We had the good fortune of connecting with Yolanda Mariah Morgan and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Yolanda Mariah, how do you think about risk?
When I think of risk taking, I think of faith. Concurrently, I also think of fear. Risk taking is an action of stepping out of one’s comfort zone in the hope of a desired result. Sounds scary right? One of the scariest parts of risk taking is that there is no guarantee you will have a positive outcome. The average person experiences a multitude of emotions before they even embark on their risk taking journey. One of those emotions is fear. That negative feeling of fear can often stifle a person from ever stepping out of her comfort zone. Bishop T.D. Jakes once said, “Faith and fear cannot occupy the same space at the same time.” Throughout my life and blossoming career, I have learned that this quote holds true. As a young filmmaker, one of the most important lessons I have learned is that taking risks is vital to my personal growth.
Notwithstanding the above, I still realized that risk taking isn’t always as easy as it’s often portrayed. Society tends to put risk taking on the hierarchy of being either big or small. Whether you took the risk to speak out against injustice or took the risk to apply to your dream school, your risk is significant and essential to your journey.
One of the most important risk taking moments in my life came in my first week of film school at USC. I vividly remember sitting in the (very) cold and crowded Eileen Norris Cinema Theater surrounded by unfamiliar faces and being bombarded by even more unfamiliar film terminology. I was a transfer student from North Carolina A&T who had previously majored in Journalism and Mass Communication. I was not accustomed to West Coast lingo, food or culture. I remember sitting in the classroom and inwardly regretting my decision to transfer schools. My regret was not due to my dislike of USC; but rather it emanated from my just feeling “out of place.” As a transfer student, I had to quickly learn how to infiltrate myself into established friend groups and campus orgs while simultaneously missing/lamenting my prior academic locale/relationships. Later that evening as I sat on the bus, I began to think about my initial reasoning for coming across the country to attend USC’s film school. The answer was simple: to tell the stories you’ve always wanted to tell since your youth. In that moment, I began to shift my thinking and actually learned a valuable lesson in risk taking: On the other side of fear is faith. Throughout my resulting filmmaking journey, I have been pushed and pulled in more ways than I can count. However, I am now realizing that the moments where I put myself out there and bet on myself have (without a doubt) afforded me the opportunity to both grow as an individual as well as to produce beautiful black artwork that will one day shift the culture and change the world.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
My strong passion for the film industry stems from dispelling systemic stereotypes and promoting strong representation. As a writer and director, I have a sincere desire to bring to life an accurate representation of black characters being presented as people and not being reduced to “characters.” In addition, as a hopeless romantic, I love “love.” As a kid, I would spend hours re-watching my favorite rom coms such as A Cinderella Story, Pretty Woman and The Notebook. I was intrigued by the corny yet cute dialogue, cliché storylines and relatable characters. However, I couldn’t shake the pressing desire of wanting to see characters (who looked like me) actually fall in love. Where was the black When Harry Met Sally? As I entered into my film journey, I continued to follow my heart and pursue a career in screenwriting as a drama writer. I strive to offer audiences (specifically black women) a love story without pain. It is my hope that my content captures black humanity, black joy and most importantly black love without suffering.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
My favorite part about Los Angeles is the endless possibilities the city has to offer. You’re constantly surrounded by electrifying energy that inspires and moves you to create. Personally, my heart lives by the beach. I would most definitely take a road trip to Malibu and have a picnic by the beach or just enjoy the view. If I’m feeling adventurous, I might even take a couple of surf lessons! Wherever the day leads us, I know it will be filled with beautiful people, memories and conversations that last a lifetime.
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
“I am the daughter of Black writers who are descended from freedom fighters, who broke their chains and changed the world. They call me.” This beautiful quote by poet Amanda Gorman serves as a constant reminder that my journey is a direct reflection of the ones who came before me. As I continue to write my story and make my mark on this world, I am reminded that my story is not an individual one, but a collective one; bound together by years of sacrifice, faith and love. I am the daughter of two hard-working, first generation college students who surpassed societal expectations and obtained countless degrees. I am the grand-daughter of a sharecropper turned businessman. But most importantly, I am the product of black creatives who found the strength to let their stories be told, voices be heard and songs be sung no matter what. Growing up in a very southern household, film was naturally pretty late on my horizon. However, words were not. Writing has always been my escape from reality. As someone who has struggled with a speech impediment for most of my life, writing became my outlet early on. Storytelling has allowed me to create a world where I can be a different person; a world where I can escape. As a black woman, my filmmaking work is heavily centered on the black experience. I consider one of my life appointments as helping to reshape certain institutional and social dialogue via visionary filmmaking and to one day shatter biases and stereotypes associated within underrepresented communities. Although I had the privilege to graduate from one of the most distinguished film schools in the country, I know that none of my film success would be possible without the sacrifice, fight and prayer from the ones who came before me. I pray that my art continues to shift the culture, create conversation and always make them proud.