"I have just been myself from the beginning" - Establishing Your Voice with Akilah Hughes

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Akilah Hughes grew up in a small town in Kentucky and is now based in New York. Not only does she create content for YouTube, but she is also a learning how to perfect the craft of comedy while maintaining her own voice.

We talked to Hughes about her move to New York, protecting ideas online, and goals with her career.

What was it like moving to the big city and was that a goal of yours?

Moving to New York was and is the craziest thing I’ve ever done. I love it here, but there was definitely a period of culture shock. People tend to be far more open with their feelings in the city than in the suburbs. I think it’s honestly because there’s a lack of time and we’re spending so much money just to live here we might as well get everything else out in the open too. I always knew I wanted to move somewhere bigger, but New York wasn’t always the end goal. It wasn’t until I read Mindy Kaling’s first book that I thought “huh, I think that’s where I want to make it.”

What is your biggest challenge when it comes to shuffling between writing for various platforms?

My biggest challenge is always finding the time to get good at all of this stuff. The internet has made all of our attention spans so short, so even making short form content online–it’s like the glamour and celebration of work is also cut so short. For TV writing and a book it takes a lot longer, but it seems like people also let you live for a little longer too. Like we binge Stranger Things in a night and give those writers and stars a full year until the next season comes out to be celebrated for it. The internet is like “oh, this video got 10 million views? Well what are you putting out today?” It makes sense, but I also tend to be really hard on myself about doing everything perfectly.

Among the ever growing number of creators online and the consumption of content, it can often prove to be difficult for creators to find their voice. How did you establish your unique voice?

The truth is I was lucky to not think about it too deeply when I got started. I knew what I wanted to say and I knew no one was covering things the way I wanted to, so I have just been myself from the beginning. It’s just that after making hundreds of videos you know how to talk or write for an edit, and so you learn to fit more of yourself into shorter time frames.

Three years ago you created a video about intersectionality in feminism as told through pizza. Three years later, do you think we are in a better position in understanding that concept than when you first created that video?

I do think people are getting it now. It’s hard to speak to because when you are a black woman it’s inherent. No one had to teach me that my life was different than white women and painting us all with that brush wouldn’t necessarily address the unique problems I’ve faced, but I think now that movies and TV are really getting diversity right and telling a variety of stories, it’s clear to audiences when creators actually value the audiences they are writing for and about.

As a creator, your ideas play a significant role in your work, but sometimes, larger companies may take credit for ideas as their own. What actions do you take to protect your ideas?

Ha, I know what you mean. At this point in my career I’ve had to sue another individual for reposting my work as his own. I’ve also had to drag huge, billion dollar companies on the internet for capitalizing on the ideas of others. Personally I try to watermark and make things that feel so original that people will recognize a bad attempt. What we’re really talking about is small business versus big business. Is a big business stealing the hard work of someone smaller? Then we need to call that out. Even if every day people don’t get that writing or shooting or editing is a job that demands pay, they can at least understand like a local coffee shop creating a pastry and having it mass-produced at a worse quality at a bigger store stings and takes money out of their wallet. I know that big art unions like SAG and WGA are actively trying to protect those of us creating online versus old media.

You host a show on your channel called “This Shouldn’t Be News.” What inspired you to create this series?

It’s my favorite thing I’ve ever made. The inspiration was simple, I was tweeting until I was blue in the face about the inaccurate or backwards way that news was being covered. I think journalists have maybe the most important job in our society, but it’s an institution that is old, and sometimes old traditions of racism, or erasure, or whataboutism sneaks in and becomes the news. So my goal was just to say, “hey, this news story isn’t the whole story, let’s dig a little deeper.” I’d love to bring the show back, maybe with a sponsor this time because I funded all of the shoots and crew and editing out of pocket for the first season. I just have to make time with all of these other big projects I’m currently working on.

What are your goals with your career moving forward?

All of my goals are in-progress at this point. I’m finishing my first book of essays, I’m writing and starring in a scripted web series for Comedy Central, and I’m developing some cool stuff with 368 and Crooked Media. I guess my goal is to just continue to hang with the cool kids and make dope sh*t.

Janine Maral is lifestyle photographer and culture writer. When Janine’s not writing, she’s planning her next trip, listening to a podcast, or making guacamole.

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