch documentaries, we don’t realize how much work goes into it.”
Though the coronavirus pandemic had no effect on the process of making her documentary, it shifted the planned showcase of the documentaries from the Oprah Winfrey Theater of the National Museum of African American History and Culture to an online format.
Coulter said she was “bummed” when she received the news, because she and a few friends who also won prizes in different categories of the contest were planning to make the trip to Washington, D.C., together for the screening. However, she said the experience was worth it nonetheless.
“You will grow and absolutely learn a lot and even meet a lot of amazing people,” Coulter said. “When I looked at the first edit compared to now I was like, ‘Wow, I never knew I was capable of this.’”