Elizabeth Bayne: In the 90 years ArtCenter has existed, 300 alumni have been Black. What did you think when you heard that?
Micah Williams (MA 15 Grad Film): That ArtCenter has been around for 90 years — I guess that was more of a shock. But yeah, I wasn't totally surprised.
EB: The 300 number: Is that a good thing or a bad thing? Because there are different ways to interpret it.
MW: I'm not entirely sure if it's good or bad. Because you don't have to go to art school or film school to be an artist. That's a choice you make on your own. I guess, it is what it is.
EB: Tell me about when you decided you were going to pursue film.
MW: I was always kind of pursuing it. Even as a kid, I would film my friends. I used to train at a karate school and we would make up these fights with really, really terrible acting. But the action was decent. That was how I kind of learned to get coverage, how to stay on the right side of the line, so it cuts together and doesn't look super wonky. That was actually what I submitted in order to get accepted here. So I've always kind of been in it; I never really thought of doing anything else.
EB: Was it hard to justify to your family?
MW: Not really. My family's always been involved in performing arts. My dad teaches acting and directs plays. I think my family was realistic about it. They were like, "This isn't an easy thing to do." But I think coming to ArtCenter was a smart choice because you come here and you learn skills: how to edit, how to color correct and things like that. They're teaching you actual things that you can do to get work later.
EB: So you weren't too worried about how you would make a living?
MW: No, not really to be honest, not living in Los Angeles. Maybe if I were living in the heartland, then I'd be more skeptical. But there's a lot of opportunity here.
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.
I don't think you can really wait for anyone to give you permission to tell your story. I think you just have to do it.Micah WilliamsVideo Production Professional
EB: Why ArtCenter? Because you could have gone to film school in a lot of places.
MW: I decided to come here because I was a fan of both Zack Snyder and Michael Bay, and I just wanted to learn how to make movies the way they did.
EB: When you got to campus, what was your first impression?
MW: When I first got here and I went through the gallery and saw all the work people were doing, I knew I was in the right place. Wherever I went to school, I wanted to make stuff, and I definitely got the opportunity to do that here.
EB: Was that ever an issue, feeling included or excluded?
MW: When the group's that small, it's kind of hard to be left out. You know what I mean? You really need all the help you can get, especially when you're shooting stuff every single week. So, there was never a point where I personally felt left out of anything or excluded.
EB: Were you surprised when you came on campus how few Black people there were?
MW: No, not specifically. I'm from Michigan, so I've always been kind of the odd man out in that respect. I don't typically notice, ratios and demographics like that unless it's super, super off and it’s such a small school.
EB: What was the worst grade or project review that you got here and how did it make you better?
MW: That's one of the things I did like here. Because you are making stuff, people are seeing it and you're getting feedback. I think whenever I did get negative feedback, I would just try to figure out, "OK, what was it that wasn't quite translating?" And I think it made my skin a lot thicker — you don't really take things as personally coming out of ArtCenter. You're not afraid of rejection.
EB: Would you say you found your voice here?
MW: Absolutely. Bob [Robert Peterson, former Film Department Chair] was really into the whole creative identity thing. If Bob hadn’t pushed that as hard as he did and if I hadn't come here, I wouldn't have learned what I'm interested in. Because once you know what you're interested in, then creating art becomes a little bit more intuitive.
EB: What does it mean to be a Black artist?
MW: As opposed to looking for external change or what the community or the industry can do for us, I think it's more of, what can we do for ourselves? I don't think you can really wait for anyone to give you permission to tell your story. There’s a lot of niche content that was not getting made before, that's getting made now. I think you just have to do it. So I think the more useful way of looking at it is, "What can we do for ourselves?"
EB: Did ArtCenter prepare you to live your truth?
MW: I would say ArtCenter definitely prepared me to live my truth. You learn from people who are actually doing what you want to do. In order to teach at this facility, you have to be working in the field that you're teaching. So I definitely learned not only technical skills, but also the fact that it's not going to be easy. It's not easy for anyone. Even people out there who seem to be successful, they're working their butts off. Once you realize that, you don't take things personally, and it becomes more about just being the best that you can be.
EB: The need for more diversity — why do you think it's important?
MW: Hearing more voices and hearing more stories that just chronically have not been told, over time, I do think that's important. Whether you need to go to school at all, to do that, I'm not entirely convinced. Especially these days, anyone can pick up an iPhone and make a movie. I think it's more important that you're just being proactive and doing it.
EB: Do you want this experience for other people?
MW: I wish this stuff were more available to people. I think slowly it is, now that cameras are becoming a lot more available. So the tools are available to people; there are tutorials online. I guess I can't stress it enough: You do not need to come to film school to be a filmmaker. But if you are going to go to film school, I think ArtCenter is a great one.
EB: As a community of Black artists, is there anything that we can do in terms of paving the way for more of us?
MW: I do think that the best way to inspire generations coming up is to just do it yourself. Because if you see Ava DuVernay make a film, you say, "Oh, I can do that, too. Someone like me just did that." I can't stress enough just doing it is probably the best way to help yourself and people like you. I think the best way to help yourself and your community is to just do your work.
*This interview was edited for brevity and clarity.
Photo credit: Everard Williams
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