Lately I’ve been asking myself the question: why? Why do I make stories that challenge, when most audiences just want to go numb? Why do I desire to delve into the deep corridors of the human spirit, when most audiences don’t want to look at themselves in the mirror?
Over the past twenty years of making films, there have been great highs, moments where my work was lauded for its boldness and unapologetic gaze; and devastating lows, times where the work was criticized for its “heavy-handedness” and dismissed as stereotypical.
As an artist whose goal has always been to tell hard-hitting stories that speak to issues we rarely see on screen, I went into filmmaking knowing that the odds were already stacked against me. Most popular cinema is not confrontational but is rather escapist in nature. Audiences want to laugh or cry, but rarely want to be charged to act. Most people want to feel that they’ve made a difference, yet rarely accept a call to action.
I knew approaching cinema from this perspective would be a long winding road—I just never imagined it would be this hard. I’ve had many tear-filled nights where my anger with God and disappointment of myself plunged me into the waters of self-doubt, of slight depression and of near-debilitating hopelessness.
But every time I nose-dive into one of those seasons, I go back to the beginning and remind myself why I decided to follow this filmmaking path in the first place.
When I was 12, God spoke to me through a prophet and said to me that I would one day be a powerful force in film. He said that my work would transform people, challenge people and demand to be seen. Now although I had written plays and short stories by this time, I’d never touched a camera, never been around anyone that owned a camera and still had a very elementary understanding of what filmmaking was.
But I ran with the word and started to write what I thought were good screenplays. I attempted to send my screenplays to the “big” production companies, and of course, they were sent back unopened. I looked for a camera to no avail. I tried to rally together a crew, but everyone thought I had lost my mind. It wasn’t until three years later when I was in high school, that I made my first film. And I made one each year after, hoping that someone would see them and I would be “on my way.”
But that didn’t happen—not in the way I thought it would anyway. You have to remember, in my twelve-year-old thinking, the prophet said, “I would be famous,” so why should I have thought anything differently, right? Well, he never said that, but at the time that’s what I wanted to hear.
I knew I wanted to make meaningful movies, and those weren’t necessarily the most popular. However, my assumption was that by accepting God’s call, fame and fortune were inevitable. I very quickly found out they were not.
You see, true art is uncomfortable because it doesn’t just reflect, it prophecies. When you’ve tapped into your true gift from God and really surrender to God’s voice, you can feel the pulse of the human spirit, and most people don’t listen to their pulse until it’s too late.
An artist’s job is to create art that charges us to take action. An artist’s job is to create art that forces us to connect with one another. An artist’s job is to create art that exposes us to the plight and circumstances of those that we may not understand. An artist’s job is to be sensitive, not only to the current times we live in, but the future ones to come. An artist’s job is to give voice to the voiceless and agency to the faceless.
In his book, The Artisan Soul, Erwin McManus writes, “Our soul is the primary material for all artistic expression,” and our soul is the essence of who we are. For me, that means anything I create must come from a place of pure intention. It can’t be birthed from a desire to attain accolades or praise, but one based on a need to inspire.
We were created as gifts, and although gifts can and will receive, their primary purpose is to be an offering. My offering is to inspire. My offering is to provoke. And my offering is to expose the light in dark places. This is God’s gift to me, and with every project I am blessed to create, I am given an opportunity not to show how talented or capable I am—but to create transcendent stories that become life-changing experiences for the viewer.
Check out Ya’Ke’s newest film project, HEAVENLY, on INDIEGOGO.
What’s it about? “The moral and psychological complexity of sex trafficking.”
The goal? “The FBI estimates that over 100,000 children and young women are trafficked within America today. They range from age 9-19, and for too long they’ve been forced to suffer in silence and shame. They deserve better and although this film can in no way stop this vicious and immoral practice, I do hope that it can be a conversation starter. I hope that this film can become a part of the much-needed conversation about consent and the limits of control, to give voice to those in ‘the life’.”
If the HEAVENLY project moved you, we invite you to learn more and contribute at INDIEGOGO. If the story made you more aware, we challenge you to share this article on your social media platforms by clicking the share icons found at the bottom of this post.
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