Zaire Love uses emotional impact of activist’s murder to complete M.F.A. thesis
How can someone you’ve never met be an inspiration? Just ask Zaire Love, who recently defended her thesis for a Master in Fine Arts in Documentary Expression.
For the University of Mississippi graduate student, the death of a musician in California influenced her work on a personal level in Mississippi.
Rapper, entrepreneur and activist Nipsey Hussle was murdered March 19, 2019 outside his place of business in Los Angeles. Though Love didn’t know him, his tragedy had a profound effect on her work.
“I was just strangely impacted by it, and a lot of people were, and we were just not understanding because we didn’t know this person, so why did we feel such an emotional pull?” said Love, a native of Memphis. “But that was the catalyst of me making that my thesis.”
The idea of what she wanted was already there: to make a short film talking to black men about their struggles, wants and desires. Her thesis film, “The Black Men I Know,” follows her uncle and her brother, whose neighborhood in Memphis introduced and inducted them into violence, incarceration and hustle.
It is a creative documentary using experimental elements to tell their story, examining how grief manifests itself as trauma. After Hussle died, she realized that instead of putting flowers on a loved one’s grave, she wanted to metaphorically give them their flowers now, so they could appreciate it.
“So, my film is twofold: one, to show the vulnerability of a different side of black men who society might look at a certain way; but two, giving them the opportunity to be their full, authentic selves,” Love said.
“That way, they can say, ‘I’m important enough to have this beautiful film made of me and it shows all of the sides to me. It is pushing me in a light that I would love to see myself in, and now I’m going to take steps in order to get there.'”
Love, who earned an undergraduate degree in theatre from Spelman College and a master’s in education from Houston Baptist University, said she has always enjoyed school and considers herself a “cool nerd.”
“Overall, my academic journey has been one that has taught me so much and has allowed me to do what I love to do: create,” she said.
Love, who also had a Crosstown Arts Residency in Memphis this semester, said she knew she wanted to be a part of the Ole Miss M.F.A. program at the Center for the Study of Southern Culture the moment she discovered it.
“Little did I know that Mississippi, the professors and students, and my own desire to tell stories would define my life’s work,” she said. “I’m thankful to everyone who supported and continues to support me, my ideas and my craft.
“It’s been an amazing ride, and I’m so blessed to be a part of such a wonderful community.”
Her inquisitive nature helps her tell stories on topics such as the men of the Eta Beta chapter of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity, or using her grandmother in the main role as a tree symbolizing black women with majesty and wisdom. In a 2019 TEDxUM talk, she compared Beyoncé with civil rights activist Fannie Lou Hamer, describing how both women embraced their race, class, gender and region as global icons while breaking down preconceived notions of their role in society.
Regardless of her subject matter, Love is someone to watch both now and in the future.
“I have a vision for myself and where that will take me,” she said. “I do want to be a Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou, Nina Simone-esque type of figure in the arts of everything that’s black and Southern.
“So, the singer, the writer, the filmmaker, the advocate, all wrapped in one, where when you say ‘Zaire Love,’ you understand my work centers around the black South, and it has made progress and impact. Not in an essence to become famous, but to uplift where I come from, and what has made me.”
By Rebecca Lauck Cleary/Center for the Study of Southern Culture