The CASSANDRA project: Nisa East (Part I)

In ancient Greek mythology Cassandra was cursed by the god of reason and logic, Apollo, to always speak the truth and never be believed. She represents intuition, and her myth reflects western society’s devaluation of divine feminine knowledge.

The CASSANDRA Project is intended as a space for Cassandras in our community to speak their truth. It’s a space for female-identifying myth-busters to speak out and up for women, LGBTQ, and other marginalized peoples. While there are many columns and blogs that focus on women whose success is defined by the patriarchal values of wealth, power and prestige within the system, this column is dedicated to celebrating women for just being, a political act in and of itself in today’s world. It is a space to share the ways in which female-identifying people have maintained their relationship to the divine feminine forces of intuition and creativity outside the status quo, and in spite of male dominated industries and patriarchal systems. 

This column is about, for and dedicated to all of the daughters of the witches you didn’t burn. 

CASSANDRA #2 :  Nisa East

Nisa at work (Photo: Nina Bellersheim )

Nisa is a filmmaker from Australia living in New Orleans. She hosts the annual Backyard Film Festival, a one-night-only film fest of the greatest films you’ve neverseen. It’s a celebration of independent cinema, community, laughing and crying in the dark with strangers.

Astrological sign: Libra sun Aquarius moon

Favorite time of day: Dusk

Natural habitat: shore of the Pacific ocean

Most easily elicited emotion: curiosity 

Favorite potion: mezcal or a coconut La Croix… depending on what needs to be done.

Who is a woman in your life whom you gained a lot of wisdom from? How do you continue that lineage?

Definitely my Greek mother. It was a relationship that was impossible to escape even though I tried my entire adolescence. She is a bold, tough-as-nails, crass, punk Greek woman who was the black sheep of her family. When she was 18 she defied her mother and grandmother by not getting married and instead buying a motorcycle and running away to the Northern Rivers of Australia, known for its hippie communes and rainforests. Inevitably I was shaped by her more than any other woman in my life. 

She is an immigrant and came to Australia when she was 7.  She was picked on mercilessly, as immigrants were in Australia in the 70s, and was raised with three brothers and male cousins, so she was this scrappy tomboy. Her upbringing definitely forged the woman she is today. She is solid as a rock, but also has this bottomless compassion and warmth that everyone gravitates towards. She is the Mediterranean woman. Strong, fiery but endlessly warm and generous. 

As I age, I notice parts of her character in myself. At first I resisted, but I’ve started to recognize the significance of the way she moves through the world as a woman, and how it has rubbed off on me.

One distinctive trait I’ve grown to admire as I get older, is that she doesn’t give a shit about what anyone thinks of her. Never did. She was always her own woman, as outspoken, as crass, as extraverted – even in times that didn’t call for it – as she wished.

She imparted some radical defiance in me and I’m so thankful because it countered the homogeneous pop-culture I was consuming in my adolescence. The glamour magazine, “look this way” and “act this way” messaging. That stuff embeds deep onto your psyche – ask any young woman about her perception of her physical self – its so distorted. My mum would bluntly tell me I didn’t need any of the crap the magazines were selling me. Hers was an anti-consumer, anti-establishment message: don’t base your worth or construct your identity around those warped societal values. As a stubborn teen I rejected her wisdom, although the seed eventually sprouted in me.

Naturally I had (and still have) my self doubts – I’m the harshest critic of myself and my work, but ultimately I inherited my mum’s spirit of not really worrying about how people perceive me, and instead just putting my head forward and doing my best work.

People have commented on this as toughness, and its my favorite compliment anyone can give me. Because there is this tough-ness I see in my Mum, in myself and all of my female identifying friends. It’s not brutish, it’s not a bashing through the world. It’s like water on a ducks back. It’s quiet, clever tough and it’s a powerful thing to see in a woman. Resilience. 

Nisa as a young girl with her mother (Photo: Janelle Haselden)

Can you recollect a time you felt pressured to perform a role that did not feel authentic to yourself? 

I have never had a really defendable idea of my own self identity. I’ve always pushed against people having specific assumptions of what I should be. Intentionally I will go out of my way to prove that I’m different than their expectation.

I haven’t felt the need to identify as a wife. I’m married, but I don’t like saying that word.  It’s a thing my husband has called me out on. I did it today – I called him my partner instead of my husband because that makes me a wife. 

Even internally I have never identified as that. I have a ring on but I’m not a “wife” because that word is tied down to too many things I don’t see myself as. 

I was down with being a “fiancé” (it was a fun word to say) but I don’t use the word wife or the word husband because I feel like the person I’m saying that to immediately perceives me in a different way, in a role. 

I didn’t even take my husband’s last name. It was never a question for me. I like my last name, and he was cool with it. 

Nisa and her mom [Photo: unknown (passerby at Lakeside)]

How do you practice self love?

For me self love feels like being really deliberate about spending more time with other women and only women. It’s the most rewarding way I can feel whole again.

How is your body in contact with the world?

My mind immediately flips the question; how is the world coming into contact with my body? It’s more passive. Probably because it’s something I haven’t always felt I have had autonomy over.  I think the same question posed to a man is a very active thing. Their body is set upon the world. The male body has always had the power to move through the world effortlessly.

Right now is a really interesting time in my life to ask this question.

From the Backyard Film Festival, which is Saturday, October 13 (Photo: De’Orin Payne)

The answer at many points would have been completely different. In my early 20s for example, I felt I had little control over my body; in how people perceived it, how powerful it was. I didn’t even have control over how I thought about it. 

Now I’m a camerawoman. What I do for a living is I hold a camera. I wield this tool, a camera, and its a really powerful tool.

I’ll never forget the first time I picked up a camera. All of a sudden the way that my body came into contact with the world totally shifted. Suddenly, I had this tool that gave me power wherever I placed my body.

Holding a camera commands a certain degree of respect, (depending on where you are and what context.) I think anyone that denies the power of what it means to be the person in charge behind the lens of a camera has not thought about what it means to be in power. Imagery welds an immense force that shapes our political and social discourse, our realities. 

My body comes into contact with the world in a way that I have more control over because of this tool.

I can walk into a room and people see me in a different way – they see what I am seeing. They may make assumptions or judgements, and I can be looked at and experienced by the world, but because I’m holding this tool all of a sudden whatever I’m looking at kind of holds more weight or more importance. It has given my body access and strength. I think there has never been a more important time to articulate and understand a female-centric way of seeing. The female gaze of today is another way of coming into contact with the world. It is provoked by a history of being “looked at,” it has been underestimated many times because it feels very different for the viewer, but it is a powerful alchemy and antidote to our current times. 

That has been my experience in the past several years of doing what I do and it has changed the way that I come into contact with the world even when I’m not holding the camera. 


Join Nisa at the Backyard Film Festival this Saturday Oct 13th and learn more about Nisa at


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