To read part one of this interview on Demarco Smith’s South Central roots and upcoming projects click here.
South Central, Los Angeles–Demarco Smith, 27, is an aspiring screenwriter and film director. He is a kingdom builder, an overcomer, a miracle baby and a L.A historian that’s living proof that God is real. He was born with “disabilities” but he has never let this hinder or limit what he viewed as possible. It gave him a certain hunger, an intense passion and desire to be the best and he aims to channel this into his passion of film and Los Angeles history.
What led you to finally share with the world your story?
I felt like I faced every single one of my fears and insecurities except this one, I always kept it locked inside until I was able to turn it into a motion picture that is still COMING and I feel will be the most powerful film we have ever seen on our screen. I always felt I had a real story to tell that I don’t feel anybody that had to go through similar issues had their stories told or heard. Every single movie with a tongue tied character is a comic relief part of the movie but we never get into the psychic of what that does to you mentally. I spent so many years and 10,000 hours dedicated to my craft, directed a film for the first time leading an entire set of 20 plus people before I turned 21 and I’m afraid to speak in public? Being awkward socially after shielding myself so long, I would start to lose the actual personality I do have when I’m around people I trust to be imperfect with.
It is unique because I’m not shy, I was just afraid to stumble, I was afraid to let the mystery be known and the bigger my platform gets and the louder my voice gets with upcoming specials, I wanted to address it publicly and hope that those in the same shoes don’t feel alone.
That was the only thing missing from my story being built was actually showing the full me, me with my hearing aids on compare to the lil boy in me who was so embarrassed to wear hearing aids that I put them in my pocket in class and lost them every single time and put my teenage mom through hell having to buy new ones after new ones, because I was too ashamed to live in that truth, even with the entire LAUSD spending thousand of dollars to set up an expensive loudspeaker and mic up in every single one of my classrooms because of how well I was performing academically with this disability.
Some fought to put me in special education because they didn’t think I belonged in a regular classroom, even though I had the highest test scores and grades in the classroom. To the point the magnet school wanted me a grade higher. My great grandmother who was like my best friend, worked with kids for decades and was known as Miss Manual Arts, who was good with numbers from all her years being a clerk at Manual Arts High School, was heavily invested in my future and protecting it.
When she died before my 13th birthday, I got further away from that kid I was, the one obsessed with Black history and Black excellence, the one obsessed about his dream and being the next big great, learning from those I read about and got distracted. So the more I ran back into my passion from film school to getting out of depression about my brother case dangling over us, I returned to that youngin’ in my grandmothers library, I returned to the one she always knew I could become fully. So to do that completely, I have to live naked in my truth. Its a guideline to follow when securing the kingdom and this one of them.
I would let this hinder my ability to grow relationships because I would let the fear get over me saying what I wanna say, wearing my hearing aids so I can hear a woman when trying talk low and sexy you know, instead of killing the move saying huh 5 times and she don’t even know you are partially deaf. I have to be 100% honest with myself and the world if I want to become who I have been designed and called to be. They always told me when I was young and black that is 2 strikes, but add being labeled disabled, label autistic as a kid, told that you’re deaf and can barely speak fluently, to becoming everything that I will become.
Like, I’m an actual film director, I’m an actual historian. I creates rules and made way for my family and city before ever putting me first. Now, those seed are planted. I have to complete this mission that is called for me to do and if it didn’t reach the ears needed, we still are going to push this story and let those know to have no fear, if I can do this in the industry Im in, those can too! If you was blessed with good hearing and able to say everything you wanna say but still have fear of public speaking like me, I want to say if I can face that head on even on the world stage, all of those after should be able to kill that fear too.
Who is Corvain Cooper?
A man of all men, he was like L.A’s Santa Claus. He kept the kids in good shoes, money in their pocket, fun trips to amusement parks, concerts, just really helping a lot of single mothers out by doing that as well. He is a check pick-upper, The kind to invest in some of our stars careers and believed in them at the VERY beginning. A trend setter who loved fashion and wanted to make sure his little brother/nephew could be another version of him. A selfless man who truly just wanted everybody to win, to smile, to never worry or stress cause cv got you. There’s nobody like him. A TRUE DYING BREED. Which hurt even more because he would do anything for anybody, give you the shirt of his back if you needed it, make sure his daughter was treated like a world class princess. He don’t belong in a cage. He is an entrepreneur and brilliant at that.
What led to prison sentence?
The feds came to him in January 2013 while he was with his daughter about a “marijuana case from 2006” that is a conspiracy case, saying he is the one they got weed from. They don’t have anything but that and bank statements. Since he had 2 strikes for two other marijuana charges prior to this one that now classified as misdemanor, the judge automatically had to give him life for the outdated mandate 3 strike laws and since he didn’t testify like the others he wanted to go the trial to fight it and they sentenced him to life in prison without the possibility of parole in June 2014, a few months after I graduated film school.
Note: Corvain Cooper was among those pardoned by Donald Trump
How is family dealing with sentencing?
It has been tough because our unit is small and a lot of family started to move further out so when one member of the tribe is gone it feel like 5 members. Especially where they are a male figure and a provider, with not too many male figures are left standing, as they died out or got older where its the new generation or previous generation turn to lead the way. He was the one who made a way for us all. His daughter was both under 10 when he got life, one is already a year removed from 16 and his youngest is 11, almost ready for middle school.
When I went to my nieces grandparent before her homecoming, I realized if we wasn’t there or around, there would be no male figure or proof of her daddy DNA left, so its been super tough. I went to film school at 18 so by the time I finished I had great momentum building but that case put me in depression, my brother [cousin] was so selfless in a sense he always went above and beyond with every single thing he did. My grandfather too, so the shoes to walk in were so big at 20 yr old. Now I’m left scrambling, trying fill an empty void as the next in line to lead and provide as a man. To keep my family legacy alive and try to make sure his kids are ok but being barely able to keep my own self afloat after money I saved dried up.
It was a dark time for us for a minute but we maintained our sanity and fought through it. It’s triggering because you never know what it’s like until you can google your flesh and blood and have to constantly speak on it and watch the topic of outrage be ignored for years.
What led to BET documentary?
Well it being sort of like a journey with raising awareness online, reaching out to brands, activist and celebrities that can help. Pusha T and Noname were the few celebrities who actually reposted and shared it when I asked. With the Last Prisoner Project that launched last year, we were able to do a video with Nabil, Herb and REFORM on 420 about Corvain’s story.
The owner of Herb, Matt Gray, reached out to me personally after hearing my part on the 8 minute social documentary. We would connect and collaborate on raising more awareness, so we did a music video with Florida star “Felsmere” new single, as well as a fashion collar with the Last Prison Project, with 100% going to LPP’s “Let Them Out’ campaign. Then, we appeared on Complex again with Complex News doing an interview with the founder of LPP and Corvain. I then reached out to Weldon Angelos who was serving a similar life sentence and was able to only get out due to a big celebrity and lawmakers campaigning for his release.
I asked him about helping out with Corvain and trying get as many platform and pieces behind this fight so he has been actively been going back and forth to the White House to get clemency on Corvain’s behalf and he personally delivered Cornvain’s clemency letter. So, in January, we get a random call from BET that they wanted to film us for Corvain and it was last minute so we filmed it on the 26th of January. It was originally going be a smaller series, but they decided to make it bigger once they got a chance to speak and hear the full story of what we were up against with his case.
S/o to Erik Parker, Swirl Films and every single one that came together to make it as big as possible.
What do you hope will come from it?
I hope that it spreads the awareness needed in his case and the constant injustices against nonviolent prisoners, end the war on drugs, end the stereotype of weed and recognize its medical value and to stop criminalizing it as well as reinstitute the prisoner who lost their freedom behind it. Hope to bring wealth to all Black and brown owners that are being locked out of this new found wealth. Every marijuana prisoner needs to have a stake in this industry and we MUST be not only sitting at the table but at the HEAD of the table. That’s what I hope to see. Order be restored.
What does the hat Corvain gave to you mean to you in 2020? Where do you keep it?
It means getting everything that was taken from us, reverting back to the plan on a larger scale the way it was designed, the losses only made us better and bigger. It means a new life, a new beginning where everything is subject to change. I usually keep it in arms reach and wore it till it wasn’t wearable. I was transitioning from cars and living arrangements over the years with my first car being towed on Cesar Chavez with a box of items in there that is missing with that being one of it.
How often do you talk with Corvain and what are those conversations like?
Whenever I can through the phone and letters sent since they’re constantly on lockdown but I just spoke to him right before they went on lockdown around the time BET Smoke aired.
What inspires you about owning a production company?
Since I was a child, telling stories, learning and writing stories was my natural gift and the first thing I learned to do. Maintain The Mystery is interesting because it is not just a production company; it is a home for Black LA visually and historically. Using entertainment as our mouthpiece. The power of influence, the amount of jobs that working in film and tv creates, the stability it will provide the city tax wise, helping local businesses, local artists, using local business as a part of the storyline and meaning, making it bigger. This was always the ultimate plan, it’s just about getting to the victory lap of it. I studied the Tyler Perry game to the letter and saw how he hustled the game and branded himself, creating multiple streams while making movies out of it while maintaining full ownership after he was able to show and tell on his debut. I plan to do the same thing, just working on building that village and growing my voice so I can fulfill this mission exactly how it was designed for us.
Why inspires you the most about Black L.A / South Central history?
For starters, I have to say publicly that even though I always had a knack and love for Black history going back to my grandmother’s Black history library, to the point my family called me Micheal from Good Times.
I was also inspired by you. I was always on your blog since you was the main and probably the only pure South Central outlet covering everything on your own. It’s been a few years while I’m transitioning, figuring out my aim and who I’m fully meant to be, to reach my destiny and I came across an article you did discussing the history of fat burger and that interested a rabbit hole in me. I kid you not after clicking your directory it dawn on me with my curious mind to dig deeper into all L.A’s history and backstory.
It started out with finding all the L.A food backstory history. Thanks to you and then when I dove into Ramona’s (she was a state secretary during Nixon’s era and co founded her own bank) Hawkins, M&M (Learning about the owner being killed which explain the large absent of a soul food staple) and the list goes on. That took a life of it’s own when I started to channel the inner me and got more in depth with personal favorite history stories of our cities such as the Black founders of LA, Alice Ballard, a Black woman owning 160 acres near Malibu in the Santa Monica mountains, Biddy Mason being a slave then suing for her freedom and becoming a real estate mogul and entrepreneur, pretty much owning half of downtown LA.
Paul Williams going from losing his parents and being labeled an orphan and being the first Black architect on record even designing Beverly Hills where he couldn’t even be granted inside to piss, he had to learn how to write upside down just to do business with them. My upcoming book about Watts being the motherland and the mecca South Central Wall Street of all the Black-owned businesses bubbling and the sabotaging that took place. That’s where you find the answer “why” in the history.
How Golden State Mutual Life and California Eagle Charlotta Bass stood up for their people in term of investing in the cities and got sabotaged from attaining generational wealth and making certain cities a Black one. How we were located in rich area by the water in particular and got pushed further down with eminent domain and wealth sabotaging through burning buildings down or inflating them. How music pioneer like John Dolphin creating the first 24-hour business and bogo model, Lonnie Simmons with Total Experience and discovering the Gap Band on Crenshaw, Micheal Williams, Comedy Act Theatre with Robin Harris which was a DEF COMEDY JAM INSPIRATION and all those who paved a way and said fuck Hollywood, we’ll create our own Hollywood and make our own talent and find them, then create our own platforms to amplify them–while creating a new business model that will allow us to OUTPERFORM those same Hollywood spots we were segregated from, while taking their customers dollars and bringing it to our neighborhood and surrounding businesses.
What do you hope to contribute?
I hope to protect the youth, influence them, my peers, our city, our people all over the world through films, through education and creating new rules, through foundations and studios laid. I plan to revert the city back to its original state and return the wealth back that was stolen and get my ancestors land back by any means necessary. Build studios on land they tried to take from us and provide so much funding that you can’t sabotage this when we all win. Retaining ownership in everything we do while collaborating and partnering with like minded individuals and organizations that push the city and culture.
We plan to take this South Central shit worldwide, and I think that’s the difference. It’s for us, translated to the world to understand our view, our world a little more clearly, a new perspective. I learned when everybody around me that recognized my gift would say that my perspective was missing, often when I spoke or tweet it seemed to be a breath of fresh air containing a new approach and with me lasting this long for 10 years through all the setbacks and losses with no official project to my name, now with everything debuting, I hope to make complete proper use of my influence and hopefully continue to be exposed to more eyes and ears with this message.
I hope to restore the feeling of relatable entertainment that speaks to us, which is why I want to hit them over the head with a comedy classic if I say so. At the end of the day, it’s been a very tough year so in between the teaching, I’ll make sure to entertain and still maintain our narrative while providing much needed relief for those who just need a break from life you know? That’s the great part about entertaining, now what if I could merge both side of the coins? Now that powerful.
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