JH: You’re a Black American Southerner, a daughter of Black Atlantan institutions: Spelman, SCLC, Cascade United Methodist Church, numerous Atlanta art orgs and theaters. What does your Atlantan legacy mean to you?
DD: It’s really defined my life and how I practice art. Everything that I do on my small, more personal level of artwork is invested with a very close-knit group of people who’ve been working with me for all this time. And that Southernness is just [laughs], is needed. The discipline and the care. The commitment to do the work in the dark and in the silence. Even though you feel like people aren’t paying attention, but they will, they are. To come from these legacies—I’m just blessed. The blessing is them.
I still talk to Brenda Davenport [Deadwyler’s mentor] to this day, who was leading me and my siblings at SCLC and who architected a certain understanding of how spaces worked. How Black women are the skeleton and the damn skin. You talk about the biggest organ and the most hidden organ. You know, my mother worked at a law office, so when we talk about learning skills of how to run things, how to make things persist, I know Black women taught me that. I know Black women were integral in all of these institutions, even down to the arts organizations that my mom dropped me into. Just for years and years of how to be an artist, how to be a human, a good human being to people, how to care for others. Folks who pulled me out of patches of confusion. It’s just Black spiritual protection and covering at every juncture of my life.
JH: Your artistry is boundless. How do you find the equilibrium between your film and TV projects while being a filmmaker and performance artist?
DD: Working on more, like, Hollywood dynamics, it’s not fast, right? They take up a significant amount of time. So I know that it’s important for me to just go slow. Everything about my personal works, it’s about collecting, it’s about memory, it’s about dreams. It’s about a logging of a self over time, or an object over time, or a collection of objects over time. It’s just important for me to do it in that way and not feel the need to show incessantly. I just think I’m operating in a different way. It’s not an art world capacity in the way those things come out. I learn a lot from the collectives and the folks that I work with. I don’t want it to be commercial in that way. I want to have a deeply, deeply personal experience in how things turn out. Some stuff is just for, just get it out, you know? Work it through the body, and working through the spiritual making and remaking. Because all work, just like Miranda in Station 11: “Everything ain’t meant to be sold; everything is meant to be shared.” It makes me that much more critical of who gets to be legible of what I make and what I process and what I choose to share.
JH: Can you discuss any new projects? In your upcoming film Parallel, you play a grieving mother facing another version of herself in a parallel universe.
DD: [Laughs] I don’t know yet. I don’t know when things are coming out, but I know I’m living in this fantasy space of work that I think is really critical in navigating a world so full of drudgery. [Laughs] I think the characters and the women that I’ve been exploring are just trying to get to the multiplicity of selves, which is indicative of the lenticularities that I’ve lived. There is something beautiful to behold in navigating darkness and what can come of it. Because that was the experience of the lenticularities across four years. It was allowing the time and space for these selves to be revealed in an African diasporic, Black Atlantic exploration. Literarily, sociologically, anthropologically, culturally—like that digging is how these selves begin to rupture out of the earth and out of the darknesses. And I think cinematically, that’s what’s happening too. The kind of projects that are coming to me and that are resonating with me are women of all the, you know—messy.
JH: Lastly, what are things that have brought you joy as of late?
DD: Babies. I don’t have no more babies [laughs], but I have beautiful extensions in my girlfriends, my homies, you know, pandemic-era babies. [Laughs]
JH: Babies popped up everywhere. Everybody had one.
DD: Except for me! [Laughs]
JH: I don’t even have one.
DD: How joyful it is to find mothering, as a community role, you know? People love to play the auntie dynamic. Didn’t nobody wanna be called auntie! [Laughs] But, like, that’s OK. It doesn’t matter about the title. It matters in what you’re doing, the application of who you are, the practice of how you are in the community. So I’ve just really loved watching these children grow, in the midst of this madness. And watch my friends grow, in their mothering and in their fathering and their parenting in general. It’s just opening me up to other ways to be and to support them to be full, right? Seeing kids have lives and understanding that I didn’t necessarily have. Knowing full well that I had so much support in a lot of ways and I’m an extension of what my mother didn’t have, or what my grandmother didn’t have and the lineage before her did not have.