Ewurakua Dawson-Amoah is a director we’re big fans of here at DN. Despite being early in her career as a filmmaker she’s managed to foster a strong artistic and visual style that she’s carried across each film we’ve featured on our pages. Her work often celebrates and interrogates what it means to be Black through an experimental combination of dance, movement and culture, and her latest branded short We Are is no different. We Are is a director’s cut of a commercial spot Dawson-Amoah made for Cricket Wireless back in 2021 featuring black students coming together in academic spaces to celebrate their community and heritage. It’s another great example of how branded shorts can foster artistry and offer creative space for vital new voices. DN joined Dawson-Amoah in conversation to learn about her transition from experimental cinema to commercial work for her most ambitious shoot yet.
Since we last spoke you’ve been doing some branded work in addition to your experimental films. Was We Are your first venture into that field? How have you found the experience?
We Are is the director’s cut of my very first commercial spot, for Cricket Wireless back in June 2021. When Cricket reached out to me, I was nervous. First commercial, multi-week prep, four day shoot in DC and Texas. It was the biggest production I’d been on at that time. I remember purchasing two jumbo post-it note packs and going through all of them on this shoot alone.
I was beyond excited to pitch on a project that allowed me to highlight the black community in such a beautiful way.
When I was watching I was amazed at how, despite it being a commercial piece, it still very much felt like one of your films. Was that an important aspect for you?
The creative team was so welcoming and open to my ideas and suggestions which was amazing given how special this project was to me. We were to shoot in real HBCUs with real students and alumni. I was beyond excited to pitch on a project that allowed me to highlight the black community in such a beautiful way. It gave me the opportunity to bring everything I’m most passionate about into one location: dance, movement, culture and blackness. I loved that this campaign created a balance between branded content and thoughtful messaging.
Like with your other films, did you draw on any of your own experience when developing the concept for We Are?
When I heard about the project I was immediately reminded of my very first tailgate, Howard U versus Morgan State. As a black girl from a small, predominantly white town, I often found myself being the only person of color in the room from the moment I left my home. I would hold this immense sense of otherness in every space that I entered. When I was invited to my first tailgate it changed the game for me. I remember walking into MetLife Stadium and looking around in shock. All around me were familiar faces. Beautiful. Black. Bodies. Dark, rich features; people that looked like me. I didn’t know anyone personally but I didn’t need to. I just felt an immediate sense of community, of release. Being around so many Black people created a joy inside that I wanted to hold on to. A sense of power.
That sense of power, I think, is definitely a throughline in everything you’ve made so far. How did you want to present it in We Are?
I wanted to encapsulate Portraits of Power. Going to college is huge. Graduating college is huge. Especially when we come from a lineage of people who, not that long ago, weren’t allowed to step on the grasses of a campus. There is an automatic sense of excellence and pride that comes with the beauty of being a Black Scholar.
Now that you’ve made a number of shorts, are you noticing that as a thematic trend across all of your films? If not, what do you see as a connecting theme?
I love long takes and dynamic camera moves. In every piece so far, I’ve used Steadicam and work with movement and music. Common thematic threads in my work center around the body/movement, music, and hyper-stylized environments.
What challenges did you face in making We Are that you hadn’t come across in your previous work?
A big challenge was locations. We were initially set to shoot on locations at various schools, but last minute that ended up falling through. This setback ended up being a creative dream though! I didn’t feel right ‘cheating’ any location to look like an HBCU, so I suggested going completely out of the box and shooting in locations that were grander, more experimental. Places a school would not be. Instead of a football stadium, we shot in a gorgeous hall at the AMA. Instead of stands, a grand stairwell. Instead of a football field, our drummers were placed in an ornate green room akin to a museum exhibit. I’m so happy that my idea was embraced and we shot in the locations we did. I think it only added to the power we were looking to bring to this piece.
It gave me the opportunity to bring everything I’m most passionate about into one location: dance, movement, culture and blackness.
Another challenge was imposter syndrome. When I first arrived on set, my age surprised a few people. Meeting my seasoned crew continued to remind me that I was young, and since this was my first commercial gig, there were doubts around my experience level and if I could pull this off. I had to shake off that feeling every morning before set and walk on with confidence and command (even if I was faking it). Day one was our biggest shoot day, for the WIN spot and it went incredibly smooth! From that moment on there was a level of trust between my crew and I, and the remainder of the shoot was less daunting.
You said at the beginning that you were more nervous for this shoot than you had been for any other. Has finishing this short, in turn, given you more confidence in your ability as a director?
Since We Are I’ve shot four more spots. The nervousness has not gone anywhere. I’m definitely much more prepared going into future work than I was at the start, but I don’t think the nerves will ever go away. And that’s fine! My dad always says that if you’re nervous, you care, and I care a lot. For me, confidence comes from the project. Do I love it? Have I prepped enough? Do I understand the story and trust my team? I’m always gonna be some level of scared going into any project, but I’ve learned that as long as I care about the work, that feeling goes further than any amount of fear.
What can we expect from you next?
I’m taking acting classes! I always loved acting and had a brief dream of acting one day. But mainly, I want to connect on a deeper level with my actors on set. Commercials are fast paced, we don’t get much time with the talent and I admit I’ve fallen into result director patterns at times. I’m looking forward to understanding the language of my actors on a deeper level and finding creative ways to bring out the performances. I’m also writing, hoping to make a personal short by the end of this year!
We Are is one of the many great projects shared with the Directors Notes Programmers through our submissions process. If you’d like to join them submit your film.