Last weekend, “Black Panther” conveyed minority perspectives through a superhero fantasy, but one UT professor creates smaller, more grounded pictures that discuss the trials and tribulations of everyday life for minorities.
Ya’Ke Smith, an independent filmmaker and associate radio-television-film professor, said he didn’t always know that he wanted to be a filmmaker. By writing poems and short stories, Smith said he discovered that he wanted to be a storyteller, but he eventually found film to be his favorite medium.
“When I was 11 years old, ‘Boyz in the Hood’ came out and that film greatly impacted me,” Smith said. “I saw a portrayal of black people I knew that had been dehumanized in the media and on the news. It gave them their humanity back. After seeing that, I said, ‘This is what I want to do.’”
Since then, he said, he has produced a number of projects through Exodus Filmworks, the film company he pioneered in 2005 in his hometown of San Antonio, Texas.
Smith said his productions feature stories that would otherwise go untold. Much of Smith’s work includes stories about people of color and situations that are unique to special demographics that are not normally featured on big screens.
“For a long time, and still today, we (minorities) often don’t have the opportunity to tell our own narratives,” Smith says. “There’s always somebody else trying to tell us who we are. I tell stories about real people … who are struggling against a system that is literally hell-bent on keeping them down in the first place.”
One of Smith’s latest projects, a web series called “The Beginning and Ending of Everything,” tells the story of a woman recently released from prison who goes on a journey to find the child she gave up as a result of her sentence. Smith said he hopes that students who have never experienced the realities of his stories can learn something from them.
“I hope that they see similarities between themselves and those people, too,” Smith said. “If they were born into that circumstance and that had those social structures fighting against them, they’d probably end up in the
Smith said he uses his scenes, cast calls and scripts to encourage hands-on learning. As a result of his teaching method and unique stories, Smith has become a favorite professor for students such as Blanca Andreu, a
“I really enjoy his class,” Andreu said. “I’m not sure what I want to do when I graduate, but I know that I like directing. He’s very practical. Ya’Ke once let me use his casting call for practice.”
For some students, Smith’s stories remind them of what they can accomplish. “The Beginning and Ending of Everything” taught her that she can write her own experiences into scripts,” said Megan Dedman,
“I feel like, over the years as an RTF major … I’ve been censored because I think that my classmates aren’t going to get it,” Dedman says. “My biggest takeaway from Ya’Ke is to continue to write stories and characters that I
can relate to.”
Smith said he plans to give back to students as his film company grows. The film company awards an annual scholarship to San Antonio film students, one of which Smith says attends UT.
“Exodus is not just a film company,” Smith said. “The goal is to one day begin producing other people’s films as well. I don’t think I’m the best filmmaker in the world, but I really want to use my films to give back and hopefully help other people along their journey.”