AWD Member Lagueria Davis is originally from Fort Worth, Texas. Lagueria grew up in a household where her dreams had to be practical, which is how she found herself at the University of Oklahoma double majoring in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. Three years and three internships later, her need to create consumed her, and she left the engineering program and landed in the School of Art.
After graduating with a BFA in Media Art, she worked in production until landing a Writers PA position on season two of The L Word: Generation Q. After wrapping The L Word, she was selected to participate in the Mentorship Matters Program. She was also hired as the Director’s Shadow on Season three of The L Word: Generation Q, where she shadowed five directors across all ten episodes. Lagueria has several feature specs and four original pilots under her belt, was a 2016 Academy Nicholl Quarterfinalist, and is a four-time Austin Film Festival Second Rounder.
Currently, Davis resides in LA where she’s on AWD’s Emeritus Board. AWD spoke with Lagueria about her first feature documentary, Black Barbie: A Documentary, premiering at the 2023 SXSW film festival, her career aspirations, as well as her recent accomplishments and upcoming projects.
AWD: When you first joined AWD you jumped right into volunteering, which led you to serve two terms on the Board of Directors, and now serve as an Emeritus Board member. Why was it important to you to get involved? Why are you passionate about AWD’s mission?
LD: When I first joined, I attended meetings and listened to the members, who voiced that they were wanting a change in programming across all organizations dedicated to serving women-identifying directors. That’s when Emily Dell approached me about joining the board as her pro tem. I was hesitant at first, because I was a new member and didn’t know much about the organization. However, when I went to my first board meeting, I realized that a black, queer woman like myself was a voice that was needed at the AWD Board member table. So, I decided to join the board and set out to bring about some of the changes in programming the members were asking for. Also, it was important to me that we really took means to make AWD as inclusive as the mission statement boasts.
You have a variety of completed projects ranging from shorts and TV to your new documentary feature, Black Barbie: A Documentary. How does your process and directing style change between such different formats? Is there a format that excites you more than the others?
It all excites me! Each format requires a different creative approach. Working primarily in scripted narrative prepared me for the challenges I faced in directing my first feature documentary. Directing scripted content, the script is your blueprint and is oftentimes rarely deviated from. Within that blueprint, as the director, I’m drawing upon what I know of the cinematic language in order to visually tell the story. With documentaries, you don’t have a blueprint so to speak. I had a 10-page treatment, but had to be open to letting the story grow organically and chase leads as they were presented by interviewees. In between shoots, I spent time watching the dailies and reading transcripts, building out a more extensive list of people to interview and researching new developments. Working through post on the documentary posed its own challenges in what is known as, “finding the story” and pulling it together in a way that is cohesive, entertaining, and thought-provoking. With that being the case, I found that my background in scripted truly did inform my approach to making the documentary and I can’t wait for the film to find its audience.
You started college by double majoring in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science before moving into filmmaking. What inspired you to get into directing? What were your takeaways from directing your first project? Are you able to apply some of your science background to the technical aspects of directing? Are there personality traits that you possess that benefited you in both fields?
Yes, that’s correct! I spent three years with that double major. I would write scripts in whatever spare time I had and loved everything about the process. The more I wrote, the more I could visually see the film leap right off the page and that was an exciting new part of the creative process that inspired me to get into directing. I directed an indie scripted feature, it wasn’t a shoestring budget, but more like a flip-flop budget, 1 in 3, that can’t really be found anywhere. The most valuable takeaway I had from making that project was, you can’t fix everything in post– that approach was a nightmare. Never again– hahaha. Also, the best takeaway from making that film was that you don’t need a budget to make an impact. Heart and an amazing team who believes in the film can go a long way.
What surprised me about changing my major to media art was how technical filmmaking is. Having an engineering background, I was not intimidated by the technical elements of filmmaking. It was the opposite actually, I was excited to be able to apply what I’d learned as an engineer to the craft of filmmaking. As we know, building out a career in the creative lane as a filmmaker can be somewhat elusive, but I was able to work in production for many years as a Line Producer and Production Manager. I found that my background had prepared me to be able to tap into both the left and right side of my brain, drawing on creative ways to manage budgets that can also align with the creative. It’s a great marriage of sorts, because I’m ultra creative and I also know the ins and outs of production that can yield a finished product. Having both the creative and the analytical/logistical personality traits have been extremely helpful navigating both fields.
Your documentary, Black Barbie: A Documentary, is premiering at SXSW this year – congratulations! How did this project come about? Please tell us about the development process.
Oh wow, what a question! It took a village. So many voices, supporters, and advocates helped get this film made. I don’t even know where to start with this question really.
When I started the project back in 2011, I had no idea how to write, let alone make a documentary. I found the process to be very different from what it means to write and make a scripted project. Ultimately the project went through many different iterations in the 12 years that it took to get us to this point of premiering at SXSW. After each meeting we had with gatekeepers who couldn’t understand how a story about the first Black Barbie related to navigating the world as a Black woman, I would rewrite my treatment. It seemed that no matter how I spelled it out, the gatekeepers still couldn’t find the value or the ability to relate. Therein lies the problem, right? The gatekeepers can’t relate which means the rest of the world can’t relate and therefore the project should not be made. Wash, rinse, repeat.
Ultimately, I stood firm in the story I wanted to tell. So, by the time 2020 rolled around we had a strong 10-page treatment, an amazing pitch deck, and a fun, engaging sizzle. Unfortunately, the ALL of 2020 brought about a relevance for the project and suddenly, Black Barbie’s story was important. I still feel some kind of way about it taking the trauma of 2020 for the project to find its wings. Be that as it may, I can’t wait to see how far the “little project that could” is going to fly once it’s released.
Did you find that the themes and/or message changed as you developed the film?
I don’t feel that the themes/message changed, but how they’re delivered changed, which I feel is the nature of documentaries. It’s an entertaining and at times hysterical look at a global brand from a different perspective. It’s a wholly unique lens in which to deconstruct Barbie and what it means to deconstruct it as a Black woman.
What has been most challenging and most surprising about the journey of bringing Black Barbie to the screen?
Hands down, the most challenging part of the journey is of course getting it made and now getting it out there. We’re still met with gatekeepers who feel they’re the “target audience” and because they feel a certain uncomfortableness with the content, then audiences as a whole will feel similarly. Of course, these gatekeepers are not the target audience and some tough conversations have had to take place in order to get them to just get out of the way and realize that not everything needs to be about them or be something that is relatable for them. Ironically, though they’re not the target audience they are the ones who stand to learn the most by watching the film.
So far, I’m really surprised that this journey has brought me to be in company with and working alongside so many amazing likeminded, passionate people. And now sharing this project with them is just as special as having the opportunity to make the project. Also, sharing it with my family at SXSW in Austin and being from Texas… it’s all just so heartwarming.
What impact do you hope this film has on audiences and society in general?
Another big question. I feel that the film is layered and nuanced and there are many impactful tidbits the audience can walk away with. It is my hope that the audience enjoys the journey and experience of watching the film and will be inclined to engage in discourse about what they took away from the film.
As for society, that’s very broad, but I hope that by gazing at Barbie through the lens of Black women, that the gatekeepers have a better sense of–and find a way to relate to–what it means for people of color to navigate white spaces. We’re living in a time where the master narrators are really trying to prevent stories about marginalized communities by members of those marginalized communities from being told. They want to continue to control the narrative, because they are scared of what we have to say and how it will affect their position of power. They’re scared of what they will have to face in the social mirror if they can’t control the narrative.
Big or small our stories deserve to be told in a way that isn’t always palatable to the master narrators. Oftentimes stories told about us that are supposed to be for us are not told by us. In those stories we are perceived in a way that doesn’t authentically understand the nuance of our lived experience. It’s important that we are able to share our own stories based on our lived experience while at the same time embracing diversity of thought, because we as a people are not a monolith. Doing this shifts our stories out of the master narrator’s gaze and how they perceive us, and this shift is just one step of many that can push the needle towards the progress we need in order to see the change we seek.
What are your goals for the next phase of your career? Can you share with us what you have coming up next?
Absolutely! Of course, seeing where Black Barbie: A Documentary lands after its festival run is first up.
Next up, I’ve had the opportunity to work on Season 2 and 3 of Showtime’s (RIP) The L Word: Generation Q. Season 2, I was in the writers room as the PA and was able to do a bit of writing. Season 3, I was the director’s shadow and was able to do a bit of directing for marketing and b-roll. We’re awaiting news of renewal for Season 4 in which I’ll have an opportunity to work in a more definitive creative role, which is very exciting.
Also, in development on a scripted feature that I’m so pumped about. It’s a great story that centers on Black lesbians and that’s all I can say about it at the moment, but the project could be what I find myself directing next as I explore directing for episodic television.