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How Swarthmore Put a Film Career in Focus

I never thought of myself as a filmmaker—that is, until my sophomore year, when my culminated racial and political frustrations gave form to my first script.

My screenwriting professor, Rodney Evans, met with me after reading Swisher, a day-in-the-life story of a young black man moving drugs in a neighborhood where a violent act of police brutality has occurred. When he told me I should “just make it,” I didn’t really understand how.

“Figure out a way to get money,” he said. “Take a directing class with me. I’ll help you figure out the rest.”

It didn’t strike me as real until I was on set in West Philadelphia, managing a cast and crew with the help of a Lang Center summer grant, a New York casting session, and months of networking. Out of everyone I was working with, from my producer to the child actors, I was the least experienced person on set. To use the vernacular: That jawn had me geeked.

Stumbling backward into a film minor was one of the most significant learning experiences I’ve had at Swarthmore. Convention has never been my strong suit; I have an extreme aversion to the idea of upward mobility in any sort of field. I’ve always thrown myself directly into the process. After shooting Swisher, I realized I knew relatively nothing about photography—I had relied on my good friends Kyungchan Min ’18 and Julian Turner ’18 to sculpt the visuals. So I enrolled in a black-and-white photography course with Ron Tarver, and weaseled my way into being his TA so I could gain practical darkroom experience.

All of my academic experience prior to this had been concentrated in the world of papers, research, exams, and staring at a chalkboard, not understanding why I should care enough to do more than pass the class. But working with my hands in the visual arts gave a tangibility to my dreams. Professors Evans and Tarver pushed me to break free and also gave me a frame of reference for my future—as a biracial son of an immigrant mother, having two black professors with nonacademic backgrounds was instrumental in owning my identity as an artist. (Evans, a visiting assistant professor of film and media studies, is an established independent film director; Tarver, a visiting assistant professor of studio art, is a Pulitzer-winning photojournalist.) I could see myself in them, and it inspired me to stop inhibiting my true ambitions.

Now, I’m in the process of creating my last student film here as well as my senior exhibition at the List Gallery. It still doesn’t feel real. But this is the only thing that makes sense to me in a place like Swarthmore. This is the only thing that makes sense to me, period. So I have to just make it.