Student filmmaker aims to amplify black voices

Collyn Burke

Ukairo Ukairo strives to be cinema’s next major black talent, but he isn’t like Steve McQueen, Spike Lee or Sidney Poitier. His main focus isn’t the attention his skills can get him, but how he can use those skills to serve the underrepresented group he’s most invested in: the black community at UT. 

Ukairo, who is originally from Nigeria, was the cinematographer behind recent viral videos “UT-Austin Durag Day” and “Arthur.”

“Honestly it’s not encouraging for me to be in a classroom where you’re the only one that looks like you,” Ukairo said.

According to a report by the University of Texas at Austin, there were only 12 black males out of 1,225 students in the Moody College of Communications pursuing bachelor’s degrees in the 2016–2017 school year. 

“I assumed there were others and I just wasn’t running into them,” Ukairo said. “One day I was in class and I looked around me, and I don’t remember what screening we were watching, but I looked around me, and I realized that I was the only black male in the class of 2019.”

Although there are few black men in RTF at UT, Ukairo said there is a strong network among them. Moyo Oyelola, a UT alumnus who has acted as Ukairo’s mentor, said for black men in the evolving film industry, there’s a lot to be passed down. 

“We talk about image, perception, culture, value and the future,” Oyelola said. “We’re in a position of being storytellers and amplifying our culture and the imagery of black males and black people in general.”

Ukairo decided his junior year would be the year he would get more involved, not only in film but also in the black community. In late October, he managed to make both those things happen by documenting “UT-Austin Durag Day,” a day in which students wore their durags and bonnets in a celebration of black culture. The video, which Ukairo refers to as “a love note to black people,” was reposted by the BET Twitter account within four hours of publication.

“That was my first experience seeing something go viral because I’m not on Twitter usually,” Ukairo said. “It just kept going and going, and I was like, ‘What are you guys doing? It’s just a video,’ but people were, like, losing their minds.”

A little over a week later, Ukairo went viral again with his trailer for an “edgy” re-imagining of the children’s cartoon “Arthur.” According to UT alumnus and fellow filmmaker Uche Aguh, Ukairo’s skill as a filmmaker and his general kindness will allow him to go far in the industry.

“His vision, it’s spectacular,” Aguh said. “I don’t want to say the next anything, cause I hate when people say that. He is Ukairo, he is the next Ukairo. He’s just a phenomenal filmmaker who is just apt and knowledgeable. I just know that he’s gonna go a long way.”

According to Ukairo, he was just in the right place at the right time when it came to the “Durag Day” video and feels very grateful for the positive reaction to his work. Ukairo said that during the day of the video, he had been thinking about the connection between creativity and service and now looks forward to using his skills to benefit the black community. 

“It’s left me feeling like I need to collaborate more with black creative people and serve that community,” Ukairo said. “Hollywood is not set up to give minority communities exposure, and that’s fine, so what do you do about it? You make your own content.”