South Central, Los Angeles–Demarco Smith, 27, is a screenwriter, film director, kingdom builder, an overcomer, a miracle baby and a L.A historian that’s living proof that God is real. He is a walking testimony that every single one of our ancestors live through us. He is somebody who wants to build a family tree and spread the proper message of Black excellence and community building, entertain the people with good images and representations while building generational wealth for his city and people. Demarco has a heart of gold and knows that he only has to look inside his soul to find that gold and get “rich.”
“I know exactly who I am and what I want to become. I am as naked as they come with my truth, heart and words. I speak for the unspoken, I shout for the unheard, and I protect the vulnerable ones.”
What are some of your earliest memories in South Central?
My earliest memories started on the eastside as that’s where my family tree started when my great grandmother was the first of her siblings to migrate from Detroit to South Central, where they would own business and property near 73rd and San Pedro and 77th and Broadway for starters. My cousins tree started with Watts, as that’s where my auntie stays.
I was a village child considering my mom had me unexpectedly at 17-years-old, so I grew up in every household pretty much. It was a balanced home for me cause my grandmother was on Florence, my cousins was on Avalon & Central Ave, but my momma always had a spot on the Westside since my poppa lived in Baldwin Hills and both of my grannies lived on 8th Ave and one lived on West Blvd. So our first spot was in the jungles, our second was across from the Crenshaw mall and Santa Barbara Plaza. Then we moved longterm to 64th and West Blvd across the street from the church.
My granny who was on 8th Ave was Harrison Ford’s maid and she was the one who got him to make the final big donation that helped big the 2nd AME Zion Church that we lived across from. My mom liked to go to our other church in Watts, “Beulah Baptist” which is my grandfather’s church and where her and my dad John Que got married.
That is also where I went to bible study to see a youth pastor after I told my mom I wanted to preach after reading about MLK. My uncle and close cousin stayed in Inglewood on Queen street which is where I spent a lot of my teen years hanging out. So, you can say that my memories included the Eastside and Westside, with South Central Ave area being where it all started for every one of my family so it’s the side that means the most to me off history alone.
Who were some of your biggest influences growing up and why?
A friend of the family who became like a grandfather/mentor in my life actually marched and walked with MLK. Between my grandmother’s library and the children’s books, I was obsessed with being a leader and the ability to lead people to the point I even wanted to become a preacher when I was a kid and begged to get a bible for my birthday so I could preach the word.
Since my “disabilities” I had work 5x harder to hear, speak and compete with my peers. So Kobe was like a spirit animal, I wanted to emulate his passion and obsession with his craft and skill. It gave me that hunger, that intense passion and desire to be the best so when I went to film school, I couldn’t even afford to attend that school so once I was let in, I took advantage of every single moment.
We are in the heart of Hollywood and I didn’t spend a moment out that wasn’t in the cubicle. I would get up at 5am to get on the train to Hollywood and be in that building from 7am to 1am most nights. I NEVER wanted to go home. Since I was young and decided to find a roommate on Craigslist, I was in an uncomfortable situation that turned into a damn frat house so I would spend a lot of my time out on the streets and being in that building. It saved my life cause It was such an intense focus period for me.
I wanted to be kobe of film so bad so before I went to school, I wrote down every single fear whether big or small and told myself to conquer and face them head on. Whether it’s rollercoasters or heights, I said I was going do it.
Everybody around me saw how serious I was taking this–to the point if I got a ticket for hopping the train or a scheduled dental appointment, I would ask for a separate date so I did not miss a second of school. It allowed me to master the craft of screenwriting, as well as sharpen my tools of learning the inside of being a film director. Growing up in South Central, these options are not exactly clarified to the youth. You might think the producer is the director you know? So it allowed me to get a clear understanding of filmmaking and get to learn all the other positions and jobs you can do on set that all play a big part. It taught me the power of working in teams as film-making is all teamwork.
John Singleton, Ice Cube & DJ Pooh as well are huge influences because I was exposed to movies made by them. I would watch the movie Friday everyday and study it down to every letter. John, Cube & Pooh gave me comfort being able to be yourself and still stay true to your South Central roots in an industry like Hollywood. If you look around now, it’s not too much of that perspective anymore in mainstream media. The balance is gone once again, so you would sometimes feel out of place when trying to connect with others that look like you in this industry at times. They allowed me the comfort of remaining authentic in who I am to tell these stories unapologetically.
What was family like for you growing up?
Family was everything to me. It is unorthodox as well cause I’m my mother’s only child, a miracle baby, so our immediate unit was small. Corvain by blood is my uncle but to me he will always be my brother. Like my cousins, they are like a 2nd and 3rd brother, they are past being a cousin.
My biological father has been in and out of my life and has 10 other kids I didn’t know. One of my little brothers I never knew existed sent me a heartfelt message about how cool it is to have a big brother and he wanted to get to know me. It broke me cause I always wanted that. All of my cousins have like 3 or 4 brothers and sisters each. I was more so the main only child by blood, so it was so dope to have my brother Corvain. We slept in the same room and eventually wore the same size. He was a teenager when I was born and in his early 20s when I was around seven, so it is pretty self-explanatory how much that meant to me. He wanted to keep me a reflection of him, I was like Lil CV at the time.
Me and all of my cousins are extremely close, it feels weird saying cousin cause we really are brothers. Through thick and thin, through right or wrong, through life and death and court, we stood by each other every step of the way. No man left hungry, hurting, or depressed without one of us knowing or coming to be there.
My great-grandmother was literally like my best friend, purely unconditional love where we all got it from. Her house was on the Eastside and was the family hub for everybody who was at her house during all holidays. It became family tradition for everybody to be at her house. When she died in 2006, my cousin got drafted to the NFL two years later. A big part of the family, 20 plus relatives from one family tree moved to ATL when he got drafted by the Falcons. We were so close too. The traditions started to get smaller and most started to do their own thing for the most part. Through it all, me and my family are forever solid, they’re so supportive and 90% were the first to purchase my Maintain The Mystery Merch, down to my grandfather’s wife, so that really meant a lot to me, they believed in me the entire way.
Tell us a little about your family business, John Ques Barbecue.
The history of John Ques started when I was 15 and one day walked to Big Lots to bring back a bbq pit for Father’s Day which was the first pit for the house. Fast forward a few years later, I was always hands on with new trends and directions the culture going in. I was aware of the underground restaurant scene taking off and seen the likes of Trap Kitchen and Taco Mell taking off and would often bring up the idea of starting a pop-up since we were always hosting parties with gourmet style cooking that were a big hit.
So, my parents took it serious in 2018. They quit their job and our cousin knew Paris who let us set up at his shop on Slauson and Keinston, where Blacc Sam and Nipsey would later show up to get a plate in our first year. The following year, we got booked to cook at Rolling Loud during my birthday last year and ended New Years Eve at the Orange Show for countdown with The Chainsmokers Headlining.
We built great strides with catering and pop-ups all over L.A until covid. With that, I came up with the idea to rebrand ourselves on Twitter since our first year was more word of mouth but a huge lack of social presence So, I promoted a pop-up online during the end of March and it was one of our most successful pop-ups ever. The most mentions we got was with one of our customers plates that went viral. Jokes poured in about the mac n cheese portion size but brought a lot of curiosity on where to find it. A lot of people who pulled up and went the extra mile to share our business online helped to save our business.
Now we’re figuring it back out since our backup of cooking at brewery and bars is closed. It’s been up and down really but it’s been a blessing for the most part to stay afloat through it all. Luckily, we still go back to our original location where the neighborhood was already familiar with us being on that block for 2 years now.
Biggest life goals, why?
My biggest goal is to reverse the cycle of generational curses and our generational wealth being stolen, and unlearning certain lies force fed to us. My goal is to reach as many ears and eyes possible with my ultimate goal, which is making films and using that as my form of communication; as well as entertaining to bring a much needed balance back to what we see on our screen. That will allow me to use my peers’ music, fashion, and place of business with the opportunity to turn them to landmarks and classics through filmmaking.
This will allow me to provide thousands of jobs while being an economic boost for the entire city in general. This is why the ultimate goal is to create “Protect Tha Youth Foundation” and provide training for the youth to learn and explore all the possibilities they might not know is there. We only get exposed to those that are in front of the camera, but never the countless jobs BEHIND the camera and scenes. The one that actually never stops working or receiving work. A director can work as long as his name is called or create his own content as a writer and director. Meanwhile, a grip, DP or set designer is going to always have work. So, I want to introduce that side of working in entertainment. Once they finish the training course they can get a job on my SET.
The goal for PTY Foundation is to also build a community center similar to the one I grew up in at the Salvation Army on 76th and Central. Outside of minor squabbles during heated basketball games, it was a safe space for us to maintain our innocence, purity have fun, study, do homework and teach us early responsibility.
Such as making all of us get i.d cards to enter, which trained us early on for when we would need our driver license, school i.d or passport. They had a game room, study room, computer room, gyms and just all around protection for the youth. It made such an impact on me that I want to do it on a larger scale with a level and range for ages 18-25. I want a STEM level inside, teaching about gardens, growing foods, health, as well as sex education which is largely missing today with a lot of hyper sexuality going on.
Financial literacy and learning about real estate, as well as trade classes to learn trades like plumbing and construction. Our people need to know that you can still live like your favorite rapper–maybe even better and more concrete.
The impact of building a village within and knowing we can create our own Silicon Valley in our backyard helped us learn how to maintain and develop our own community. It also raised the value of our community without taking the essence out of it, which is happening. Majority of the developers who come in have the same plan of building the same backwards plans that purposely hurt the community.
The history of wealth being stolen by passing new laws against our ancestors and taking over the gold rush and freedoms in the new land that was majority founded and built by us along with our brown brothers is nothing new.
Wealth continued to be stolen with housing covenants although eventually reversed and outed as racist and purposefully discriminating, its power is in knowing it was set in stone on us not having a home. The answer became simple once I became grown and realized the effect that takes place when you sell your grandmothers home.
Or, when a house that was passed down to multiple generations is sold and demolished into a townhouse you see what will happen. Relatives have to scramble, split up, downsize, figure things out and most times have to move away and quickly learn how hard it will be to move back once they give in to giving up.
The second step is school segregation, since I was considered a bright child, school teachers and staff members told my momma to her face I couldn’t continue going to school in the area and set it up for me to be transferred to a magnet school near Venice, where they could actually provide the help needed. It suck that it had to be that way with schooling in our backyard, whether they’re underfunded or neglected. The third is job discrimination, you prevent the kids from getting full learning experiences and safe spaces to maintain their youth, then make it hard for their parents to work at the level needed to survive.
Even with me, I would get nervous and stutter heavy on some phone calls and interviews applying for a job and they would hang up on me in my face or flat out not call me back. So the only technical job I would later get that wasn’t through the school or my dad’s insurance job at Geico being the mascot, would be a Black owned business such as my cousins plumbing company, “TNT Plumbing” which I watched him turn from one white van, to a full warehouse corporation with multiple vans.
The city of Los Angeles owes us more than we know so reparations is just a conversation starter. The job now is to get everybody’s attention to what we are pushing with Maintain The Mystery, Protect Tha Youth, StoLAnd Greatness and everything associated with it. It was never for me and I strived to make my action show that.
The goal is to maintain ownership which is why I’m introducing the investment package that will engage the community and supporters into what we are building. Our own village where we maintain our images, our narrative, our story, our history. I’m not one dimensional either, my first film release will be a comedy film.
My life story will be the follow up which I already had titled “New Rules” since 2012. I just needed to learn the craft. Now, I need to get my feet back wet after missing some time.
I just need the entire city aware of what we’re trying to spread, while making proper use of our influence!
Be on the look out for part two of this interview dropping this week!
Follow Demarco on twitter @DemarcoSmith