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Angel Kristi Williams: From Being Gifted A VHS Camcorder As A Kid To Becoming A Directorial Powerhouse

Angel Kristi Williams: From Being Gifted A VHS Camcorder As A Kid To Becoming A Directorial Powerhouse

She was destined to be a filmmaker! 

It’s safe to say that Angel Kristi Williams found her calling as a filmmaker early in life when her dad gifted her a VHS camcorder at the age of eight. Teaching herself how to use it, Williams recorded everything from birthday parties to dance competitions to talent shows in her hometown of West Baltimore, Maryland. She said it was like “I came home from school, put down my backpack and I picked up that camera.”

By the time Williams got to high school, she picked up a different type of camera, gaining an interest in photography and learning how to develop her own film. She went on to major in theatre at the University of Maryland but transferred over to the film department after her freshman year when she learned that she was more comfortable behind the camera. It was that decision that led Williams, who studied visual art, photography, and experimental film, to create her first short films, a lot of them being silent films with a heavy focus on allowing powerful images to tell the story.

“The very first short film that I wrote, I had my friends act in. I was on camera, I was holding the boom… it was like just three of us literally on set,” Williams explained. “That really gave me a taste of what it could be like to write a story that you’re passionate about, to cast it, to shoot it the way you want it, and be sort of the author of the story.”

Williams continued cultivating her craft in a graduate program at Columbia College Chicago, where she obtained a Master of Fine Arts in Directing. Three years after relocating to Los Angeles, she met another Black woman from Baltimore, Felicia Pride, who at the time, had just wrote her first screenplay that she described as a “Love Jones meets Blue Valentine set in D.C.” Really Love, starring Kofi Siriboe and Yootha Wong-Loi-Sing, would go on to be Williams’ feature directorial debut. 

“When I was 17, I watched Love Jones on VHS and you know I was 17 and I hadn’t been in love yet. I had no idea about the emotions they were going through, but I felt it and I saw myself.”

For Williams, Black love is an important theme throughout her work, sharing: "Whether it’s familial love, romantic love… I’m just really interested in our relationships. In how we move and breathe, just be us and live in the world as we do." 

In fact, Williams portrayed Black love so well in an episode of Ava DuVernay and Colin Kaepernick's Netflix limited series Colin in Black and White that she won an NAACP Image Award for Breakthrough Creative in Television (it was her first episode of television). The award-winning filmmaker hopes that people see themselves in her work, taking on two more directorial projects from DuVernay, who she considers as one of her inspirations. 

Her second episode of television is the CW’s DC superhero show Naomi, which is a coming-of-age story about a young Black teenage girl discovering her superhero abilities. Williams shared that she didn’t see these types of stories growing up, explaining “that a Black girl at a center of a show who rocks braids… it’s really special.”

Here is a preview of Williams' episode which airs on the CW on Tuesday, April 26 at 9 p.m. ET/PT and 8 p.m. CT with the option to stream for free on the CW app. 

Agreeing with the notion that Black women are indeed superheroes, Williams describes her superpower as being good at bringing people together. “I have a warmth and ability to connect with people in a really special way, which is valuable when I’m collaborating on a project, because on a film or TV show you need so many people to bring the vision to life,” she explained.

So Williams leans into her superpower as much as possible as she continues to make her mark in the industry and take on future projects such as her third collaboration with DuVernay's ARRAY production company. This time directing an episode of the season two opener of Cherish the Day. Her journey to becoming a rising directorial powerhouse all started in childhood when her dad gave her that VHS camcorder, so when we asked Williams who her Because of Them We Can person was, she responded:

“I stand on the shoulders of so many ancestors; you know my father is one. I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for him bringing home that camera.”

Photo Courtesy of Twitter/Getty Images