Damien Smith in a a scene from his short film, About That …
About That … screenshot

Editor’s note: This short-film series is a collaboration between The Root and El Rey Network to support, elevate and promote African-American filmmakers via on-air, digital and editorial platforms. These talented filmmakers represent the front line in improving diversity of participation and cultural representation in entertainment. Both The Root and El Rey Network are honored to showcase their works and stories.

Smith is used to the artist’s scramble; he’s lived in New York and Los Angeles and has appeared in TV One’s Born Again Virgin and Comedy Central’s Tosh.O. He is also the director of The Problem Y and Target: St. Louis.

The Root: What inspired About That … ?

Damien Smith: What inspired About That … is a twofold situation. One, I wanted to promote a discussion about mental health. I know it’s a heavy conversation, so I attempted through my art to add some kind of levity to the situation while trying [to] stay true to the world that we were creating. I believe mental health is not addressed enough. And speaking about it is still very taboo, and that’s why there is a stigma attached to it, as if seeking out professional help makes you weaker. 

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The other perspective—the one that I like more and is a bit less obvious—is that Jonathan is using Summer as a clear compensation and as a coping/defense mechanism. If the ultimate aim in life is to be happy, and this is his temporary (or permanent) escape to create a happy life for himself, then who cares? Is he, in fact, crazy for living outside of reality in order to protect himself from his pathology and his past? Some people find happiness is collecting material objects, some people find it in travel, some people find it in love; and for him that’s what he was doing. Love is love no matter who is giving it to you and what someone may think of how you interact with the person you love. 

TR: How did objectification become a big concern of yours?

DS: Objectification became an issue for me because I believe [that] in the male-dominated society, women are held to an unfair and unbalanced standard. They are villainized if some women do not fit in the box or the ideology that the dominant male culture is projecting. A lot of time it’s as if women are not their own human being but a reflection of an idea men have for them. With About That … I wanted to make it clear that Summer was her own woman and she definitely lived life in her own way that is unique to her despite all the negative looks and whispers about her. 

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TR: What were the biggest obstacles in getting About That … made, and where does it go from here?

DS: One of the biggest obstacles I had in getting About That … made was that I was directing, acting [in] and producing the film at the same time. It really became an undertaking, but it gives you a unique perspective. I don’t believe I would have that exact feeling watching the scene in video village through monitors. 

Where it goes from here is easy for me to answer. I am lobbying on getting it picked up through a few distribution companies that focus on short films and indies. Also, it is going to be put on iTunes and Amazon.com for sale. I am a firm believer in art and commerce. Artists need to eat, too!

About That … is currently available on iTunes. Watch the trailer:

Editor’s note: Other films in the series on The Root:

Hott Damned

TroubleMan

The Brink

Legend of the Mantamaji

Martin Johnson writes about music for the Wall Street Journal, basketball for Slate and beer for Eater, and he blogs at both the Joy of Cheese and Rotations. Follow him on Twitter