“I make gritty films, dirty films.”

by CHRIS VOGNAR | portrait by MEI-CHUN JAU

Dwain Ya’Ke Smith is a grinder. He’s a popular film professor at UTA, where he teaches students the rigors of production — but that’s just the day job. He’s also a filmmaker whose films tackle taboo subjects of modern African-American life, from his killer feature Wolf, about a predatory preacher, to his recent short One Hitta Quitta, about the vicious cycle of addictive Internet violence. His movies make people angry. They also make people think about things they’d rather ignore. Like other true artists, he holds a mirror up to the world at an angle that isn’t always flattering. But his images are always worth the effort. — Chris Vognar

WHAT I DO I make films that reflect the human condition. I tell stories that sometimes make people ver y uncomfortable because they show us things that many of us have either turned a blind eye to, or things that we don’t want to believe are happening. I make gritty films, dirty films, films that sometimes send a palpable shock wave through the audience because of their unapologetic and unrelenting gaze. I’m a fearless filmmaker.

WHY I DO IT To start conversations. To give humanity to characters who have been vilified or demonized in the media. To give voice to the forgotten and the invisible. To attempt to move us from judging those we don’t know to understanding their plight and hopefully opening our hearts to their struggle.

GREATEST AMBITIONS Shooting a film on every continent that revolves around the struggle of the disenfranchised — mainly people of color, but not exclusively — and how they navigate through their respective countries. Making work that will still be relevant 100 years from now.


TURN-ON Passion

TURN-OFFS Laziness and procrastination

FAVORITE BREAKFAST Grits, eggs, biscuits, chai tea with almond milk


WHAT I LOATHE Being around negative people. People who have no passion or drive. People who suck the positive energy out of a room. People whose first words are “I can’t” and not “Let me figure it out.” People who fail and don’t try again.

WHAT MAKES ME LAUGH Really bad movies that are supposed to be dramatic

PHRASE I USE THE MOST “Make it do what it do” or “These people are crazy.” I got that one from my grandma.

WHAT’S NEXT Hopefully shooting my new feature film San Antonio next summer. I’m putting the finishing touches on the script now and I’m in the fund-raising process.

Portrait of independent filmmaker Ya’Ke Smith in Fort Worth. He is the founder of Exodus Filmworks and the Morgan Woodward Distinguished Professor of Film at the University of Texas at Arlington. Photography by Mei-Chun Jau for FD Magazine.