"Natural beauty is living in accordance with one’s higher self."

Art

2.1.2019

Director Jared Malik Royal’s Short Film Embraces The Natural Beauty of Blackness

Eurocentric beauty standards have steadily perpetuated a false idea of what it means for a woman to be perceived as universally beautiful. For this very reason, to be black and a woman in this society is to also be met with expectations of assimilation. Jared Malik Royal, a Texas-based director and visual artist whose craft gives voices to those underrepresented in film, fashion, and design, created a film project that challenges these expectations in favor of self-awareness about what individual beauty looks like, and, subsequently, feels like.

“It’s about reframing what [that idea] even means,” Royal said about the obsolete paradigm of beauty standards in black culture — a concept that is the central focus of his latest project, which he worked on with his close friends during a trip to New York. Through a hazy, dream-like sequence walking along the streets of Brooklyn, a beauty supply store and a nail salon are regarded as symbols of artificial beauty while a soundtrack of vintage advertisements for black hair care products are confuted with the mantra: “Wear their naturals proudly as a symbol of pride and blackness.” The film is succinct in its embrace of natural beauty, an ever-evolving concept that Royal believes should align with an introspective image of one’s real and higher self rather than a surface-level identity based solely on worldly stereotypes. Check out the film above and read on to learn more about Royal’s work as a visual artist.

How did you get your start directing and creating visual art?

I grew up knowing I would always make art. My parents made a huge effort in exposing me to museums, black artists, and most importantly how to “stay true to thyself” through any medium. Over time, this guidance helped me to focus my creative energy toward expressing my own life experiences and continuing to develop a general taste for what I love. A few years ago my focus was set particularly on making music. I was very focused on creating an image for myself to parallel my sound and signed with a small commercial talent agency to better understand the industry. Suddenly I found myself on sets and castings meeting tons of other creatives learning as much as I could from the ground up. Yet, I was growing increasingly frustrated. Very rarely did I see people that looked like me making things or in positions of leadership. Because of that I felt like there was a particular taste missing from the work that I was seeing around me.

One day I had this idea for an elaborate music visual for some songs I was working on and asked a producer friend of mine his thoughts. “When you have a very clear idea of what it is you want to make, YOU have to just go make it,” he declared. This was the basis for my start in filmmaking. I realized directing was something that encompassed so many things I already had a passion for: connecting with people and ideas, evoking emotion through sound, creating beautiful imagery, telling stories that move us to action etc. but nobody was going to do it for me. So, I started shooting my own photos and videos on my iPhone with friends of mine (that probably should’ve been models anyway), eventually graduated to a DSLR, and ultimately larger crews, cinematographers, higher productions etc. I know what I wanted to see but the only way to bring those things to life were to make them myself.

I know what I wanted to see but the only way to bring those things to life were to make them myself.

In what ways does your work focus on amplifying underrepresented voices?

Under represented voices are the stories of unrecognized people doing extraordinary things that we might unconsciously overlook as mundane in our everyday lives. For example, Phoenix walking through the street might be a very normal thing… but in this piece that normal thing is highly exaggerated to give us brief glimpses of insight open to the viewers’ interpretations. Similarly, all around us crazy things are happening that we need to confront and think about. We’re in a time that’s exposing a lot of hidden truth and information about our reality from politics, science, history, etc. It can be overwhelming. I hope to inspire people to re-think what they’ve been taught about the world, themselves, and to better reflect on how we can all spiritually evolve. Fueling this dialogue allows for more growth, understanding, and empathy.

How would you characterize “natural beauty”?

Natural beauty is living in accordance with one’s higher self. Freely expressing your truth. Divorcing yourself from polluting ideas of who or what the world thinks you should be and fully embracing who you know yourself to be. We’re given so many choices today and constantly presented with ideas of what a “good life” looks like through advertising. Natural beauty is releasing yourself from stereotypes, history, etc. and liberating your mind. Stripping away all of the processed, contrived perceptions and versions of you to find your most pure self.

Natural beauty is living in accordance with one’s higher self.

When it comes to executing your visions as a storyteller, what area do you find to be the most challenging?

Every project comes with its own set of challenges. Lately doing nothing has been the most difficult… literally putting time aside to do nothing and reset my mind, making time for my relationships with friends and family. The way I prefer to work often involves a complete investment of myself which can be very mentally taxing. As a black person, I’ve been instilled with the notion that I have to work twice as hard to get half as much but I’m trying to unlearn that mentality. It can lead to intense internal battles — a constant refrain of comparing my work to others, asking myself “is this thing good enough?” or “am I staying true to myself?” I’ve found peace in understanding that there is never a right answer for how to do anything, and to excel as creators we must accept ambiguity. Avoiding the vulnerability that comes from uncertainty can leave work, although visually appealing, sometimes hollow in their evocation of emotion or story.

Film courtesy of Leo Aguirre and Jared M. Royal; photos by Parker Thornton and Jared M. Royal

Talent: Phoenix Anderson

Stay tuned to Milk  for more rising artists.

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