Damien D. Smith is an award-winning writer/director and established actor. You can catch him showing off his acting chops in projects like USA’s The Purge, FX’s SnowFall and more. However, his passion lies behind the camera in telling powerful stories. “Whenever I would travel, I realized black men are viewed as hyper violent and super masculine and it’s because that’s the media and entertainment being pushed out to the world,” says Damien. In order to change this narrative, he began creating his own films that centered around themes like fatherhood, mental health, and social advocacy. His goal is to create art that inspires and provokes change. The most recent is a documentary called, Target: St. Louis Volume 1, it centers on the chemical testing that took place in Northern St. Louis leaving many African Americans victims of sickness and birth defects.
Years ago, Damien and his grandmother had a tradition of sending each other letters which always included an interesting article to spark conversation. Well one day, she sent a clipping detailing the chemical testing that took place in their hometown and mentioned she could have been affected. Naturally, he dug into research and began to speak with members of the community. Soon two things became very apparent, it was 100% true, and the poverty-stricken area was targeted.
In the 1950’s and 60’s government contractors released a chemical compound in the Northern St. Louis area to test as potential warfare. The chemical spray was released into residential areas, and communities were not told of it’s true intention. “One of the biggest issues is that there was no follow-up.” Years later many people including personal members of his family became very ill and suffered birth defects. “When I speak to our elders about it, and you listen to the tone of how we were treated and how we’ve been treated, it resonates with you. Many people thought it was strange back then, but it’s kind of like racism. We know it exists but it’s not tangible, it’s hard to prove. Today, some of these individuals are now victims. Some of the people who interviewed in the documentary, have since passed also.”
The purpose behind Damien creating this film is to spread awareness. “I want people to know they’re not crazy. This happened and they targeted you. Also, I want there to be a call to action, protections need to be put into place. ” People like former Senator Maria Chapelle-Nadal have spoken on the severity of this issue. There was even a class action lawsuit where the government indemnified themselves. Through Target: St. Louis Vol. 1 Damien hopes to make St. Louis whole again. Today, especially in the trying times that we’re in, it’s important that we all care for each other. “We have to protect the humanity of people. No population should be under those mental constraints and level of fear.”