Yhá Mourhia Wright is an award winning director, actor and writer, and is the creator of #LoveMyRoomie, a web series which has been been selected to several major festivals including the New York Women In Film & Television, and she also recently landed the role as Senior Video Producer at One Digital for Madame Noire & Hello Beautiful. It seems like there’s nothing she can’t do, so I was super excited to hop on the phone with her a few weeks ago to talk about how she got into the digital content space in the first place, and how she’s used her various skills and platforms to bring diverse stories and voices to the masses. Check out our full conversation below:
BYT: So I know you’ve always been interested in writing, but how did you end up transitioning into the spheres of acting and production?
YMW: I’d say writing and acting are both my first loves; I think I discovered them as a child at about the same time. I loved telling stories and acting ( had imaginary friends, so I guess they were my original audience), and so that was kind of what I was always interested in. In terms of producing, it was in undergrad that I started to produce theater for our Black Student Union’s MLK Night, which was always on MLK Day in January each year. Starting my sophomore year of college, I began to really produce theater without realizing what it was called. I was the only theater major that was in the BSU, so I was the one who had access to the theater and the costume department and all of that. That’s kind of how I fell into producing. And after I graduated, I started to become a YouTuber. I had my own natural hair and skincare YouTube channel, I’d interview people on my blog, and so again, I was really involved in producing my own content. And I still didn’t know it was called producing, so I never really used that word. It wasn’t until I graduated with my MFA out here in 2016 that I began to really marry acting and producing. It’s such an interesting thing to reflect on, because it was always happening and coming together, and I’ve pretty much always been producing full time. I’ve been most heavily producing, and then writing and acting have been trailing along on the side, because I want to create my own content.
BYT: Absolutely. And representation is so important! When did you realize that doing the work yourself through the channel of a web series was an achievable (if sometimes difficult) goal?
YMW: It was in 2016. I graduated from the Actors Studio Drama School three years ago, and I needed an actor reel. I’d been creating content a little bit even during graduate school, but it got too busy, so I wasn’t able to create any more of my YouTube channel tutorials or anything. After my first semester of grad school I had the opportunity to study playwriting and screenwriting and acting full time; I was one of the first people in the school’s history ever to be able to do that, so I double mastered, essentially, although I only got my certificate in acting. So I wanted to create a reel, and one of my mentors encouraged me to adapt something I’d written from my portfolio. And that was truly the origin of #LoveMyRoomie; I looked around and thought, “Wait a minute, since I have this three year hiatus of creating my own content, this entire world has changed where YouTubers are now called influencers, and these little sketches and series are now becoming full-blown shows.” You’re really able to live this dream that you had as a child under your own terms, or as close as possible to your own terms. So I fell in love with that, with the web sphere and digital content. In 2017 I was all in, and it’s different for everyone, but I felt happiest creating my own work and creating work for other people. I think that’s where the doors were really cracking open for me, and I didn’t have to ask anyone to give me space.
BYT: Completely, and it’s so exciting that you’re putting these authentic stories out there. Have you had anyone reach out about that, either because they feel inspired and/or because they want to know how to do something similar?
YMW: Within the last eight months I’ve started having strangers reach out via DMs, and it’s very humbling to have people be inspired and say they want to create their own work. I do my best to try to prepare them for the fact that it’s going to look different for everyone. The beauty is that you’re creating your own lane, but the challenge is that you’re creating your own lane. So it’s important to understand that it’s going to be hard, there are certain things you should know about the industry since things are changing digitally, and understand you can’t really look at someone else’s career and think yours is going to look just like that. But I am having opportunities to mentor and speak on panels, which is really nice.
BYT: Speaking of things that won’t look the same across the board, what’s your personal creative process like? Do you try to structure out your day so that you’ve got a dedicated block to think about things, or do you wait for inspiration to hit? Because it sounds like your schedule is super busy!
YMW: Well, I’ll speak specifically to today – I was having such huge writers block, and it was so frustrating. I kept thinking, “Oh, I haven’t eaten. Oh, let me take a shower,” and started trying to get my body going, and then of course when I was in the shower I started to hear all the dialogue, so I ran to my computer to start typing. So my creative process can be pretty wild. I also usually hear dialogue, and I think that might be the actor side of me. I sometimes have to act it out as I’m sitting down to describe what I hear or what I see; it’s not always words, it’s just a dialogue in my imagination. And that happens a lot in the subway, or at really weird times when I have nothing to type on. It’s really hard for me to structure out writing, but in terms of producing, it’s purely structure. Writing chooses when it wants to talk to me, and that’s what happens.
BYT: And with all these different things that you do, what do you feel has been the biggest unexpected learning curve that you’ve now kind of mastered or gotten very good at?
YMW: The execution. Because there’s the writing and the casting, but executing as a producer was something that was a huge learning curve. Back in 2016 I’d never produced any type of film work other than filming myself talking to a camera. Anything digital or short form I’d never touched, I’d never been on a film set, so that was a huge learning curve – being able to execute the ideas. But I latched on quickly, and that’s how I knew that I had a lot to learn. (I still do.) But the way it made me feel to just do it, to do the things I enjoy doing, and even just doing all the paperwork and things that people don’t usually enjoy, that’s how I knew I could be a producer.
BYT: If you could go back in time to any point in your life and give yourself advice, is there any moment that stands out?
YMW: I’d have told myself in 2014 when I was in my second year of grad school to continue to create content. I’d say keep going, because I tapped out, because it was a challenge in grad school. I tell myself to do it on the weekends, you know, “You have more time than you think.” I took a course from Franchesca Ramsey, and I don’t even know if she was at MTV at that time…I think it was before that, but she taught me all about branding, and it was a one-on-one course. I had all of that stuff under my belt, but then I stopped pretty much immediately after and just focused on grad school. I’d have told myself to keep going.
BYT: Right. Well, since we’re back on the subject of grad school, I’ll go ahead and ask whether or not you feel that experience was worth it. It does seem to have paid off for you, but I think we’re at a time when a lot of people are really conflicted about whether or not to go, so I’m just curious as to your feelings on that subject.
YMW: I have to say that it was worth it for me, because it taught me a level of discipline. I think because I didn’t take a break after graduating and I kept going, I still have the same discipline and then some that was already instilled in me. So for the past six years, I’ve kind of been operating on this machine cut schedule that grad school puts you on. And also the door opened for me to be able to write and learn freewriting and playwriting, and I had no formal training prior to that. I wrote, but it was informal. So learning that really helped me, and it’s a direct tie-in to where I am today. It was definitely worth it for me, I have to say. It wasn’t easy, and there are a lot of things that were hard about it, but it was worth it, and I don’t regret it.
BYT: It’s nice to hear when grad school has been worth it for people, because I feel like the spotlight is generally on the negative stuff with regards to that these days. Alright and finally, getting back to #LoveMyRoomie, I really love that it showcases diversity within diversity through the very relatable lens of how messy people’s twenties can be. What was important to you to focus on when you were writing the series, and why?
YMW: So I’m African American, but I was the only African American Black person in my group of friends in high school, and in college, all of my friends were first generation; their parents had immigrated from different places in Africa at some point, and so they were first generation African American in that sense. So I recognized at a very (I grew up in the Bay Area in California) young age the diversity and the array of what Blackness is, and what womanhood is, and so it was really important to me that I tell that story. #LoveMyRoomie, you know, yes we are all from the diaspora in some way or another, but it’s also a story about Afro-Latinas, a story about African American women and cultural differences and socio-economic differences, and all of these things that navigate how we see the world differently.
Also, on a very human level, it’s about these millennials who are in their late twenties, early thirties, and don’t have life together the way perhaps their parents did at that age, or at least appeared to at that age. So it was really important to me to tell the story of what being in your late twenties and, heck, even mid-thirties, looks like in 2019. I remember after high school a lot of people got married, but I think I have one or two friends that’s married now. What we thought life was going to be is so different for us in this generation in a lot of ways. We’re still learning ourselves, and we have the privilege to learn ourselves at an older age than maybe our parents did. So that was very important to me to tell that story and to layer on those things that women are experiencing, both in terms of their sexual identity and what they want to do with their lives, like, “Who am I as a person?” Layering that on, and exploring what that can do when we don’t address it, and what that can do when we do address it, you know? So many layers.