Making space for Black creatives: Noir Collective validates the Black artistic voice
No one should ever have to modify their vision to make it more palatable for others to take in, because art and authenticity go hand in hand. Noir Collective, a new student group focused on creating a voice for Black creatives on Wash. U.’s campus, is making sure that doesn’t happen.
“Being Black is an awkward space to be in when you’re in a room full of people who aren’t Black and trying to explain your vision, or trying to bring people over to be interested in your project can be difficult,” said junior Christian Means, a Film and Media Studies major. A transfer student from Texas Christian University (TCU), Means carried this feeling to St. Louis from his previous university as he tried out different student groups that focused on film and film production during his first semester at Wash. U. in the fall of last year.
“I was literally the only Black person in the entire room,” said Means of his experience with TCU’s film club, “and I noticed that even though people were generally nice, that I ended up silencing my own voice because I was so uncomfortable or unsure of myself being in that predominantly white space. And I knew that if I was feeling this way…that there would be other people who would be feeling the exact same way or would be shying away from arts or anything in film because they didn’t see Black faces doing it.”
This speaks to a larger issue—the fact that Black students don’t feel like they have the option to explore their creative side and view it as a career path as opposed to more practical fields. In the Black community, there is this thought that a life as a practitioner of the arts, in whatever capacity, isn’t viable. “The film industry is so lacking of Black people because it’s not something that we’re taught as being viable or something that we’re taught as being dependable for a livelihood,” Means said. “I didn’t even think that making films was possible [for me] until I was 17 and saw ‘Black Panther’ in the movie theaters and I thought ‘Wait, I can do this.’”
But that’s where Noir Collective is trying to prove people wrong—that being creative is a viable option for Black people and that there is a space for them to explore that creativity, especially with other artists.
Noir Collective co-founder junior Mola Adeyemi, a film and cognitive neuroscience double major who started Wash. U. as pre-med, spoke to the need for that space. “When I figured out that I didn’t want to be pre-med I was like, ‘So what do I do now?’” Adeyemi said. “And around the same time I figured out I didn’t want to be pre-med and that being a doctor just was not for me, that’s when I got into film.”
The collective aims to support students like Adeyemi. “It is about communing with other artists and understanding that process,” said sophomore English major Carré Sadler, the third founder of Noir. Combating the cycle of ostracization and isolation Black creatives feel in these predominantly white spaces that are centered around what is considered to be a predominately white industry, Noir Collective is providing a space where Black students “don’t have to feel like their Blackness is something that has to be explained, but more that it’s something that is expanded upon,” Sadler said.
Noir came into being over the summer when Means had an idea—he wanted to create a space where Black students could create and produce the content they wanted without fear of backlash or disinterest from peers. While focusing heavily on film, Noir serves as a space for all creatives to come together, such as through planned workshops every two weeks that enable people to come and introduce their ideas, engage in peer review or create full-fledged projects. However, Noir isn’t stopping there. There are much larger projects that the club hopes to mount, such as producing a short film as a club and hosting a festival at the end of the year not only for the club itself, but for Wash. U. students and the greater St. Louis area, providing outreach to the community and bringing them into the artistic fold.
Sadler explained why she felt such a pull to be a part of the collective: “Part of the Wash. U. culture,” she said, “is that you’re pre-med, you’re in engineering, you’re in B-school, that’s it.” Sadler described feelings of invalidation not only as an artist, but as a Black woman artist as well. “It was important for me to take my own craft seriously and how I wanted to talk about Black stories…and finding a space where I was able to understand that I was talented in multiple areas and that primarily I’m a writer and that’s a valid choice to make,” she said.
Adeyemi agreed. “I feel like this club is a good way to foster creativity and…for people who are unsure of going into the industry, help them build a portfolio, give them some knowledge on the industry so they’re not completely lost or at the very least they know that they have the option if they want to,” he said.
Freshman Kaitie McGary, the group’s treasurer, considers herself to be a very creative person. With tentative plans to study psychology, she recalled often struggling to find the bridge between psychology and her creativity, so she said that getting involved with Noir Collective late in the summer and becoming part of an organization so committed to creating space for Black voices and stories has had an immense impact on her first semester at Wash. U.
“I thought it was a really really great opportunity especially for me just coming in [as a freshman],” she said. “Being able to facilitate creating that space for Black people to speak and, for me personally, not having an opportunity before and being afraid that I wouldn’t have that and being able to come into Noir in the beginning of my college experience and just knowing and having that foundation and that reassurance that people who were creative and people who wanted to be heard could be.”
As Noir Collective continues to grow and expand, it is sure to leave a lasting legacy on this campus and the people who come to find a home in the organization. In creating a space for Black students to truly express themselves creatively, Noir is reiterating the point that Black creatives can and should take up space to tell their stories, that their stories are worth telling and their stories matter. And not just that their stories matter, but that they matter too.