McCornell Brothers
Filmmakers, Designers, Community Innovators

McCornell Brothers

D'Angelo and Martel are The Next Level Brothers, award-winning biological brothers and film directors who want to create unity through game-changing film, design and community innovation.

Elizabeth Bayne: In ArtCenter's 90-year history, there have been 300 Black alumni. What's your reaction to that? 
D'Angelo: Actually, just grateful to be a part of that, first and foremost. Even in the Los Angeles community, a lot of people still don't know about this school — it's so exclusive. To know that we are part of an exclusive community feels good. But also, you would like more opportunity for people from our culture — Black, Hispanic and everyone — to know it exists.

Martel: Ninety years? It's like, ah. When we came here, there were very few of us and there's still a few of us. But it's amazing that we're making progress. I see that ArtCenter is expanding and we continue to grow. Like my brother said, grateful to be a part of that.

EB: How'd you find out about ArtCenter?
Martel: I was graduating high school, actually. I went to a prestigious arts high school in Michigan, a boarding school called Interlochen. My senior year, ArtCenter actually came up there to recruit new talent. I was just, "Hey, I'm going to ArtCenter." At the time, my brother was done with his undergrad, and he said, "Any school you want to go to, we're going to go together. We'll make it happen."

EB: Why was that important for you guys to come here together?
D'Angelo: My brother is one of my best teammates in life. We're six years apart; time separated us a little bit. But we always had that key thing that kept us together: our creativity. And we knew, once we got to a place where we could go to the same school or reach the same peaks together, we would have to make it happen.

EB: When you first stepped on campus, what was your impression?
Martel: Walking into ArtCenter for the first time, seeing the gallery, seeing all the art, even a film that showed up on the TVs behind the front desk, we were like, "Oh man. This is it. This is what we came for. This is our time to really do it."

D'Angelo: It's inspiring. We said, "We need our names in the shrines. We need our kids, our future generations, people from our city to come through and see what type of legacy we can create here, too." You know? It was just an exciting and inspiring thing to see.

EB: I imagine when you got here, you noticed the demographics. Were you the only Black people in your department?
Martel: We probably had one or two, maybe. It was always very low.

D'Angelo: We definitely stood out a lot. But we made it our initiative when we first got here to just be ourselves and bring some color and lifestyle inside ArtCenter. We just wanted to bring a little twist and a little flavor in here. 

EB: When you told your family you wanted to be filmmakers, did they question it? 
Martel: Being from Cleveland, the first initial thought was, "California? Where are you all going to live out there? We've got no family out there. We heard it's expensive out there." We grinded our whole summer; we made our films; we raised our money. We probably had $1,400. We had one-way tickets. And we made it happen. 

EB: What does it mean to be a Black filmmaker or a Black artist? Do you like that term?
D'Angelo: Well, I accept and I appreciate who I am as a person, as a Black man. I definitely respect and honor my culture, what we came from and who we are. But to be totally honest, me and my brother, we make unity and purpose films. Our brand logo, it's a smiley face. We want to speak that universal language. So not just speaking as a Black person to a Black person. But also hit that white family and to show them another perspective, give them a true sense of who we are, our heart and our purpose.

EB: Did you get the tools to find your identity or your voices as filmmakers here? 
Martel: ArtCenter definitely gave us the tools and definitely the knowledge we needed. When we first came here, they asked us, "What do you really want to be? What's your track? Do you want to be a cinematographer, a writer, a director or an editor?" We were like, "We want to do everything." But going through all the classes and all the different courses, we had to really figure out our niche and our direction.

EB: 300 Black alumni in 90 years. What are your interpretations on that? Is the glass half empty or half full?
Martel: I know what steps we can do, me and my brother, to keep getting our name out there, so people know where we came from and what school we went to. But I'm interested to see what ArtCenter has planned. What steps will ArtCenter take to really expand. 

D'Angelo: I think this documentary is definitely a great step in the right direction. Getting the awareness out there: showing it to, not only in private universities or private schools, but to public schools as well. Or have classes or video conferences in public universities where you can find those interested in art or design — students who maybe want to know about this.

EB: Why is that important?
D'Angelo: Because we all have a voice and we're born to be messengers in our own way. I'd like to take the time and just tell the youth that you could do anything you put your mind to. Take that energy inside you, that fireball, keep it brewing and see if you can find some like-minded people who actually believe in you. That's what me and my brother did. We took that energy and we created synergy. So we would like you to dig deep inside yourself and find out what you really want in life. 

Martel: Everybody's got a story to tell. You know, we want to just tell our stories. Hopefully, that can inspire other people to do the same thing. And just stay focused. Keep your eyes on the prize and just keep going. You're going to hear a lot of "no's" to get to that "yes." So yeah, just keep doing, keep going.

*This interview was edited for brevity and clarity.
Photo credit: Everard Williams

We stood out a lot. But we made it our initiative to be ourselves and bring some color and lifestyle inside ArtCenter — to bring a little twist and a little flavor in here.

D'Angelo McCornell (MA '17 Film)Filmmaker, Designer, Community Innovator

About the Series

In ArtCenter's 90-year history there have only been approximately 300 Black alumni. Impact 90/300, a documentary by Elizabeth Gray Bayne, profiles 25 of them. This series revisits each interview from the film, originally created for ArtCenter DTLA's 90/300 Exhibition.

From Words to Action

ArtCenter's Commitment to Black Lives