For the LA-based visual artist who goes by the moniker Child., working as a music video director was not in the offing. “I never was chasing anything. I just felt like I was kind of just moving, like the water,” the Grammy-nominated creative tells ESSENCE.
Generally speaking, the entertainment industry is highly superficial—a space where advancement is oftentimes based on clout and style is praised over substance. And Child. isn’t the least bit ostentatious. Rather, they want to be anonymous. This is evidenced by the director’s Instagram grid which features only a smattering of photos (some of which reflect their projects) and, notably, no celeb-selfies, despite their access to and constant interaction with A-listers. And their decision to not include themselves in a credit sequence of their own work.
Aside from the artist’s aversion to the entertainment industry itself, their decision to exist within the shadows is, in part, fueled by fear. “I have this thing in my mind over and over again that I’m not supposed to be here. So if I’m not here and present, you’ll never know that I’m here. So I will never miss it if I’m never there.”
Notwithstanding the bouts of imposter syndrome, the director also chooses anonymity because they want their body of work to speak for itself. The self-described “visual painter,” who spoke via Zoom without the camera on, even admits to having taken on projects where the performers have never seen their face. Child. believes they are able to go unseen to some artists, because of a relationship based in trust.
“Honestly, it goes back to my religion,” says Child., who is Southern Baptist. “A lot of people believe in God, a lot of people believe in a lot of things. And that doesn’t mean you physically have seen it. And to me, that’s the highest level of trust, to believe in something that you’ll never see.” Child.’s decision to be professionally anonymous is risky, and perhaps even foolhardy, but it paid off. They are now a highly sought after director who is thriving despite not having any formal film training.
“I’m a YouTube baby!” the artist says emphatically. “And honestly, I tell anybody, the best lesson or the best knowledge you can learn is really life.” For Child., life began in Shreveport, Louisiana—a small town that in the 2020 Census reported under 200,000 inhabitants. Child. was reared in a church-going family, with their father, uncles and great grandfather all serving as pastors. Child. then left Louisiana to attend Clark Atlanta University, where they studied in hopes of becoming a doctor. But that dream came to a halt around 2012. Child. dropped out of college and began photographing artists while they were on tour.
If medicine and video production seem like two dissimilar spheres, it is because they are. But, Child. sees a connection between the two. “Sometimes doctors help. Sometimes you give people life again or you help them out or you make them feel something. You know, you try to fix them when they have pain,” says the director empathetically. “I feel like that’s what I do as a painter. I want people to feel.” This sentiment makes sense, especially considering the artist chose the moniker “Child” because they wanted to create with a sense of innocence and honesty.
“I’m not saying I want to make people whole, but I want them to feel something after they watch whatever I present.”
The behind-the-scenes photography with various artists continued until 2018 when a friend, BJ The Chicago Kid, invited Child. to direct his music video The Opening Ceremony. From there, Child.’s career as a director took off. Today, the artist’s repertoire includes a quite impressive client-list, such as H.E.R., Future, Post Malone, Chris Brown, Nas and Willow Smith. But it was Child.’s work on Doja Cat’s “Woman” that scored their first Grammy nomination in the Best Music Video category. Child. reminiscences on the moment they got the news, “I remember I was on the phone with Spectrum trying to set up my internet and then I heard it on TV and I remember looking at my girlfriend like, ‘What the hell?!’”
If one takes a look at the visual painter’s work—specifically their ability to create worlds through art—then this nod would come as no surprise. Child.’s music videos (which they like to refer to as “paintings”) are stunning. Their creative process begins with a conversation with the musical artist—getting an idea of their vision for the video. Then Child. locks themselves away to ideate, looking to the past for inspiration. “I watch all the videos that we loved back in the day, like all your TRL favorites or 106 & Park favorites. I try to replicate or find a way to chase that feeling that we have when we watch those videos.”
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With “Woman” it doesn’t take long before a savvy viewer notices that the video pays homage to Michael Jackson’s “Remember the Time,” which was directed by the late John Singleton. From Doja’s mysterious shape-shifting into sand, or the video’s setting in Ancient Egypt, the nostalgic touches are evident throughout. But, Child. says that “Woman’s” connection to the “Remember the Time” music video is much deeper than audiences might gather.
“Michael is always known for great, amazing videos. But when they were trying to get that video made, you know, I heard they went out to other directors, your white directors. Michael, being the great person he is, was like, ‘Look, I’m gonna get a Black director, I’m gonna get an all-Black cast, and we’re going to do this shit’.”
The “Woman” music video is a fantastical and transfixing piece of work. According to Child., there was absolutely no greenscreen used in its creation. All of the sets were built, which the director mentioned is a rarity today. The costumes, gems and adornments were meticulously chosen and some even flown in for the shoot. A Grammy award is the pinnacle of praise for music videos, and “Woman” is certainly worthy of the recognition. This year Child. faces steep competition, squaring-off against Adele‘s “Easy On Me,” BTS‘ “Yet To Come (The Most Beautiful Moment), Kendrick Lamar‘s “The Heart Part 5,” Harry Styles‘ “As It Was,” and Taylor Swift‘s “All Too Well: The Short Film.”
Child. mentions nothing of the competition on what could be the most consequential night of their career, thus far. Rather, the director has a sense of ease. The humble visual painter remains present and grounded throughout our conversation—sounding slightly amazed by their tremendous accomplishments.
“For me, it means my graduation,” Child. says reflecting on their Grammy nomination. “In so many words, it’s my reassurance, it’s my certificate. It’s my valedictorian stripe that you put on your cap and gown. It’s the trophy that Michael Jordan held in the locker room when he was crying after his father died. It’s the reason why I feel like God put me here. I don’t know, it’s just peace. It brings a sense of peace over me.”