Los Angeles teen, 14-year-old Kaila Love Jones was nominated for an NAACP Image Award in the category of Outstanding Short Form (Animated). (Courtesy photo)

Fourteen year-old Los Angeles native Kalia Love Jones says she has always been a fan of former First Lady Michelle Obama. In an interview via email with the AFRO she stated, “ had been the first lady for the majority of my lifetime, so seeing somebody that graceful and intelligent, and a black woman meant so much to me. I had been following Michelle Obama for a while when I heard the speech online and it just spoke to me.”

The “speech” to which Jones refers, is the last official speech given by Michelle Obama as First Lady. Given in January  2017, at the annual White House celebration of school counselors from around the country, Obama’s comments pierced hearts, as the attitude of the then-incoming administration toward people of color, came into clearer focus.

It propelled Jones to make the animated film, “The Power of Hope,” nominated  this year for an NAACP Image Award in the Motion Picture category for Outstanding Short Form (Animated). “I knew we had a chance for the nomination but didn’t want to get my hopes up,” she stated. Ultimately, the award went to Netflix’s Canvas, but to be nominated was a tremendous achievement for the young filmmaker. 

The NAACP Image Awards honor accomplishments of people of color in the fields of television, music, literature, and film. It also recognizes individuals or groups who promote social justice through creative endeavors.

“The NAACP Image Awards is such a prestigious award and I was so nervous to check. The whole family gathered together around the laptop. When we saw my film was nominated I couldn’t believe it. I was in the same category as major players like Netflix and Pixar and I was just a 14 year old with a dream. That was so amazing.”

Jones, also an ardent music fan and an accomplished pianist and flutist, is the youngest person to ever earn this honor. She believes in the power of storytelling through film. “It’s a perfect way to really tap into the senses of the brain. You can convey so much emotion through imagery, music and tone. I think most of my films will be heavily infused with music.”

Among the things Mrs. Obama said in her landmark speech were, “Do not ever let anyone make you feel like you don’t matter, or like you don’t have a place in our American story.” Mrs. Obama went on, “It is our fundamental belief in the power of hope that has allowed us to rise above the voices of doubt and division, of anger and fear.” “If we work hard enough and believe in ourselves, we can be whatever we dream, regardless of the limitations that others may place on us.”

Stated Jones, “It just spoke to me and I wanted to share that feeling I had with an audience my age. I felt that making ‘The Power Of Hope’ was the best way. Making ‘The Power Of Hope’ in animation was just a natural choice. I felt people my age would embrace its message better.” 

Jones raised the money for the film herself through recycling and money from birthdays and holidays. “I didn’t have a huge budget so making my film taught me a lot about budgeting, negotiating and being creative.”

Although she believed in her final product, once the film was complete, she was somewhat hesitant to show her father, who she believes is her biggest champion. “When I finally felt like it was complete, we had a family premier viewing. That might have been the most nervous I’ve ever been. But the reaction I got from my dad was so positive, I really felt good about what I created.”

Jones who is a freshman at Golden Valley High School, shared that she has always wanted to do animation, “ I always knew animation was my calling.” With filmmakers like Ava DuVernay and Rebecca Sugar, and Studio Ghibli Hayao Miyazaki as her inspirations, she taught herself animation using YouTube tutorials, and experimenting for two years. “I’ll try to pick up different storytelling techniques by watching all of their films.”

Not surprisingly, she says her favorite actors are voice actors, but if she had the chance, she would like to work with Regina King (The Watchmen) or Storm Reid (Euphoria). As for other young girls aspiring to become animators, she recommends watching “‘Spirited Away’ or anything by Pixar.”

Understanding the power of an image and words to move people she says, “I want people to feel inspired when they see ‘The Power of Hope.’ I hope that they take away a message of courage and hope.