Art and activism are a shared passion for 26-year-old Kiri Davis. That’s why she picks up her camera to document stories of race and gender discrimination—beauty and Black youth only came naturally.
“Sometimes the easiest way to begin to solve the problem is to address that there is a problem,” she said in a phone interview.
Davis grew up on the Upper West Side with her mother and attended Urban Academy Laboratory H.S., where she first explored film. It was at that same high school she created the award-winning documentary “A Girl Like Me.” She was only 16.
“I thought there were so many issues affecting Black girls and their self-image, so the film was a way of creating that dialogue,” she said.
The film, now on its 10-year anniversary, addresses the negative effects of society’s standard of beauty on young African-American girls by re-conducting Dr. Kenneth Clark’s “doll test.”
“Even though the kids are that young, they were kind of like mirrors showing what society values, and they knew at that stage that it wasn’t them,” she said. “It was a crazy awakening for a lot of people.”
After leaving high school, Davis first attended Howard University, where she got the shock of her lifetime when she found out that her film was being used as a teaching tool.
“It was amazing to see that something I created was being used as a tool to teach and train with, for diversity and change. I think it’s always a gratifying experience to create something people can utilize,” Davis said.
Davis completed her degree at the New School in Manhattan and later joined the Made in New York Production Assistant Training program.
Not long after, she began working on shows such as “Broad City,” “Power,” “Apollo Live” and Beyonce’s music video for “XO.” She went on to be a media consultant for numerous youth and nonprofit organizations, including Highbridge Advisory Council, where she directed “The Bridge to Excellence in Education.”
Davis is currently working with the “Just Us Project,” an upcoming multimedia series that addresses social justice issues through media, art and community outreach. It was filmed in Morningside Park in Harlem.
“When I was looking at what was happening—the non-indictments, the policies, issues of stop-and-frisk—that were affecting people of color, it made me wonder if it’s ‘justice or just us?’” she said. “Who knew, in 2015, we’d be marching just to validate that our lives still matter.”
Earlier this year, her PSA titled “Our Lives Matter” featured boys ages 3 to 17 who openly discussed feeling like a target. The PSA was inspired by studies about the dehumanization of Black children.
“Black children as young as toddlers are seen by police and educators as older, more violent, less innocent, are treated as less innocent, are treated with less empathy and receive harsher punishments than their white peers,” she said. “Not only do Black youth have to grow up faster due to the harsh realities, but many aren’t even seen for what they are—kids.”
She is currently developing her production company so she can work with youth of color and help them see the amazing opportunities and jobs available behind the camera.
“We need more diverse voices and stories brought to life,” she said. “Especially in this industry.”