Ya’ke Smith’s new film, Dear Bruh, opens with a collage of videos and images that showcase Black men and boys laughing, smiling, and embracing. These patches of joy are then contrasted with the faces of Trayvon Martin and Emmitt Till, before spiraling into a collage of funeral ceremonies, as well as photos of those killed at the hands of white vigilantes and police officers. In a pleading voice-over, actors read a poem Smith wrote during the first wave of Black Lives Matter protests. “I ached, because I realized that when they killed you, they killed a piece of me too,” the poem reads. “Your death was not singular. It’s happening again and again, carried out to remind me where I stand.” The nine-minute short film, which is subtitled “A Eulogy. A Baptism. A Call to Action,” ends with recent footage from marches and protests.
An associate professor in the University of Texas at Austin’s Radio-Television-Film department, Smith is a social justice filmmaker, father, and husband. For nearly two decades, the San Antonio native has been making films that grapple with race and social change. His 2006 short, Hope’s War, was a searing portrayal of post-traumatic stress disorder and the legacy of the Iraq War. Katrina’s Son, from 2011, focused on a young boy searching for his mother after Hurricane Katrina. And a year later, his first feature-length work, Wolf, explored psychological trauma stemming from molestation in a Black church.
Now, Smith says his work is targeted toward making the world a different place for his toddler son. Part of that is through his work at UT, where he’s also served since 2019 as the Moody College of Communication’s first Associate Dean for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion. Smith spoke with Texas Monthly about Dear Bruh, the importance of Black historical knowledge, and finding joy in times of grief.