Samantha Bailey: Space On Her Own Terms

Interview by Charia Rose
Photos by Will Inman

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Interviewing a creative whose work has left me feeling raw and exposed was an intimidating thought for me. Sam’s art locks you in a closet with a bright light and lays the deepest, most intimate parts of yourself before you. There is no moving away, no shame, just truth. To be in the presence of someone who does not seem to fear or find flaws in the dirty honesty of intimacy is exciting and scary and inspiring all at once.  

Samantha Q. Bailey, a writer, actor, director and all around bad bitch, is very self-aware. She is aware of her world, the way she presents herself, and the way she maneuvers and takes space. Space is something that can be difficult for Black Women to sit in deeply: What are we allowed? How do we continuously make ourselves smaller without sacrificing our sense of self? It is an impossible facade of balance. And yet, something about Sam feels as if she has it all figured out, regardless of how desperately she wants you to know that she doesn’t.

Her rise came with her first web series You’re So Talented, which premiered on the then infant Opentv. A show focused on Bea (played by Bailey), a 20-something actor attempting to survive heartbreak, judgement and the harsh reality of living as a Black millennial in Chicago. As writer, producer, director, and actor on the show (how dare she?!), it was the one thing Sam had always wanted to do, regardless if anyone loved it. The Gotham and Emmy nominations are proof that people did. Speaking with another midwestern artist also reminds me of what I miss about being home, and the creative spaces that are crafted for us and by us there. On the west coast, a sense vulnerability is missing. In midwestern spaces, people are more concerned when you dedicate your life to the arts. So many people throughout my life have told me: “It’s unstable. Uncertain. No way to make a solid life or way for yourself and future family.” People like us live to prove “good intentions” wrong. We drop everything that makes us comfortable and work four jobs and live in communes and drive cross country to foreign places in the pursuit of destiny. I think of my artistic nature as a midwestern work ethic with a healthy dosage of west coast self-sabotage.”

Los Angeles is a foreign space for both of us; this place is built on entertainment as industry. Most people here are involved in Hollywood some shape or form. The goal is always success and accolades here, but we agreed that it oftentimes does not feel “real” or conducive to true community building. Especially when you have to focus on the career side of the landscape.

“I think about LA and myself in LA A lot. My experience of LA is not LA, it’s Hollywood. I moved to the industry, I did not move to the city. I am not around the LA that built NWA or Ava DuVernay… LA has a lot of strong communities of color and strong feelings of community and I don’t want to negate that. But I don't think Hollywood has a strong feeling of community.””.  

There is another facade rooted in trying to find the balance of wanting to work in the field that moves you with the harsh realities of the space’s refusal to make room. It’s something I struggle to reconcile; something that holds me back from going full throttle towards my goals. But Sam refuses to let the systems at work keep her from doing what she was born to do. She found her way to film post graduating from Columbia College with a degree in acting. After a short move to New York and one particularly excruciating theater experience, she decided to start writing for herself.

“I got to a place where I was doing this play and got asked to twerk in a slave costume with a gun pointed out to the audience and was like, you know what, there is a line of self respect and I’ve been hitting up against it for a few years now and that was just not something I was going to do. Chicago has a very big live lit scene and Sam Irby was one of the first people I met there and she was the one voice that made me want to write. I started doing Second City work and again realized that I didn’t want to do performing but really did like the short form which brought me to the webseries (You’re So Talented)...We got Tribeca and it’s been rolling ever since”.

I was really drawn to the way Sam’s career has begun to take shape. It is not a fairytale or a lucky occurrence, but a consistent determination to find the medium that will best service the art she is striving to share with the world. I have spent most of life in silence, and attempting to make myself as small as possible. It’s why I became a writer: creating worlds bigger than myself without having to ever truly expose my identity was gratifying for me. Words on a page are universal. In a book or a script, I could be whoever I needed to be to enact the change I needed folks to see. But Sam has broken away from that notion. Her words are a critical extension of her as a as a black woman. As a creative. As a midwesterner.  If there is any takeaway from this interview, it’s that the thing you are missing is out there, and you just have to be invested in the search to discover it.

Sam has an astonishing amount of projects happening simultaneously. She is currently directing for television, finishing up the Film Independent Program and developing multiple projects for various formats (yes, including Brown Girls for all the fans out there lusting for information on the show’s arrival. It’s still in development at HBO). She barely has time for herself, her days consisting of being on set, in general meetings or writing and creating decks for her projects in production. As millennials, we are conditioned to do as many things as we can as often as we can and through that there is a loss of balance. Add being in an environment that is not conducive to cultivating that balance, it makes it even more foreign. I can honestly say I have never met balance. Sam is no different. Even though we are at different points in our lives, it is something that we cannot deny we would like to have. “I really want the balance. I’m 29 and going into being 30 so I have a whole different phase of my life [coming] and wanting stability even if it’s shaky stability… I know that I don’t want to be a director for hire for my whole life.

In order for me to not do that I need to be creating content and in order to do that I have to be in Chicago… Here, I don’t ever really feel grounded.”

For a theater kid who didn’t consider film “art” until a few years ago, Sam has an incredible eye for direction. Her style of directing and her vision for a shot are so particular, but so free from the constructed rules of a standard filmmaking that it makes her one of the most skilled in the game. In You’re So Talented, there are moments that are so intimate, and the camera just holds, no escaping the discomfort of being vulnerable. I mentioned how much her works reminds me of mumblecore and she lit up.

“This black girl was hella inspired by mumblecore! People really get mad at me about this, but I really only watch movies as fun entertainment. Like, INDEPENDENCE DAY is one of my favorite movies. I was just such a theater person. I took a [course in college] called Story in International Film and Fiction. I saw all these foreign films and fell in love with Gael Garcia-Bernal and like Y TU MAMA y TAMBIEN and AMORES PERROS. I was like oh shit, there’s an art to this that I didn’t even know about. It’s interesting. Film is such a young art in general and to have this mainstage of white men who are considered the gods of it [even though it's a new form]. And everyone is just recreating what they’ve done. So I’m really interested in different ways of storytelling. And different ways of exploring characters. Which is why mumblecore was so exciting to me. It was something that felt like it went against the status quo of how these films were made… And it also made me feel like, ‘oh I can do that’. I can sit in my living room and put a camera on and just shoot my friends”.

I gushed about how much I loved YST and was intrigued to know how involved with creating the shot list and the overall production process she was. As a first time director, it can be harrowing to take on so much responsibility out the gate. But she loves nothing more than taking shit head on.  

“I am very involved with the shot list. And I did not know what any of that was in the first parts of shooting YST. But, Mateo Gonzalez who is my favorite cinematographer in Chicago, literally told me, ‘I don’t think you know that you’re a filmmaker’. I’d send him pictures and we’d talk for hours and he taught me in that way. So I always say I come from the school of Mateo. There is something in the way that I shoot that is not film school”. She is very adamant about how much she dislikes the traditional way of doing things (The Aquarius in her jumps out and I love it).  “Let’s try to figure out how to get coverage in a nonconventional way. Let’s play shit out in one take. I want to do more exciting and interesting things that open things up. Or brings them in more. I’m a very intimate director. I am interested in intimacy and the human condition in that way. I want to shoot life in urban settings. I want to show growth in concrete jungles”.


Feeling a strong sense of community is a crucial human need. For those living with more marginalized identities, it is often times a gift and not a right. It is something we have to find, cultivate and protect at all costs. Seeing someone like Samantha, who is so vocal about not only what she wants but what she needs, is crucial. Her focus on building up the community for creatives of marginalized identities, is so comforting. She is forcibly making space in a world that, regardless of all the articles and “Initiatives” being announced, still does not give a fuck about what we want or need.

“Fatimah [Asghar] and I work together a lot. Sam Irby and I are trying to work together. I try to be cognizant of who I collaborate with. I am constantly talking about how I want to meet more creatives of color who are on my level so that we can create together and move up. I think they oddly keep us separate from each other to keep up this crabs in a barrel thing. Like, you’re gonna be the special black unicorn and we just make you shoot to the top. And like, that’s dope but also lonely because once you get there and look around and see that the only people celebrating and collaborating in your success are old white guys. That’s not what I want. I want to be creating with people who are like me and move up together. Like that Judd Apatow thing but without those guys. Doing that for us”

Even with this “renaissance” occuring in media, there is still a feeling of disconnect. Its hard because we have cried and fought for black stories and queer stories and female stories to finally be respected and told through our  lens, but even that doesn’t feel like enough. I find myself turning away from television, even though I love it. There is too much of it, and even with that, none of it ever seems to scratch the itch of what I feel like I need. And then feeling emboldened to critique those things? We have three major black lead shows, and if you say an ill thought about it, then people think you were never with the shits. How do we exist and create and critique our work without it sabotaging the movement? Can we widen the space and also be critical? It often feels like a trick question. We talked about the idea of these shows being slices of life, but ultimately, a slice of a singular pie will never be enough. We need the whole damn bakery. And we deserve it. Because our experiences are different, no matter how many identities we share. The way we exist is completely our own, and we have to feel emboldened to tell our experiences and take up space in our own nuanced ways.

I asked her the one thing I ask everyone, and I am always grateful when people answer. The question of what does liberation look like, in your own eyes. A question that, to me, is an invitation into the soul of a person. “Liberation looks like, to me, being able to experiment and work without the burden of [being] perfect. There is a particular burden on people from marginalized communities to represent every aspect of their communities. That is really difficult for artists. I think someone tweeted once like y’all love art but hate artists. And that’s some real ass shit. They want your work but don’t care about the mental gymnastics you have to do in order to curate and create that work. Like, Brown Girls cannot represent every brown girl. It can’t. Not if we want to to tell a real nuanced story that feels real and intimate. But maybe you’ll find something in it that you do and can appreciate...That is all I can do.”

Sam is not simply talking about inclusion or what Hollywood should do. Her life is her action plan. Her work is her liberation. Her crew is inclusive by design but also simply because it is an extension of herself. She is commandeering these spaces and taking no prisoners because, for her, there is no other way. She is not trying to be anything other than what she is. There is nothing more jarring and powerful than a black woman understanding her power and utilizing it. It is a kick in the stomach, and it makes you question the ways that you maneuver this fucked up world. No one is safe from the harshness of this society, so the least you can do is kick some ass while you figure it out. Sam is kicking ass, taking names, and being 100% herself whilst doing it.

“I’m a black midwesterner who grew up baptist who is no longer religious who has a lot of queer friends and practices in queer communities and hates industry. That is my experience and most of my work will come from that lens... There’s nothing about Hollywood that I am trying to preserve. I don’t want to be attached to anything or anyone that is harmful to communities that I am a part of or adjacent to. I don’t want to help sustain that. So I say burn it all down”.

And you better believe that she is more than willing to light the first match.

You can follow Sam on all socials:

Twitter: @SamQBailey

Insta: @samb.chi

And see her webseries You’re So Talented & Brown Girls, in full on opentv @ weareo.tv


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Inside Issue #22: Chaz Bottoms: Animation as Culture

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There are some people on this earth that know who they are and what they are meant to do, a luxury most people will not have until their later years of life. Goofy and overflowing with charm, Chaz is one of those people. He has been animating nearly nonstop since high school, his most recent work being the short film All Kids Go To Hell, which is doing well on the festival circuit. He is currently an animated freelancer based in Los Angeles, having features in Vibe Magazine, ImFromCleveland.com and Saint Heron.

On a breezy Saturday, Chaz and I met up for brunch. We’re both late due to the hectic Los Angeles traffic that does not rest even at 12:45 pm on the weekend. It was a  genuine pleasure to spend an afternoon with someone I have considered a friend throughout the last few years. It was a time filled with pitching ideas for scripts, nerding out over comics and animation, a few too many mimosas, and envisioning the future of the film industry. 


Do you think we are in an era of a “Black Renaissance” right now?

I think there is. Things have changed in a way. More voices are able to get out. Someone like Chance the Rapper couldn’t exist like, ten years ago. He’d still be doing mix tapes. 
Last night I was talking to one of my roommates and I was like …wow, I forgot Moonlight won Best Picture! Like, what a time! Never before… Before this it would have to be the The Color Purple. 

Which lost to Out of Africa!

A movie about a bunch of white people, in Africa! Like, are you kidding me? And there was almost that screwing of like, oh it lost to La La Land. But I think people are starting to come around. And if there is any question after Black Panther. I mean there is no question. Like, holy shit there is a market for this. I really want to bridge that gap between animation and culture. Cause people deserve a cartoon that is for them. 

As artists, we cannot control who views our content. How do you feel about the gazes on your content? Like, if you feel you are making something that is a love letter to Black people, how do you feel about that outside gaze? 

I think a lot of how you consume things is subjective. And a lot does depend on your background. I have always been in the mindset that the best artist can make things that, yes a specific group may feel it more, but everyone can still respond positively. I can watch something about an experience that I did not have but still feel connected to it. Like I did not have this experience but someone must have, and through that there is connection. 

When I was doing All Kids Go To Hell, I wanted to have this dichotomy of seeing Black characters in these broad cartoon-y situations. And if you pick up on it, it’s about something bigger. But at the same time, it’s just a cartoon. So the dichotomy of trying to strive for your artistic statement or artistic message but also recognizing that it changes over time. Having that inner dialogue with yourself about what you are currently working on or what you want to [create]. It’s important to have. Just like any other external relationship. It takes time to grow to nurture it.

You do a lot of things, but mainly, you are an animator. How do you feel about the world of animation? Is it still a “white bro” club or is it opening up? 

I am a big proponent in getting more diversity and more women into animation. I’m a member of the Women in Animation which is the big LA group that has a goal of by 2025 it being 50/50. I see it as having an ear down in the industry. It’s slow but I see it. We’re in that transitional period where the people in charge are finally seeing that it can work out. A show like Steven Universe, the most successful kids show that’s out right now was created by a woman. A queer woman at that. You look at that and can say, “wow it’s still a kids show but I can still watch and get things from it.” 

I think it has to be a conscious thing moving forward. You can still look at the past and recognize there’s good artistry but I wish more people were looking towards the future and things were moving quicker. I don’t know why these things take so much time. 

What was the first thing you saw that made you realize you loved art. And the first thing you saw that made you realize Black people could make art, too? 

The first thing I saw that spoke to me … When I was born, it was around the time the Lion King came out on VHS and my older sister had it. If I get in a rut or don’t feel very good, from a technical animation perspective, I can watch that. But also from a feel good, big life themes and finding your place in life perspective… The expression of emotion and depth. It hit every point. The first movie that made me realize I wanted do this as a career was Slumdog Millionaire. 

Shut up that’s in my top five. 

That was my favorite movie until Moonlight came out. Slumdog Millionaire was directed by Danny Boyle which, I mean, whatever with that. But it was this kid in the hood, real ghetto slums with no protection. That story of true comeuppance makes a movie like Get Rich or Die Trying look like child’s play. I think that was a moment of, there are so many other voices that aren’t being heard. And having it be from the perspective of these kids growing up. And perfect usage of MIA music. Seeing that there is something outside my experience but is still so relatable. That movie blew my mind when I was younger. I wasn’t into live action like that, but it introduced me to this new side of film that challenged what I thought movies could be.

I feel like you are someone who is not afraid to work with women. Where does that come from? I shouldn’t have to ask that, but the way masculinity works... 

I get it! My father passed away when I was very young. I was predominantly raised by my mother, sister, and grandma. I was very influenced by the women in my life and have always been surrounded by that. I feel my work reflects that. I saw Ready Player One and did not like it. And you can put that in, I don’t care. I am so tired of this white boy protagonist. I am very tired of this “he’s an average white boy but he kinda gets lucky and saves the world!” I think it’s boring. Growing up, a lot of shows and movies that I was drawn to were a little bit more emotional and featured female characters. Like watching Rugrats and remembering how amazing Suzie Carmichael is. She is the only character that can top Angelica! I always want my work to have a certain emotion to it. And I feel that Black women have this vibe to them that I just don’t see anywhere else. And I don’t want to be weird about that, but it’s true. There has never been a Black woman that has created an animated television show. There have been two or three black men but no black women. And I think that is a crime and a shame. I recognize the privilege of being a cis male. I am aware I have privileges, and if I were to tell things on my own it would come off as generic. I want more women artist and animators. 

My upbringing has just made me more comfortable talking and working with women.  I can get a much better product, as opposed to working with someone that is exactly like me. And I want to give that opportunity for creative space. Especially in animation where it is such a collaborative process. Filmmaking in general. A white producer will be more likely to take a chance on me than someone else. I just want all my friends to have the platform to tell their stories. That’s it. I’m fine. Having more people in your corner that you trust and work well with is super important. 

Thinking about the “starving tortured artist” thing. You haven’t had the easiest life. Tell me more about how you got to this point. 

The idea that you have to be a tortured soul to create good work... I sometimes wonder if the concept of “starving artist” is not supposed to be taken literally. Like, when you’re starting out you can’t create what you want right away. Having this starving need to create. You have to ask yourself what are you doing it for. 

I am a pretty big believer that if you are a good person and talk to the universe and let it materialize and work towards your goals, it can happen. I believe we live in a very carmatic universe in that people do get their comeuppance. So, a lot of getting here has been meticulous planning, a little bit of luck and really wanting it and identifying what it takes to get there. When I was a kid before I was introduced to the world of athletics, I would spend a lot of time making and animating things on my own. And making things with the kids on my street. They weren’t the people that wanted to be an artist or animators or in filmmaking. But if I worked with my friends and people I’m comfortable with, it could help me develop my voice more and figure out what I’m trying to do. And a lot of it has been working and doing my homework on the industry and how things are. I know a lot of people who are musicians and up and coming and what if I do a cartoon music video for them. And these are things that have gotten me in Saint Heron and Worldstar [Hip-hop]. And part of it is doing it so I can pay my bills and I need to work. But I want to do it on my own terms so I can still be fulfilled. And work with great people with good creative synergy. A lot of calculated risks. But you kind of have to. You have to know how to take the right risks. If I had to bet that I would have to move to LA without a real job, just freelancing kind of loosely, I was comfortable with that. If I could just get to that point and meet people I could build my business from there. 

Is there one specific point in your life’s journey where you thought “oh this is too much”? 

Towards graduation. The last month of school. Track was over and I was done running and I had no prospects. It was a moment of like, “oh shit I spent ten years running track and that didn’t turn into anything. I don’t want to do this anymore.” I wasn’t going to the Olympics. It was a means to an end for college. But, I spent so much time on that, and I couldn’t spend as much time on animation that I probably could have. What do I do from here? I’ve always been comfortable reflecting and taking what I’ve gone through and applying that to the future. Situations I could potentially be in. It was taking a hard look in the mirror and realizing you’ve been through a lot but know things kind of always work out. It won’t be perfect but it will resolve itself. The only thing that is a constant is you as a person. If I continue to be myself and focus on the art and with the intention I have, it will work out. 

Last question. And this is something I ask everyone. It’s tough, so take your time. What does liberation look like for you? And this can be liberation in your life or artistically. For me, liberation is life without fear. 

Mine isn’t too far off. I think a lot of it is everyone has the biggest chance to become the biggest at whatever it is they want to do. Religion, creed, sex none of it should matter. Living in a world where there is so much art and different voices that a person can not be afraid to tell their story or be their truest self. Ideally, if I found a 22-year-old fresh out of college creative, and she had a script, and I had the ability to tell her “hey, take this grant and make this.” It’s no longer a high calculated risk. Opportunities abound. Saying you want to become an artist is no longer this far out unfathomable thing.  Liberation looks like a world where they don’t have to question themselves. They can just do whatever they want to do. 

You can check out Chaz’s work at his website chazbottoms.com on Instagram or Twitter.

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