Black Women Creators: Courtney Thomas and Dara M. Wilson
Dara M. Wilson and Courtney Thomas are the creators of Next Big Thing, a web series created by Courtney & Dara to shine much-deserved spotlight on millennials of color doing dope things in tech, media, politics, & entrepreneurship. We spoke with them about their web series and what it means to be creators.
Black Girls Create: What do you create?
Dara: We create a web series where we highlight up and coming creators of color in the Bay Area and beyond.
Courtney: And we love the millennials. Millennials of color have a unique story to offer up in the discussion around millennials and people of color in America. We’re interested in telling those stories and hearing about people’s journeys and experiences, especially those who are persevering and thriving as a result of that perseverance.
Dara: We have a passion for getting at the truth of how people reach success and what success feels like to different people. There’s of missing steps when you hear about how certain people got certain things and it makes it hard to feel like success is replicable if you’re just hearing those stories with the big gaps in it. You’ll hear a rapper saying, “what happened was I played this song I had for Kanye West and then he put me on and now here I am.” It’s like, “wait a minute, how the hell did you get in a room with Kanye West?” What are these interim steps? What was luck? What was scary? What actually happened to get you to that place where we see you now?
BGC: What inspired you to start this show?
Courtney: Dara and I were invited on as guests to our friend, Alysha English’s podcast/web series called Bottomless, where she was having conversations over mimosas and highlighting those dating conversations. So Dara and I had the first time slot at like 8 o’clock in the morning...
Dara: It was so fucking early. It was so early that I did my make up the night before, sprayed myself down with a setting spray and slept like a vampire.
Courtney: Which Dara later gave as a beauty tip in season 2 of Next Big Thing, check that out.
Dara: Beauty tips that you should not take.
Courtney: But they work. BUT. THEY. WORK. So yeah, we had this early call time, we finished up our session and Dara and I just kept talking. Conversations around dating evolved to conversations around politics and race and culture and technology and the next thing we know, we’re a bottle in and it’s past noon at this point and we thought, why don’t we just make our own show where we talk about this type of stuff?
Dara: When you get an inkling of something like this, it feels so right. When you find the thing that feels right to you, it doesn’t have to be hard. There are those flashes that you get where you feel like, not only does this feel fun, but it feels comfortable and it feels like I can do this. That moment talking to Courtney and the other people Alysha had filming that day, and being on set, I had that flash.
Courtney: The second component of focusing on millennials of color came from our friend Christina, who appeared on the second season of Next Big Thing, and she booked her first series regular role on TNT’s The Last Ship three months after graduation. She told us about her plight of landing this great thing but whenever there’s going to be any press around it, it’s going to be Eric Dane, who was McSteamy on Grey’s Anatomy. We both thought that’s such a waste, if somebody is booking such a huge role right out of school and people are scooping them up, they are going to be successful in this industry. I’d rather hear about her story so that I’m following her career. It’s always fun when someone says, “have you heard this new song or have you heard of this person,” and you can say, “man, I’ve been on that.”
BGC: Why do you create?
Dara: It’s like a DNA thing, I can’t do anything but create. It just feels like the natural thing to do for me and I have been that way my entire life. I think it was Ira Glass who said people create and they don’t like their own work because what you have first is taste. So you have taste but you don’t have the ability or knowledge to make things. I’ve been creating forever, it’s all been shit, but yeah.
Courtney: SAME! We’re getting so many compliments on Next Big Thing and I can see the improvement but I’m like this still isn’t it. It isn’t what I’ve got up in my head. It’s an endless pursuit of perfection that does not exist. I think it’s a muscle that gets strengthened the more you do it. I think I’ve always created. I’ve had that instinct but it wasn’t until I started studying acting. I have my BFA and my MFA so that’s seven years of the study of creation and storytelling. So at this point I’ve flipped a switch that I can’t turn off.
BGC: There are a ton of ways you could’ve come at doing a project like this, what was it about a web series that spoke to you?
Courtney: I don’t trust the entertainment industry, I have attempted a full time career and wound up pretty broke, depressed and anxious. I came home after experiencing all of that in New York and needed to recover. When I started creating something, I thought why the hell would I go right back to the same place that made it clear that I was tolerated, at best, but mostly unwelcome. While technology is not leaps and bounds from the entertainment industry, there are more advantages as an educated young woman that I found there and of course, I’m very business minded in general so we’re creating a web series that, to me, can become a media platform. I saw more potential, especially with the conversation around diversity in the tech industry.
Dara: I was going to speak on the question of why video and not starting off in audio. First I think that you have to love yourself first, and Courtney and I both think of ourselves as witty, knowledgeable, and attractive women. We are two Black women and we deal with all of the shit that comes along with that in the world. My feeling is always that if there is a privilege that you have, you need to be aware of it, you need to not wield it against other people but you should absolutely use it. Especially if your ultimate goal is to help other people. There is such a thing as pretty privilege and if I feel like I walk around in the world where to a certain extent, I experience that, I’m not going to intentionally try to make myself less attractive out of guilt.
Courtney: Also as Black women, and this is to our whole shows point and purpose, we want to highlight millennials of color because they normally do not get airtime. Especially Black women, dark women.
Dara: Queer women.
Courtney: It’s easy to see how they get pushed to the back. So if we, with our platform, and as Black women, can place ourselves unabashedly in front of the camera I think we’re doubling up on our mission.
BGC: Who or what inspired you to do what you do?
Courtney: I’ve been thinking a lot about the people who get left out and left behind. I saw a great talk at The New Parkway in Oakland called, “Positioning Black Women as Agents of Change,” and a woman who really stood out to me named Brittney Cooper, who went to Howard University. She noticed that she was learning about all the male figures and noted that even in this very progressive space that was all about Black love and Black power, it was all about Black men and their place in that. She drove the point home that even with women it can become about color and wealth. I will fight all day for women of color and young Black women, but I’m thinking more now of who am I not thinking of? I think about that young, tiny, dark Black girl that is so easy to ignore and so easy to dispose of and I just want to keep pressing forward for the thought of that girl. I can’t imagine who she is and I probably don’t know her but I want to make sure that I’m paving a path that at least is better than what it was for me. I can’t make it 100% better but I can move the needle on some of this shit.
Dara: I don’t have anything like that, I’m sure I have an altruistic answer somewhere in me but where I am right now is something that is not quite jealousy but akin to jealousy. I don’t begrudge people their success, I don’t want to take away from people. I want everybody’s life to be amazing, but when I look at people who are doing things and I can tell that they are truly fulfilled by that thing, I get that feeling of why not me? So that is a huge motivator for me, the drive to seek the fulfillment that I see in people around me and specifically people around me who are doing creative things and making it happen.
BGC: Why is it important for Black women to create?
Courtney: Oh God, we’re the life source. Why go through edit after edit and filter after filter after filter, why not just get it from the source? Remember when Jay Z said, we are culture, nothing moves without us, get more specific. It’s not just Black people it’s Black women. It’s young Black women that do it so we have to get closer to the source because we’ve been filtered. I think the #MeToo founder is the most fabulous example of that, we don’t need you to filter all the way to Alyssa Milano for us to receive this message, there was a Black woman who did this, so we good. TIME put everybody else and their mother, I don’t need the chaser. You know why they did that, to get all the little teeny bopper girls to ask their parents to buy the latest magazine because they can relate to it because that’s what they teach their young women what femininity looks like, meanwhile, historically, they’ve been sucking on black titties. That’s what it is and there is something wrong with that and let’s call it what it is. This is the reckoning, this is that time.
Dara: First, let me just say I obviously agree with everything Courtney just said and that is as my father would say the A+ answer. Now let me give you my B answer: getting our faces out there as voices worth listening to because we have deemed ourselves worthy of being heard is in and of itself a political act when there are so many forces fighting against that. Black voices and Black women's voices, queer Black women's voices, disabled Black women's voices, poor Black women's voices, they get shushed. We get quieted, we get told to wait, we get told that even inside those movements there are people holding on to these archaic values wherein it is more important to be silent so that we can prop up a man than to actually fight and speak about the need for our own rights. As long as every fucking year on my Twitter timeline tells me they’re celebrating because it’s the anniversary of when “women” got the right to vote without realizing, thinking, or caring that it was white women even though the movement was on the back of Black women, it’s still important for me to be out there and setting people straight. Again, the reaction being, “oh you know what we mean,” without any acknowledgement of the historical context. It’s like, “I do know what you mean, do you know what you mean,” because what you actually mean is that the default woman is white and the important woman is white therefore I say women. Another reason for why create is because I’m tired of saying the same shit over and over again, I want to send you to a link so I don’t have to.
BGC: How do you balance creating with the rest of your life?
Dara: The reality is, we’re very tired. I also think that time and the number of things that you have to do is like a gas into a room. I say this about my makeup too, how long does it take me to do my makeup, as long as I have. If I have 5 minutes, I can do that face in 5 minutes, if I have an hour, it takes me an hour. I’ve realized that how I approach my creative work is the same way. If I have three things to do in a day, it will take me all day to do those three things, if I add a fourth thing in there it's not, oh no I don’t have time to do this other thing, it’s now I’ll find time to get that fourth thing done. Not everybody is like that so this is not advice, it’s just an explanation.
Courtney: I think I am moving towards balancing. It is an exercise in telling myself to put my phone down, read a book, go take a walk or don’t rush through my meal. I am a very hard worker so my instinct is to continue working, I can push past the point of exhaustion because college taught me to do so. Recognizing that that’s not healthy and truly is not necessary (I’m going to put a little asterisk next to necessary because I don’t know what anyone else’s circumstances are but I know that I am now working in a way that I’m no longer working for free, I’m not working for less than I know I’m worth, because it is exhausting and I want to at the end of the day feel comfortable and give myself the things that replenish me). So I think I have had to be very adamant with myself and adamant with others in calling for a break and rest. I’m reclaiming my time! I’m reclaiming my time and my bank account balance, how about that?
BGC: Do you have any advice for new creators who are just starting out on their journey?
Courtney: This is the advice that I have followed for myself and have given to myself: just do it. I think a lot of people, even the most well intentioned can give feedback to the point of crippling an idea. Trying to come up with either the most original idea or the most different and there are just so many identical businesses. Whatever you want to make, it’s already been made so don’t focus so hard on making it so different or so unique just make the thing that you want to make. Trust that your taste is capable of reaching your audience. Do your homework, do your research, be smart in making these choices, but then have faith and push forward. Really consider the advice you receiving. The most well intentioned people will be content to keep you broke if it keeps you where they want you. People give advice from their limited scope, they don’t see your vision, they don’t see what you see. You have to get to a point where you trust your inner voice, that will be anyone’s guiding light in business.
Dara: My advice is three fold, the first is know yourself. It’s important to know yourself and know what you need to thrive. Part of that for me is to recognize that I’m living with major depression, I’m a naturally lower energy kind of person, I’ve got chronic pain, I’m a Spoonie. I have to draft off of someone else’s momentum in order to get the stuff I want out the door. So know yourself, I’ve told myself some hard truths, for this project especially I needed a partner who complimented me in the ways Courtney does. I feel like we are in sync in a way that is very opposite. That kind of swapping that we do in life stages and how we’re feeling, in all of the ways that I am sort of lacking creatively, I can rely on her instincts and expertise to pick up that slack for me and hopefully, I provide a similar service to her. I knew from the first January I spent in San Francisco and watched SF Sketchfest that I wanted to be apart of it and I didn’t know how. This summer I said to Courtney, I think we should do this application but in terms of actually doing the application, I needed her to do that because I just didn’t have it in me at that time. Fast forward and we’re going to be participating and it’s so exciting but if I was by myself that opportunity would have just slipped away from me because I wasn’t feeling well. So it’s just really important for me to have a partner who is compatible to me in a way that’s complimentary.
Courtney: There’s something in here for the people that are reading this, be patient with yourself. You are not on anyone’s schedule except your own.
BGC: Do you have any future projects that you’re thinking about working on?
Dara: We have still got five more episodes of interviews to come out for this season. We also have conversations with the two of us that we have yet to release. We do a segment on the show called Tea Time where we get together with the guests and have a drink and play a game. We’ve got a lot of content that’s ready to come out. We’re also going to be releasing an audio version sometime soon which will go out first to Patrons. On January 27th, we’re gonna be on that Sketchfest, hallelujah. So if you want to come see us interview Zeke Nicholson and Carl Tart, they're going to be our guests. They are amazing, incredible, improvisors who come from UCB (Upright Citizens Brigade), so come out and see us.
Courtney: We’re going to be hopefully doing another live event with a science comedy troupe in San Francisco. Just stay tuned and watch YouTube because I guarantee you need to binge watch.
BGC: Where can we find you?
Dara: Courtney manages all of our social media, she is literally amazing. I would be following Next Big Thing even if I weren’t on Next Big Thing so you should follow Next BIg Thing. It’s @nbttheshow on all of the things, and Facebook and YouTube. Visit us baby!
Courtney: We out here tryna function!