To celebrate its rich multicultural diversity, the city of Los Angeles hosted a sponsored awards ceremony last week at the Los Angeles Zoo for the winners of the city’s Black History Month poster competition. The county’s K-12 grade students were invited to submit original artwork that explores aspects of African American heritage. This year’s event MC is Django Unchained actress Daniele Watts, who opened up to us about the value of engaging in the arts for youths.
What inspired you to take part in this event?
It really fits in with what’s going on in my life right now, post Django Unchained. I am recognizing that the conversations around race are still important and vital today. Events like these are tools for my own growth and also a way that I can give back to my community. I am an actor and I don’t know where my next stop is going to be. It’s encouraging to be invited to an event like this where I get to engage with people, and especially young people. This is my first time hosting an event like this and it’s super cool. “Are you sure you want me?” I thought. But this is totally something that I am into—being a role model for young people.
What role do you think art plays in youth development?
I cannot express enough how critical the arts are for youth development. I worked with continuation art programs where children had the hardest time focusing their energy.
It’s crucial that children come into the world knowing that they have the power to create their own lives as artists and think outside of the box. My parents weren’t artists, but they always encouraged me to express myself, and that made all the difference.
Participants were asked to depict in their artwork a pioneer in the African American community that has impacted history or everyday life. What African American pioneer inspires you in your line of work?
I like Spike Lee’s early work. As a writer, Zora Neale Hurston is a larger than life figure who really inspires me. She’s one of those figures in the Harlem Renaissance; she was bold and bright and really owned who she was and made a voice for women. As an actor I like Kerry Washington. We didn’t have any scenes together in Django Unchained, but we were together on set. She is lovely and my vision of a career I would like to mirror, someone who is not just an actress but also an activist.