See How the Reel HBCU Challenge Has Opened Doors for Howard University Student Alana Smith
Visionary. Charismatic. Ambitious. These three words self-describe filmmaker Alana I. Smith as an individual and creative, leading the young filmmaker to become The National Black Movie Association’s (NBMA) 2021 Reel HBCU Challenge winner. Smith values her love for the community and social justice, and she believes the challenge is a great stepping stone to continue to portray these passions in her work.
“Through the art of storytelling, I seek to make a difference by exposing other people to different walks of life, problems that plague our society, as well as provide inspiration,” Smith said at NBMA’s VIP screening of “King Richard” in November. “As I continue to grow artistically, it is my desire and my inspiration to use my win to tell marginalized stories that’ll educate the masses, elevate our differences, and embrace our connectedness.”
The National Black Movie Association (NBMA) created the Reel HBCU Challenge to help ensure Black filmmakers have the resources they need to bring their work to the forefront. Applicants for the program are required to submit a short film judged by Black film professionals and consumers for a chance to win a $5,000 scholarship.
In October 2020, Smith created her first short film, “Wake Up,” to showcase the desire to highlight marginalized voices. The film tells the story of an educated Black teen who is eager to inform his white classmate about the truth behind the United States’ “equal” justice system during a time of division, malice, and ignorance.
When a Howard colleague told Smith about NBMA and The Reel HBCU Challenge, she knew she could not pass up on the opportunity. She submitted “Wake Up” for review in November 2020, and since her win, she stated that “everything fell into place.”
“I feel like winning this challenge definitely validated that I’m headed down the right path,” Smith said.
She’s had access to creative funds and grants, using it as an investment in her filmmaking journey. Additionally, Smith has appeared on Good Day Sacramento and the area’s local ABC affiliate, ABC10, and has been awarded scholarships from companies like Crème of Nature and Foot Locker.
Following her Reel HBCU win, she interned with NBMA, where she interviewed several people, including a chef at Ben’s Chili Bowl and Ben’s Next Door, which allowed her to feel more connected to the Washington, D.C. area.
The Sacramento, California native has loved community engagement since childhood. Her mother instilled in her the importance of helping others, and she made it a priority for Smith to participate and volunteer in community service events around the Sacramento area.
She has brought this same advocacy to her new home in Washington, D.C. The Howard University sophomore is a member of Revolt, Inc., a “femme-identifying” service organization at Howard. Last year, Smith joined Revolt and became attracted to its mission and three pillars: enrich, empower, and educate.
“We really value sisterhood and giving back to the community, the Black community, and underserved communities,” Smith shared.
These activities include tutoring students at Cardozo High School and creating homemade Thanksgiving cards for kids.
With the Washington, D.C. area cultivating new opportunities and experiences, Smith has used this to expand on other endeavors. She released her second short film, “Forgotten,” in February 2021, which details the gendered racism of being a Black woman in the United States during the Say Her Name movement.
She released her latest film on Christmas Eve 2021. “Too Fresh 4 School” follows a college freshman who uses music to break out of her comfort zone while completing a group project which requires her to reflect on life values and make independent choices on campus.
“It’s important to find a door and create your own opportunities, or make your own door and create your own opportunities,” Smith said.
For Smith, one person that upholds having creative control over their career is Issa Rae. She admires Rae’s journey through the entertainment industry. From YouTube to HBO and WarnerMedia, Smith considers Rae her greatest influence.
“Just seeing a young, Black woman who is making trailblazing moves in the Hollywood industry, and now she’s able to greenlight her own projects,” Smith said. “I definitely aspire to follow her similar footsteps [where] I’m not only directing and writing my own projects, but just creating opportunities for Black creatives and being able to greenlight those projects.”
Smith wants to see more Black people experience different worlds and emotions such as science-fiction, heartbreak, and success. She also believes that the entertainment industry needs to represent our culture in new narratives that showcase Black people across the diaspora.
“I want to evoke emotion and provocative thoughts where my audience feels that their voices are being heard and seen within my characters through words and visual narratives,” Smith explained. “That would make me proud as a filmmaker to start new conversations, or inspire new conversations.”
Her advice for anyone interested in a career in the film industry would be to watch many movies and television shows and read many scripts and screenplays to understand all aspects of the filmmaking process. Also, find different avenues to build up a portfolio to showcase your work.