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About Leslie

A raconteur with a journalistic background, Leslie Cunningham is an artist and filmmaker originally from Los Angeles, CA. Feeding her hunger for producing daring and entertaining narratives that represent a diversity of subjects and communities, Leslie created TRIBES Magazine, the award-winning urban entertainment publication which developed a reputation of love and respect among urban artists, poets, music journalists, and indie music fans around the globe.

A graduate of the Center or Documentary Studies at Duke University with a Certificate in the Documentary Arts, Leslie’s collection of engaging documentary film and videos have screened on public television, online and at film festivals in the U.S. and internationally.

In her early years of filmmaking, Leslie produced a number of popular shows for the local public television station The People’s Channel, in Chapel Hill, NC. Her show, TRIBES TV, covered arts and community events in the Triangle area of North Carolina, including- the first annual Triangle Black Pride Festival, Stand Up Speak Out– combating domestic violence with spoken word- in 2008, and Big Freedia-The Queen of Bounce show, Live in Durham in 2013. TRIBES TV was a public broadcasting hit and spread Leslie’s reputation as a local media institution to citizens around the Triangle.

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In 2012, Leslie released her first feature-length documentary film, M.I., A Different Kind of Girl. The film debuted at the Hayti Heritage Film Festival in March 2012, followed by a three-city Pride Festival tour through Philadelphia, St. Louis, and ending in Raleigh at the Triangle Black Pride Festival. M.I. also was chosen for The North Carolina Gay and Lesbian Film Festival and Atlanta’s Out On Film in 2012,Gender Reel Film Festival (2014) and Massimadi, the LGBT Film Festival of Africa and its Diasporas in 2016. The film has paved the way for more projects that would educate, entertain and feature provocative subjects and subject matter.

Now, Leslie is making the film that has become her life’s work. JIG SHOW | Leon Claxton’s Harlem in Havana is a film about her family’s stage show which documents the legacy of her grandfather, Leon Claxton, one of the twentieth century’s most successful traveling show producers. Sponsored by the Southern Documentary Fund, JIG SHOW received research and development funds from ITVS’ Diversity Development Funding in 2014, was selected for the Cucalorus Filmmaker WIP Residency Program and participated in the Sundance Institute New Frontier Program in 2016. The film is slated for release in 2019.

Leslie currently resides in Durham NC. She is a member of Film Fatales, an inclusive community of women feature film and television directors and is committed to mentoring emerging young filmmakers. She also enjoys photography, writing and painting.

Contact Leslie at


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M.I., A Different Kind of Girl
A film by Leslie Cunningham
Co-Produced by Alana Jones

Laine Brown, a spirited and passionate male impersonator born on North Carolina’s rural coast, transforms by taping down her breasts, shaving her head, and studying the masculine performances of today’s most famous male entertainers- to become the incomparable NATION TYRE, show-stopper and ground-breaker for women in drag. Challenged by a desire to please all of those that love her, Nation is on a mission to generate acceptance for women like her. As she pushes the bounds of female gender identity, is there room for a lone performer, to challenge the constraints at work in the African-American and LGBT community in pursuit of fame and visibility on the world stage?

In the new feature documentary film M.I., A Different Kind of Girl, filmmakers, Leslie Cunningham and Alana Jones enter the world of new millennium drag and pick up the torch ignited by documentary films like Paris is Burning to investigate attitudes in their own LGBT and African- American communities about women in drag. In the process, they uncover powerful ideas about female gender identity and sexuality in not only the mainstream popular culture but also within the marginalized LGBT and African American communities where Nation has made a name for herself. Visit the film’s website.

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Don’t wait for the film! See the Brown Skin Showgirls!

  Step Right Up, Folks! I’ve got big news! In an effort to document the rich history of my grandfather Leon Claxton’s Black and Cuban stage show, Harlem in Havana,  I’m creating a collection of black and white photography books called Brown Skin Showgirls. And,  the Cuban Edition, Vol II, is now available on Amazon!  Brown Skin Showgirls, … Continue reading Don’t wait for the film! See the Brown Skin Showgirls!

Super Studs, Brownskin Showgirls and Challenging Identities- My Artist Journey

From making film to writing lyrics to painting on a blank canvas, I am at peace in the world when I am creating. A writer, visual artist and documentary filmmaker, I come from a family of artists and musicians from Los Angeles, CA. As a kid, all I ever wanted to do was go to … Continue reading Super Studs, Brownskin Showgirls and Challenging Identities- My Artist Journey