The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

SHE IS NOT THE NORM: A young filmmaker’s journey to success

Reginald Compton
Perry filming an actor on the set of “Zuri” in 2023.

It was a slow day in the Meadows Admissions office, and Zariyah Perry was reading on a couch in a cozy back office to pass the time.

Laughter filled the office lobby between the banter of close-knit admissions staff and student ambassadors.

“Working here has definitely been a highlight of my freshman year,” Perry said. “We banter and tease each other, but I literally don’t have a day working here without laughing.”

With a smile as big as her afro and fun-sized candies in hand, she eagerly converses with her bosses and co-workers who pass through. In her first semester, the office has become a home on campus for her.

Perry is like any other first-year college student learning to navigate the newest stage in her life, but she is also an accomplished filmmaker. With three short films under her belt and a recent airing on PBS station KERA, she is working hard to make her dreams come true.

Perry is a film major from Dallas and the product of a creative family. Her mother, an actress, inspired her to explore the arts. She pursued visual art, dancing, and acting throughout her upbringing. During her sophomore year at Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing and Visual Arts, she fell in love with her greatest passion, filmmaking.

“I had always grown up with my mom saying to have a job, a hustle, and a passion,” Perry said. “Art was my hustle.”

After selling some of her art at the Dallas Farmers Market, Perry bought her first camera and created her first short film, “I AM NOT THE NORM.” The film is an experimental documentary that celebrates the individuality of Black women and their love for each other. It won awards at film festivals around the country and aired on KERA’s “Frame of Mind” last month. The show spotlights the films of independent filmmakers around Texas.

Ryan Cole, Assistant Dean for Recruitment and Admission for Meadows, said the admissions office was excited to hear about Perry’s significant achievement.

“We were some of the first ones to hear it here at SMU,” Cole said. “We were like ‘You have to tell people about this!’”

Cole, Perry’s boss, met her during an admitted student event in the spring of 2023 and noticed how invested she was in her college search.

“She was very inquisitive and very serious,” Cole said. “She was very focused on figuring out where she wanted to be and what SMU had to offer.”

On the first week of school, Perry walked into the admissions office to say hello and was immediately offered a job as a Student Ambassador to represent the film department.

“In our offices and the Meadows community, she’s already made a name for herself,” Cole said. “She wants to connect with people and know them, so that’s just going to grow more and more.”

Zariyah Perry schedules the day ahead of her while at work in the Meadows Admissions Office. (Melanie Jackson)

During the TV debut of the film, Perry shared the moment with her mother in their living room. They enjoyed seeing her name shine across the screen.

“I am so grateful that this film has gotten attention again,” Perry said. “Sophomore year me did that.”

Perry continued using her talents to bring meaningful stories to the screen and directed “New Chick” in 2022 and “Zuri” in 2023. The most meaningful film to herself is Zuri, a personal narrative based on Perry’s experience with hearing loss in the sixth grade.

“It makes my heart smile every time I watch it,” Perry said.

Zuri tells the story of a young girl dealing with the unique challenge of hearing loss and finding self-confidence through her new secret superpower, hearing aids. Zuri is guided by her mother, played by Perry’s actual mother, to embrace her differences.

“It was fun, and we had fun together,” Perry said.

When Perry was in first grade, she suddenly woke up to excruciating pain in her ear.

“To this day, it’s the worst pain I’ve ever been in,” Perry said.

Her eardrum ruptured, and she underwent surgery to relieve her pain. Years later, her hearing worsened, and a hearing test determined she needed hearing aids.

“I was kind of upset about it because I was already getting teased and stuff, just for being a little extroverted,” Perry said.

Embarrassed by wearing hearing aids at such a young age, Perry wore her hair straightened to hide her ears. When one of her hearing aids fell out of place in class, she asked her teacher if she could go to the nurse. The teacher interrogated her in front of the class, and Perry was left to expose her secret. The room erupted with laughter, and she left in tears.

“I am grateful in a sense for that moment because one day it just clicked,” Perry said. “I was like ‘I’m going to wear my hair up’, so I started wearing my fro again, I started wearing my hair up.”

Perry created the film to spotlight the hearing-impaired community. She shared the full circle moment of an embrace with a friend who also wears hearing aids. After watching the film, the friend started crying and expressed her appreciation for the representation.

“As much as it is for everyone, it is supposed to be a moment of appreciation, a moment of notice, to hearing impaired people, especially children,” Perry said.

After a long day of classes and work, she gets in her beige Jeep Renegade named Regina, after actress Regina King.

“I’m going to work with her one day,” Perry said. “I think she would be a great mentor for me.”

Jazz music plays softly in the background as Perry drives across 75 to SMU’s Aquatics Center to cheer on a friend competing in a swim meet. She unwinds from a hectic day while cheering for the swimmers and singing along to Drake.

“For me, winding down and having fun or relaxing is the time I get to spend with my friends,” Perry said. “I’ve definitely tried to get better at that.”

Perry’s ambition continues to guide her to exciting new projects and career planning. She is in the process of producing a suspense short film and a fantasy short film that she will inevitably use to make a feature-length film.

“I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing,” Perry said. “I’m going to keep making films, doing internships, reaching out, trying to wiggle my way into those rooms.”

She even has the goal of winning an Academy Award and attending the 100th-anniversary ceremony in 2028.

“Is it a little unrealistic? Maybe,” Perry said. “You never know what can happen in one month, one day, one moment.”

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