The #BlackAtSMU film centers around five tweets posted by Black students about their experiences at SMU in 2020. Each tweet will have its own dedicated chapter in the film and address the topics of police brutality, racism in the classroom, in athletics, and Greek life at SMU through documentary and narrative film segments. The film is directed by SMU students Aysia Lane and Crislyn Fayson.
After wrapping up filming in February and March, the #BlackAtSMU film is set to premiere Wednesday, April 21 at 8p.m. on Dallas Hall Lawn.
The film is the result of nearly nine months’ worth of planning and study, and the dedicated work ethic of the film’s entire production crew and cast.
“Crislyn really put in a lot of legwork December in January to prepare for February shooting,” Aysia said. “And that’s also with our producer Jillian Taylor. That’s also with Shara our assistant director, as with Amber and then Everton Melo…The amount of work that went in on that front side was insane. We had eight hour 10 hour calls. I’m planning, planning, planning, like making sure we have like a very firm outline, making sure like the vision is very clear.”
Crislyn and Aysia initially heard about the film through word of mouth, from fellow Meadows students. Professor Amber Bemak was inspired to make a film about the tweets, and so the two joined her class, which centered on research and discussions about race.
At the end of the semester, the two found out they were the only ones able to continue with the course and documentary, and became co-directors for the film.
“And then all of winter break, we just hit the ground running with bringing this to life,” Aysia said.
Part of that process was obtaining funding, which the HUB and RLSH Academic Initiatives contributed to after Crislyn had a chance conversation with Dr. Dustin Grabsch at the Owens Arts Center.
“He ends up asking me about my major and stuff and I end up telling him that we’re planning to make a film about #BlackAtSMU,” Crislyn said. “He gave me his card and I gave it to Amber, and little did I know. Little did we know that he would bless us with an opportunity we never would have thought.”
In addition to the HUB and RLSH Academic Initiatives, Film & Media Arts Studies Division, Ignite/Arts Dallas, SMU Meadows School of the Arts, and Engaged Learning are contributors.
Another part of the production process included building the production crew and cast. Crislyn and Aysia said the auditions left them amazed.
“The level of talent at this school is unreal,” Aysia said. “The work ethic of these actors, of the talent that we’re working with – unreal, they’re amazing. And the way that they were able to tell these stories that have been just like living in our heads for so long, and then translate it so beautifully on screen – I could have never asked for anything better in 1000 years, they were so amazing.”
During production, Aysia and Crislyn focused in on how they were going to tell the story, and thought a lot about who this story was for.
“Because I think originally, our hearts were naturally thinking of the people who would possibly be negatively impacted, who might be like, ‘Whoa, I feel like this is about me or white people,’” Crislyn said. “We were worried about white people, and what they would think. And we realized what a hindrance that was to the tweets, to the storytellers, to the courage that it took for them to do that, in spite of what they may face. So we did a 180.”
Aysia agreed, saying that getting the students’ stories right was important to the both of them.
“There were moments where I was like, Okay, are we really doing their story?” Aysia said. “What would they actually do? Are we telling it accurately – asking them like, do you feel like this is accurate, is accurate? You’re feeling what you were thinking. Because at the end of the day, like, like we said, we won’t be here. We wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for those stories. And they’re trying to tell that story. So I think it was really important for us to make sure that we’re staying true to that, that we’re showcasing it properly, and that most importantly, people can relate to it.”
That idea was part of the driving force for creating this film.
“I will say for me, being black at SMU, and knowing due to its history that this campus, this school was not created for you from its foundation,” Crislyn said. “In having to deal with and face the repercussions of that history as a black student directly is enough, more than enough, to take action.”
Aysia and Crislyn believe this film will help facilitate a long-awaited discussion about race and SMU.
“All those weird feelings that we have when talking about race – this film is going to be a way of foundation, a platform for people to have these discussions,” Aysia said. “And to make it like okay, well, we watched this together, we experienced this together. Let’s talk about it finally.”
The film is set to premiere on April 21, 2021. Follow the @blackatsmufilm handle on Instagram for updates and relevant links to the film. There will be a facilitation of a semi-structured discussion following the premiere.
Meet the Directors
Aysia Lane is majoring in Journalism and Film, with an Arts Entrepreneurship minor. In addition to co-directing the #BlackAtSMU film, she is an editor and podcast producer at the Daily Campus, PR for the Association of Black Students, and works with Undergraduate Admissions in Meadows.
Crislyn Fayson is majoring in Theater and Film. In addition to co-directing the #BlackAtSMU film, she is involved with BLM at SMU, and is a leader for Cru student ministry on campus.