Butterfly Effect: Experimental Filmmaker DaeQuan Collier
DaeQuan Collier is a young, Bronx-born filmmaker whose first two short films have won critical acclaim and awards at several film festivals. Cell Vision correspondent Samantha Singh speaks to Collier about his work and inspirations, the Black Lives Matter movement, and his dreams for the future.
Main portrait by Elias Nazih, all other photos by Jacquelyn Greenfield
Experimental filmmaker DaeQuan Collier delicately weaves large ideas through the frame of the narrative in his personal, poetic works. Exploring aspects of the Black experience, Collier’s short films are carefully crafted combinations of soft-toned visuals and spoken sentiments often maneuvering between observations from the past, realities of the present, and promises of the future, portraying a potent sense of hope despite adverse systems and conditions.
At age 24, the burgeoning writer-director is just tapping into his potential. Collier’s poignant 2019 experimental short, What If Black Boys Were Butterflies?, was selected by a number of film festivals and went on to win awards for Best Writing at the Continental Film Festival, Best Social Justice Short at the Shortie Film Festival, and the John Michaels Memorial Film Second Place Award at the Big Muddy Film Festival. After graduating from New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts in 2018 with a degree in Film and Television, Collier is now pursuing a Master of Fine Arts in Screenwriting from Boston’s Emerson College.
I spoke to Collier about his films, their subjects, and the significance of dynamically representing people of color in the media.
CELL VISION: How would you describe yourself as an artist?
DAEQUAN COLLIER: I would describe myself as an artist who thrives on creating work that is deeply grounded in and of the communities from which I am. Work that isn’t confined to a genre, or a medium, or an exhibition space.
CELL VISION: Where did you grow up, and how do you think that has affected your perspective?
DAEQUAN COLLIER: I grew up in the Bronx, and I think growing up around so many different cultures and people fueled my passion to want to represent them when I noticed the lack of representation in mainstream media.
"I came up with A Letter to My Unborn Daughter when I read about how Black women were found “least attractive” on all these new dating sites, and it sparked a lot of thought about the lives of the Black women I know, and down the line, my daughter. That from such a young age, they would face this level of policing and live in this society that is constantly reinforcing it."
CELL VISION: In your 2017 film A Letter to My Unborn Daughter, you address the problem of white beauty standards being the default in American society and the harmful effects that has on Black women, both in regard to how they are perceived and how they perceive themselves. What is your stance on that issue in 2020? Do you think that we are moving any closer to embracing the beauty of Black women in American culture?
DAEQUAN COLLIER: I came up with A Letter to My Unborn Daughter when I read about how Black women were found “least attractive” on all these new dating sites, and it sparked a lot of thought about the lives of the Black women I know, and down the line, my daughter. That from such a young age, they would face this level of policing and live in this society that is constantly reinforcing it. I think, in some ways, we have made progress in terms of representation, but if we look at all the Black women, both domestically and internationally, who take drastic measures to fit these narrow standards of beauty, [it’s still a serious problem].
CELL VISION: Who are some of your influences, both in life and in your work?
DAEQUAN COLLIER: Although my grandmother always told me to become a “doctor or lawyer,” my earliest memories are her telling me stories. Whether they be books at bedtime or stories about her childhood experiences, those moments made me fall in love with storytelling, and I’d cite her as my first influence.
Outside of that, I find myself inspired a lot by Black writers. Specifically, Toni Morrison and James Baldwin, who made work without the “white gaze,” meaning the stories did not revolve around or explain Blackness in the context of whiteness. They told stories about people who happen to be Black and the worlds around them.
I also draw a lot of inspiration from the French New Wave, Italian NeoRealist Cinema, and the LA Black Rebellion filmmakers who made films that were observational and poetic, that aimed to present the beauty in everyday life.
"Black boys often are not afforded the 'luxury' to experience childhood in the way that other boys are. Tamir Rice was only 12-years old when he was [shot by police while] playing with a toy gun. I wanted to make something that spoke to this issue."
CELL VISION: Can you elaborate on the circumstances that inspired your film What If Black Boys Were Butterflies?
DAEQUAN COLLIER: For many reasons, Black boys often are not afforded the “luxury” to experience childhood in the way that other boys are. Tamir Rice was only 12-years old when he was in Cleveland playing with a toy gun. I wanted to make something that spoke to this issue. The lack of freedoms Black children face in this country. I wanted the film to center around this intimate conversation between two Black men, who, for many reasons, typically do not open up to each other, and let them have this open conversation about this experience paired with these visuals of what Black boyhood currently is and what it could be.
CELL VISION: This year, the Black Lives Matter movement has gained momentum not only around the country but around the world. What are your thoughts on the political climate at this time?
DAEQUAN COLLIER: In a lot of my friend circles, we’ve been asking each other, “Why now?” because four years ago, saying “Black lives matter” was such a controversial statement. I think that the country on lockdown gave people no choice but to see what was happening, and they couldn’t turn away. I think we have some ways to go for sure, but I really find hope in seeing my generation and kids younger than me. We are genuine about advocating for each other and being the change we seek, and that makes me hopeful.
CELL VISION: What have you been working on lately creatively?
DAEQUAN COLLIER: A lot! I’m currently in post[-production] on a short doc about Black artists, and I am shooting a new film at the end of this month. I am also working on a “remix” of What If Black Boys Were Butterflies with reimagined audio and visuals that I am really excited about, and I am working on starting a non-profit film center!
CELL VISION: Do you work in other mediums apart from film? Is there anything you’ve yet to try that you’d like to?
DAEQUAN COLLIER: I want to get into making work that can be exhibited in galleries and spaces outside of a theater. With my last film, I was able to get into an exhibition, and I want to continue that type of work.
"I want to give people the freedom to tell and exhibit their own stories. There is an African proverb that says, 'Until the lion learns how to write, the story will always glorify the hunter,' so I want to arm a community with the tools to do so."
CELL VISION: That sounds so exciting! What’s your vision for this film center? And can you tell us a little about your new film, or is it a secret?
DAEQUAN COLLIER: I want to give people the freedom to tell and exhibit their own stories. There is an African proverb that says, "Until the lion learns how to write, the story will always glorify the hunter," so I want to arm a community with the tools to do so.
My new film is a short about an expecting Black couple grappling with choosing to bring a child into this world.
CELL VISION: What would you like to achieve with your work?
DAEQUAN COLLIER: I strive to create work that disrupts and reshapes narratives of people of color. I plan to change that and represent people of color in a way that is multi-faceted, dimensional, and properly illustrates our humanity. This is not only necessary for people of color to feel seen and understood, but also for others who need to see and understand us beyond simple tropes and stereotypes.
CELL VISION: What are some of your goals for the future?
DAEQUAN COLLIER: Definitely the non-profit. I would love to see it grow. But other than that, I want my art to be accessible and stretch beyond the current frameworks we have for storytelling.
You can find out more about DaeQuan Collier on his website or Instagram via the links below.