If you don’t know Dominique Barrett, a.k.a. King Vader, it’s time that you got yourself acquainted. The Chicago-born, Maryland-raised content creator has come a long way from his rise to internet fame via Vine, before the shuttering of the platform pushed him to relocate to YouTube. Over the years, Vader has amassed a following in the millions because of his wildly popular anime parodies.
Depending on who you ask, Vader is the new King of YouTube and it’s hard to see why not when his channel has upwards of 166.7 million views and counting. His work has been recognized by the likes of Funimation and CrunchyRoll. Not to mention Vader writes, edits, produces and directs a vast majority of his channel content with his production team, Wolf Graphic.
Vader has now set his sights on a new challenge: conquering Hollywood, and he’s making pretty good headway. In late February, Comedy Central flew him out to New York where he took over the network’s Originals YouTube channel for a week, dropping several idiosyncratic sketches, like debating the merits of Marvel vs. DC. That same month, Vader premiered his idea for a Matrix continuation, The Matrix: Reborn, at a theater in Queens, New York. “A lot of people don’t know that Will Smith was going to be Neo originally. That was powerful to me. Will Smith as Neo? That would’ve been crazy,” he explained of his reasoning to try his hand at progressing one of science fiction’s most revered IPs.
Speaking over the phone, Vader shared that he’s starting to get some looks from filmmakers in Hollywood as well. “I just got off the call with this director the other day and he really feels like I’m the face of the youth. We’re working on some stuff right now and I’m actually training for this role,” he said from the other end of the line. “It’s going to be a great year and stepping stone for 2020.”
But to shift culture, you must be willing to color outside of the lines --- a prospect that Vader is all too familiar with. BET spoke to King Vader about his collaboration with Comedy Central, his goals, and what he hopes to accomplish before he turns 25.
King Vader: My favorite thing was just seeing what goes on behind the set of Comedy Central. I’m always absorbing information and while I am there, I’m learning stuff to apply to my own set, how I want to direct videos, or how I want to do this [production-wise]. It just kind of gave me a dope professional look on things. I’m really excited for it [to drop]. We did a lot of cool, special effects with a green screen. The way the special effects look got me excited for this one skit in particular. I don’t want to get too deep in it, but I will say the skit is based off a beloved, fan-favorite skit of mine called the Retired Super Villain...It was amazing to really be on the green screen and actually blow away people that you’re chasing. I don’t do a lot of fight scenes, but I will be incorporating more fight choreography this year. So, I will be showing people a glimpse of the action King Vader will be doing one day.
KV: I’m very inspired by the things that I just grew up with as a kid. I watched a lot of Marvel movies and played a lot of video games. These are things that I love. But when it comes to film and making videos, I was like I’mma grab inspiration from things that kind of molded me as a person. That’s how I kind of followed my own path. I’ve always been a huge fan of music and hip-hop culture. It just felt so natural to combine the two into its own genre, you know? It’s been a very interesting path.
KV: Taking some of my favorite inspirations from the most iconic characters I believed in from anime and film, I’ve honestly given [them] a new face. The reason I’m doing this is because I feel like we live in a world that’s very ‘You have to see it to believe it’ and that goes deeper. Like [Barack] Obama becoming the first Black president. For that to happen, that’s something that really changed a lot of young kid’s minds. They looked at that man and then told themselves, ‘Damn, I can be the president one day.’ We get inspired by superheroes and some of the strongest superheroes in this world are white. We got Superman. He’s literally the strongest hero there is. We don’t have a lot of Black, powerful inspirational figures so when I see someone like Naruto, [My Hero Academia’s] Deku, Superman or Ironman, I feel like placing that culture on them can make some young kid say ‘Damn, I can be like that one day. I can be an idea.’ It’s kind of like pushing that message on people.
There’s always been a lot of YouTubers or content creators who did things like ‘hood versions.’ I saw how they were doing it and kind of wanted to attack it in a different way. When some people think they ‘hood,’ they think ‘Ah, this and all that.’ I want to subvert people’s expectations all the time.
KV: It’s always been important to me to help you. I got into this because my older cousin and now manager, Writer Boy, reached out to me. He was basically like ‘Hey, I have this idea. I want to be a director and actor one day. You should be in my short films.’ I will always be grateful for that. That has inspired me to find what I can do to help someone else’s life. You want to act? You want to be a part of this production? Let me put you in this spot here. I film and direct…I wear a lot of hats so I’m watching these actors, and the more I work with them, I place them in different positions. I do my best to help people because I feel like if you’re on this Earth and not helping people, you’re wasting your time.
KV: That moment was really special because I was born in Chicago but I was raised in Maryland. In the beginning, it was not like this. A lot of people think King Vader woke up and he had a million followers. That’s not what happened. I worked really hard as a kid even to the point where people told me ‘Your videos aren’t good, your videos aren’t this or your videos aren’t that’ but I never let anyone break my confidence. I just kept pushing no matter what anyone said. I believed in myself more than anything. I feel like I believed in myself so much, I spoke this into existence.
I went to the Titan Arts Awards nearly two years before this happened. I watched people go up and win Best Director, Best this, Best that. That amazes you. And now two years later, I’m on stage getting that award. This is just confirmation I’m on the right path. I don’t want to move or change in any direction. I just want to go to the next level.
KV: I feel like no matter how big I get, my idea of that is unreachable. It’s like I reach a new height and people are like ‘Oh my God. What you are doing is amazing. I want to be one the level you are.’ But I’m on [this] level and I’m like I want to be on something higher than this. I don’t settle. I don’t get comfortable. I get uncomfortable and I want to keep moving. I don’t like to be boxed in. I like to keep up with what’s up. One day, people are going to look at that bio and maybe say ‘Yeah, King Vader is the biggest social media celebrity.’ For me, I’m always going to try to break the next level.
KV: I’m definitely going to transition from me just being on social media to me being on the big screen and me being a more active model. Any event I’m going to, I’m making sure I’m premiering something. That’s just my vibe. There’s one point I was at San Diego Comic Con and the first time I went there, they wanted me to perform Hood Naruto live. That was completely different and I’d never done anything on a live stage. I was on YouTube one day and I saw a group from Japan and they’d took the video and brought it to life on the stage. I didn’t even know my videos could be translated. So, when Comic Con hit me up, I was like if anyone’s going to do this, I have to do it. So, I did it and they went crazy. It was a really dope moment.
I just want a stage now…performing my video live was dope but now I want to premiere something. They were like that sounds amazing. I actually premiered my Avengers End Game parody at New York Comic Con and a lot of people were there. Stan Lee’s company was there and they actually saw it. Now they’re interested in keeping in contact with me, which is amazing as well.
KV: A goal I hope to accomplish before I turn 25 is to be a part of a successful movie, no matter if I’m directing or acting in it. I just have to be on a billboard. That is a legit goal. That right there is high up. I’m trying to be in commercials. I feel like by then, I just want to be established as a successful director in the film industry at that point. I have a team behind me called Wolf Graphic. We go by ‘Wolf’ because when we come together, we form a pack. Once we come into the industry in five years, we’re going to be a different type of threat. We have so much diversity and I couldn’t be any more fortunate to have such a solid team behind me. Wolf Graphic. That’s the team you’re going to see running Hollywood by 2025.
(Photo: Danielle Ransom)