Ytasha L. Womack is an award-winning producer, director, author, and innovator.
She is author of the critically acclaimed books Afrofuturism: The World of Black Sci Fi & Fantasy Culture, Rayla 2212, Post Black: How a New Generation is Redefining African American Identity; and co-edited Beats Rhymes and Life: What We Love and Hate About Hip Hop.
Afrofuturism is a 2014 Locus Awards Nonfiction Finalist, and Post Black was hailed as a Booklist Top 10 Black History Reader of 2010.
Her films include Love Shorts and The Engagement, which was nominated for Best Film at the American Black Film Festival.
A Chicago native, she recently co-founded Afrofuturism849 to host discussions and events in Afrofuturism. She shoots her sci-fi film Bar Star City later this year.
What was your first break?
Joan Lewis was a theatre professor at Clark Atlanta University and she was by far one of the most magical women I’ve ever met. I was a journalism major and didn’t have much interest in theater at the time. She asked me to write the program for a play she was directing and to interview the cast and crew. Eventually I wound up working on set, too. Years later, I realized her write-the-program assignment was a ploy to teach me how to direct.
Worst thing that ever happened to you to remind you that you are Black?
I don’t need any reminders that I’m black. I know already. But it is rather curious when people go out of their way to let you know.
I walked into a British themed bar and the bar owner proceeded to impromptu tell me all the great things the British did to free the slaves. To which I said ‘you missed a part.’ I was rather proud of my historical knowledge and we had a very informed banter. Then he attempted to wrap up the conversation by educating me on how all the black people who came to Chicago during the Great Migration were sharecroppers…all of us…every single one. And he attributed the decline in the city’s black population to the fact that we were moving in droves back south to live on all that land we owned, which I might add, countered the whole notion of what a sharecropper was to begin with.
He was so sure of himself and despite anything I said to the contrary he was insistent that he was enlightening me because, as an African American woman, I couldn’t possibly know anything about history, especially history involving my culture.
I had a fun time correcting him but eventually I finished my shandygaff and left.
Best thing to ever happen to you to remind you that you are Black?
Again, I don’t need any reminders that I’m part of the African Diaspora or that I’m black. I’m pretty clear on that. However, when I was in the early voting line at Olive Harvey College on to vote for President Obama. I was number 752 and I was there for five hours. The crowd was so nervous and energized; cheered for first time voters, telling jokes, bonding over stories. People held up their just voted badges when they came out the booths. Somebody was giving out candy to make people stay in line. It was very family reunion vibe. I saw a cousin I hadn’t seen in years who flew in from California to vote. She was still registered here. I drove by my usual voting place the day of the election to see the lines and hardly anyone was there. They’d already voted. Proud moment indeed.
Work you are most proud of?
I’m pretty proud of my book “Afrofuturism: The World of Black Sci Fi & Fantasy Culture.” I wrote it largely because I knew so many people who worked with ideas in Afrofuturism but were unaware of the term and global community. I’m also proud of my Afrofuturist film “A Love Letter to the Ancestors From Chicago” which bridges my love of dance, Chicago house music culture, Afro Latino culture and Afrofuturism. The short film was a real leap off the deep end for me and it was great to work with artists I appreciate to communicate a message about dance as language. That film really refined my visual language as a director.
How has the business changed since you broke in?
Self branding has become a big part of marketing your creations. With the exception of a few notables, audiences in the past knew more about the films and stars than the creators. Also, its easier to get works, regardless of genre and length, out into the world and connect with audiences. Social media and digital technology have transformed marketing and distribution.
Trapped on an island what are the creative essentials you must have?
A notebook, a pen, a laptop and a final draft program. What’s the point of having a laptop without a final draft program?
If you had a time machine, what would you say to your past self?
Keep creating. Don’t stop.
If you could have a one-on-one with anyone who would it be? And why?
Barack Obama. His level of balance is so inspiring. I’m sure his years leading the nation gave him new insights into humanity and the future. Plus, I named a city after him in my Afrofuturist novel “Rayla 2212.”
To read about others on The Reel Black List, click here.