Elizabeth Bayne: In ArtCenter’s 90-year history, there have only been 300 black alumni — what's your reaction to that
Cero Smith (MA 19 Film): When I first saw this number and it was shocking; it didn't make sense to me. It's not so much as that there were 300 students in 90 years. But what are they looking for when they’re letting people in this school? That's what I asked; that's what caught my eye.
EB: Some people might feel that film isn't very. Was that a hard decision?
A: It was absolutely a hard decision. Coming from where I come from, I can count on one hand how many people told me I could do it. But you take on challenges, you try to do your best and let people know what you're worth.
EB: You've had a few different lives, when did you decide that you wanted to go into film?
CS: My first run in with film was when I was 10. I was doing stop-motion before I knew what stop-motion was. I've worked in just about every media field, and then after the military I decided that I couldn't live without it. I never really considered myself an artist, but I knew that I needed it in my life. I knew that I needed film in my life. Superheroes, live action, cartoons. I just loved, the fantasy of it all.
EB: How'd you find out about ArtCenter?
CS: I looked up which schools my favorite filmmakers went to, and saw that Zack Snyder and Michael Bay went to ArtCenter. Other schools had a waitlist, but ArtCenter really wanted me to come here.
EB: What made you decide to come to ArtCenter?
CS: I wanted to come to California because this is the movie scene. I worked in television and radio in New York, in cartoons and stuff, and I didn't really want that to be my career. I wanted to work in live action movies. The lineage of people who come out of ArtCenter; many work for Disney. I guess I saw a window to make something of myself and go where I wanted to go.
EB: What was your first impression when you arrived at ArtCenter?
CS: Truthfully, it was: Where are all the Black people? Where are the people of color? Where are the people like me?
EB: Were you the only Black person in your department?
CS: I was one of three or four at the time.
EB: What does it mean to be a Black artist?
CS: To show people that I am African American and I can do it. I was always able to do it, they just didn't know it yet. What it means to me to be a Black artist is everything, to be my very best.
EB: 300 Black alumni in 90 years: Is there still work to do? And if so, what can we do?
CS: I think there's plenty of work to do. That work is education, it’s reaching out to schools, and showing people that they can make it. Many African American students are not given the avenue or even the thought that they can become something more than a sports player or a hip hop artist. Anybody can do anything, but they don't know that. I didn't know that for the longest time.
I came here and had to find my voice, and I realized that I already had it. Follow your dream, and pursue it with your education — I think it's mandatory for educators to make this known to younger generations.
*This interview was edited for brevity and clarity.
Photo credit: Everard Williams
Follow your dream, and pursue it with your education — I think it's mandatory for educators to make this known to younger generations.Cero Smith Filmmaker, Producer
ArtCenter's Commitment to Black Lives