How do you help people explore uncomfortable truths? In this episode of the Where Ya From? podcast, Ya'Ke Smith, the award-winning director of Juneteenth: Faith and Freedom, explains how his life led him to understand that people need to see stories that reflect real life in order to be free from their bondage. Check out this episode of the Where Ya From? podcast by VOICES.

Guest Bio:
Ya’Ke Smith, known for his unflinching and veracious style of storytelling, is a rising voice in independent cinema. His films have received world-wide acclaim, screening, and winning awards at over 100 film festivals. Ya'Ke’s short, Katrina's Son screened at over 40 film festivals and won 14 awards. In 2022, he directed Juneteenth: Faith and Freedom which was widely critically acclaimed. His debut feature, Wolf, which NPR called “an impressive piece by a young director,” premiered at the SXSW Film Festival and has gone on to screen and win awards at festivals across North America.

Ya’Ke has been featured on NPR, CNN, HLN, Ebony Online, Indiewire, Filmmaker Magazine, Variety Magazine, Vogue Magazine, and Shadow&Act. He graduated with his BA from the University of The Incarnate Word, where he later became the youngest recipient of the Alumni of Distinction for Professional Achievement award. He received his MFA from the University of Texas at Austin’s film program, where he is currently an Associate Professor of film.

Notes & Quotes:

  • I began to realize, “Oh, this is God shaping me, allowing me to experience these kinds of tragedies,” but not experience them in such a way that they would damage the human being that I, ultimately, was meant to become. But they would inform that human being. That they would in many ways allow him to see the world and to see people in a very, very different way than most do.
  • I was just making films from the point of view of wanting to save people. And I don’t mean save in the sense of church, but save people out of certain circumstances and free them out of whatever bondage they found themselves in.
  • I always knew that, “Nah, people want to hear about how to be delivered from their current circumstances.” They want to know, “How can you help me get a job?” “How can we deal with the drugs that are taking over our communities?” That’s how you enter those kinds of conversations. And then from there, then we can start talking about God.
  • Our family reunions were centered around Juneteenth for a season because my uncle believed in family getting together, but he also believed in family legacy. We understood our family lineage because of him. And doing this on Juneteenth, and also celebrating the emancipation of enslaved people in Texas, becomes a part of that family narrative, it becomes a part of that family story.
  • When we drove up to the plantation, I honestly started to feel slightly uneasy. I started to walk in front of the big house, and I could just feel the weight of what these individuals had endured to keep this place pristine. The fact that that house is still there, yet the houses that they lived in, basically the wind and rain have just washed it away.
  • Without love, they would’ve just been bitter and then gone around killing everybody they could find. And that was not what they wanted. They just wanted to live and be free. And you can only get to that place out of a place of love.

Links Mentioned:

  • Check out Ya’Ke’s film Juneteenth: Faith and Freedom, produced with Our Daily Bread Ministries.
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Verses Mentioned:

  • Romans 8

From Our Daily Bread Ministries in partnership with Christianity Today.