As an African American when I was growing up, animation was never pitched to me as a relevant career opportunity. I was almost into my second year of college before anyone told me that you could get paid to draw. If anyone reading this can relate, being black is a powerful life motivator. It also can also be a lonely existence. It can mentally and emotionally exhausting to live in a society which always seems to be working against you. What is the carryover into animation, one might be asking? Animation history, much like the history of Democratic American society is an exclusive club. If were ranking the hierarchy, African Americans are usually at the bottom. To bring this back around being an African American and working or looking to work in the animation industry is a herculean task. For all the non-African American readers who are in animation imagine all the hard work, the sacrifice, and the struggle it took for you to get to your position; now multiply that by ten. Then on top of that include the stigma of being black in America. Try to animate a shot with the equivalent of a societal gun to your head. Pressure, it’s all about pressure. Now the the pressure will make or break any of us. As an African trying to break into the industry, it is hard but not impossible.
I have been studying animation and animating for about 7 years. I am usually the only African American in a class, or lecture, or workshop. It’s exciting to know the amount of sacrifice it takes to get to that point, but also lonely. You look around the room and you stand out. You standout, not for your talents, but for your skin, your color, your culture. It takes a while for that intimidation factor to leave you. It just comes with time, and being comfortable with your talents and yourself.
There is also the factor of your work. There is this understood principle in the African American community. Whatever you want to do you have to do 10x better. The margin for error is slim to none. With that in mind it becomes difficult at least for me to show my work. I feel if it is not capital (P) Perfect then why show it. It feels like if it’s not the best then why bother embarrassing yourself. That mentality, especially in the animation industry is very reductive. You will not grow like that; animation is all about growth, exploration, and experimentation. You will never get better by hiding, do not be afraid to be different to stand out.
Another thing I notice about us African Americans in the industry is that some us, not all of us are afraid to have a voice or tell an interesting story. That intimidating I was talking about earlier sometimes can be so overbearing we just try to find a quiet place to exist. We acquiesces, to the status quo. We are lucky to have animators like Mr. Floyd Norman (First African American Animator hired at Disney), Bruce Campbell (Proud Family), and Jamaal Bradley (Substance). They were not and are not afraid to standout in the industry. They have developed a voice and a style that not only has added to the animation industry as a whole, but have opened doors for myself and others to have that same opportunity to be different to be special.
Animation is special and it is still so young. The animation industry as we know it is less than two hundred years old; England has buildings other than that. I say that to give the emphasis that the industry has room to grow and is slowing making changes. As an animator black, white, or otherwise it is up to us to push the industry in a more creative and inclusive direction. Let the pain, the anxiousness, the self-doubt, let that be light in the darkness of a complicated world of creativity and always in the possibilities of tomorrow.