Her Name Is Naila Saphia And You Better Remember Her Name!

Naila Saphia is definitely one of the young creatives from the DMV area you should all be looking out for this year. Young and full of fresh ideas, she is already a powerful force to be reckoned with. Naila is well versed in the fields of acting, writing, photography and filmmaking and is passionate about creating art that deals with social and political issues. For instance, one of her most recent works is the outstanding documentary “Black Latinas Exist!” – an insightful and necessary film that explores the experiences and identities of young Afro Latinas and the issues they face. In this interview we discuss identity, art creation as a growing process, and her plans for the future, among other topics.

Tell us about yourself and what you do.

I am Naila, I am a senior in high school and I am from D.C. I am Mexican and African American. My mother is Mexican and African American. However, she was raised Muslim so my family speaks English, Spanish and Arabic. I am a performer first, but I am starting to dabble in photography and filmmaking.

You recently released “Black Latinas Exist!” which is a documentary that showcases Afro Latinas and tackles issues such as anti-black racism and colorism within the Latinx community. How did the documentary come to be? Did your own experiences inform this project? How so?

Black Latinas Exist came out of my frustration and exhaustion of always having to be the “mystery girl,” the girl that you couldn’t quite categorize. I feel like throughout my whole life I’ve been sitting in a pile of questions like “where are you from,” “why does your hair/skin/etc look like this,” “do you speak English,” “why does your family look like this,” and of course when I answered these questions, people didn’t believe me. They thought that I was a liar and that whatever box they put me in when they first saw me was the truth (eg. Ethiopian, Puerto Rican, Mullato, Dominican etc). This was especially hard considering I grew up in the world of dance and theatre and in these two mediums what you look like plays a very big role in what you are casted as. I noticed that I was getting very few roles that were race based. This had nothing to do with my ability; it was just the fact that I was so racially ambiguous. I was too light, my features were not stereotypical enough and my hair was too long/my curls were too loose to be black and my skin was too dark, my hair was too kinky, my features were too wide to be Latina. Since I am very into art that speaks on social and political issues, I was almost heartbroken that I was never cast in parts like that. I wondered what my purpose was in art if I could never speak out about things that were close to me and in that distance from art I realized that is the very reason why I should create. With my documentary I wanted to bring awareness, teach and produce an outlet where more people like me could speak out.

Screenshot from “Black Latinas Exist!”

Screenshot from “Black Latinas Exist!”

You’re an actress, writer, filmmaker and photographer. What do you aim to achieve through creating art? 

There is a quote by Cezar Cruz that says, “I want to comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.” That’s what I want to do and I feel like it couldn’t have been said any better than that. I want to leave behind work that is relatable and gives insight. Personally, a goal that I want to achieve through art is to grow. I want to get better at what I do but most importantly be in a space where I am listening, experiencing and learning. I feel like that is the most important part of the creative process that most artists take for granted. Art isn’t a race it’s a craft, your work will grow as you are listening/experiencing/growing and we will all move at a different pace considering we are all on different creative journeys.

Who are the women artists of color inspiring you at the moment? 

My biggest inspiration is nature, outside is where I thrive the most artistically. Also just life, everything that is in the world around me influences my work. As far as like famous artists, I’ve really been into Maree Wong and Yagazie Emezi. I like how Maree blends Chinese culture, tradition with the new age and how her pieces are constantly speaking on the issues of womanism. I admire Yagazie’s work because of how much her island influences her work. I am also inspired by all of my friends’ work and their minds.



What are your plans for 2016? Do you have any upcoming projects?

I am looking into expanding “Black Latinas Exist” but I’m still figuring out what medium I would like to build on. I’m also working on a variety of different short films and shoots. Right now I am working on a video for a show called born woman (was shown on March 22 at The Kennedy Center). In addition to that I am working on a shoot that will be portraying Adam and Eve with the representation of the LGBTQ+ community and POC. Overall, I just plan on creating.

You’re still a high school student but already have a lot going on. Where do you see yourself in 10 years? 

Well, I feel like I am constantly changing and evolving and meanwhile so is my future. I’m not really sure where I will end up in 10 years but what I do know is that I will be creating, wherever I am. The farthest into the future that I can tell you is that in the fall I will be attending a school in New York (I haven’t decided which, yet) and studying film after that, the rest will be a surprise!

To see more of Naila and her work, check out her youtube channel and her ig account @mellowdomingo.

Written by Mari Santa Cruz | All photos belong to Naila Saphia