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Melvonna Ballenger

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Melvonna Marie Ballenger, affectionately known as “Mel” was born on August 6, 1954 in St. Louis, Missouri.  Ballenger attended Stephens College for women in Columbia, Missouri, and later transferred to Howard University where she earned her bachelor’s degree in Communications.

After graduating from Howard, Ballenger relocated to Los Angeles where she entered UCLA’s M.F.A. program in film and television production.  In her first film, Rain (Nyesha), Ballenger offered a poetic portrayal of a young woman’s growing political awareness.  Rain (Nyesha) received an honorable mention at Los Angeles' Black Talkies on Parade festival in 1982. Her second film, Nappy Headed Lady, later renamed Pigtail Blues, is a 1960’s tale of a nappy-headed lady in waiting.  The film explores the effects of white standards of beauty on black women’s self-concept.  Documentary footage from the 60’s connects the protagonist’s struggle to the nationwide black movement.

After UCLA, Ballenger worked with Capitol Records in Hollywood and later with Continental Cable Company producing local television shows focusing on issues pertinent to the black community.  She was passionate about teaching the younger generation to love and appreciate the art of filmmaking. She worked with the Pan African Film Festival as the Director of the Student Festival for many years. Ballenger later received her teaching credentials and joined the faculty of 32nd Street School in Los Angeles where she taught Humanities and Film to middle and high school students. There, she created a cable talk show for her students.

In 2003, Mel passed away from breast cancer. Her spirit and love for film live on in her children, her friends and family, her colleagues, and the thousands of people she impacted through her life’s work.

Date of birth: 
Friday, August 6, 1954
St. Louis, MO
Date of death: 
Wednesday, June 25, 2003
Howard University, B.A. Communications; UCLA, M.F.A. Film and Television Production


Film Role(s) Year
Rain Rain (Nyesha)

The political awakening of a female typist is vividly portrayed through Melvonna Ballenger’s use of John Coltrane’s song, “After the Rain.”

Film reel Nappy-Headed Lady

A work-in-progress by Melvonna Ballenger about middle class African American parents discussing why they have ordered their daughter to get rid of her afro.

Director 1985
Dreadlocks and the Three Bears (1991) Dreadlocks and the Three Bears

Forget what you know about Goldilocks. For L.A. Rebellion filmmaker Alile Sharon Larkin, it's all about "Dreadlocks."

Cinematographer 1991