"To insist on only the negative stories, is to flatten my existence. The single story creates stereotypes and the problem with stereotypes is that they aren't entirely untrue, but they are only one story. There are other stories."
We just cannot believe that we are nearly halfway through our Making Media That Matters program! Session five has come and gone and we are already gearing up for session six! Our students are progressing in their knowledge of both film and social justice issues, and we could not be prouder.
Session five began with our usual group circle, as we took turns answering the ice-breaker question: If you were a candy, what candy would you be? Some fun answers included: Milky Way (because "who wouldn't want to be a candy named after the universe?") and Butterscotch (because "I would want old ladies to give me to children") and Sour patch Kids (because "I can be quite sour sometimes.") These kids, I tell ya. :)
Vera asked us to take some time to think about what makes a movie interesting or important to each of us. The media we make has to matter to the person making it, after all. We took some time to sit, write, and marinate on the statement: Media that matters to you, is...then we shared our answers with the rest of the group. Some students shared personal topics that they were passionate about, such as body image issues, child poverty, or more diverse media representations of people of color. Some talked
about the kind of movie they'd like to make...educational, inspiring, or transformative. Vera encouraged us all to really think about how we feel when we watch something that moves us...what is it that makes it "magic?" I think about a movie I recently saw that, strangely enough, inspired me to write. I was so moved by the main character's experience (a strong woman that had learned to overcome many obstacles I could personally relate to) that as soon as the movie ended, I had myself a little cry, opened up my laptop, and started writing. Stories are so powerful and so unifying.
Next we watched a Ted Talk with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, entitled The Danger of the Single Story. You may watch it here. I am a enormous fan of hers, and got excited that we would be introducing her work to the students. The lights were turned down low and we sat on the floor, each person in the room holding on to her every word as the film played. Chimamanda explained that stereotype, even if rooted in some version of truth, is only a single narrative; a single story that diminishes the many facets of human nature and the complexities of culture. In the film, Chimamanda told us that the consequence of the single story is that it "robs people of dignity" by emphasizing only how we are different, instead of how we are similar. I thought about how complex humans are and how we like to place them into neat little boxes, just so we have them "figured out." This somehow makes us feel safer, doesn't it? But of course these boxes are highly restrictive and vastly unfair, as humans are far more intricate than the single stories we tell about them. When we reject the single story, when we realize that there is never a single story about any place… we regain a kind of paradise.
- Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
After the film, we handed each girl a post-it and a marker. On the wall (separated into categories according to
topic) were issues that the students had expressed interest in and collected over the course of our time together. We asked each participant to write down their number one choice for a film topic on their post-it and to place it in the corresponding category. Vera reminded the group that the topic should be something that affects them personally and something they are passionate about, because this is going to be their personal project for the next half of the program. The room was palpable with thought and musings as students quietly wrote down their ideal choice and posted it on to the wall. Many students gravitated toward the same issues, which was perfect because that meant automatic film teams were born!
After the film and after groups were roughly established, our film instructor, Lisette, went over the differing roles within a film crew again for the students: Director, Assistant Director, Director of Photography, Sound, Editing, and Screenwriter. The teams then put their heads together to decide who would play what role in the making of their film. It was exciting to watch and I thought to myself, "It's really happening! They're starting to actually take the first serious steps to making their own films!"
Our two film instructors (Lisette and Elliana) took
turns in groups with students to help them identify which role they'd be best suited for. I walked around, gently eaves-dropping on some of the groups. I overheard a group member as she discussed making a film with a main character that also happened to be gay. "I just don't want it to be ALL about how the character is gay though," she said. If there is a film about the LGBT community, it's always depressing and it's always about their gayness." Elliana explained that films can have an "A-story" and a lesser important (but relevant) "B-story" and the group seemed to really respond to the idea of making that aspect of the character part of the B-story. I smiled. I am a social worker and writer, not a filmmaker, so I am learning much about film in our space as well.
I wandered around some more, listening to the conversations taking place and finally selected a group that wanted to make a film on body image issues. They appeared to be struggling at first but eventually came up with a unique idea about a dancer that hates the way she looks and gets teased for her appearance. Overnight, she transforms into a "beauty" (by traditional societal standards) enacting a "Freaky Friday" sort of moment, but lives to discover that even though she is now considered "beautiful" it is still not enough. She still gets made fun of and feels ugly. The group wanted to make the point that even "pretty" girls still get picked apart based on their appearance, because both girls and boys alike can always find something wrong with how someone looks. I simultaneously felt both proud of their insight and felt pain for the truth of their story. They talked about making the dancer "dance" into her newfound beauty in a dream sequence, which I thought was tremendously creative. I loved hearing the way that each group envisioned making their concept come to life with dialogue, music, movement, or something as simple as lighting. It was truly exciting to witness.
In the final minutes of the session, we came back together and shared our collective film ideas. There were
pitches about poverty and eating disorders and heteronormativity and body image. I think I can speak for the entire staff when I say that were were all quite impressed, "in awe" - as Vera voiced. We said our goodbyes and wrapped our 5th session with an air of pride and success! We'll see ya next week! ***Special thanks to our photographers, Valerie Narte and Malia Derden!***