Making Media That Matters, session 2! It’s Friday night again, and our budding filmmakers are ambling into our film space, this time with noticeably more confidence. I adore people-watching before our activities begin…seeing teenagers, filmmakers, community organizers, and social workers all interact in ways we might not otherwise, if it weren’t for this program. As the staff social worker, I also like to sit back and observe a little, just to see if I notice any signs that students are struggling, or ways in which they might need some extra attention or assistance. However, the students seem to be getting more comfortable in the space, as I watch them munching on snacks and talking story with others. I laugh as one girl bops over to me and tells me that she likes my outfit. I secretly beam with pride that I’m still “cool” enough for these youngsters, then inwardly chuckle at myself. I guess we always want to be cool and accepted, at any age. ☺
Vera calls the group together for our big opening circle, and we sit together, cross-legged. We move around the group, introducing ourselves again (we are still learning names), sharing our preferred pronoun(s), and then answering the question, “What is something you accomplished in 2016 that you’re proud of?” Some answers were: taking a comedy improv class, learning to be happier with who they are, getting straight A’s, editing the school yearbook, and winning a tennis championship. I adore our circle time, and hope that questions and activities centered around accomplishments and things they excel in can instill a mini self-esteem boost each week.
The staff asked the students to come prepared this week with a sort of “show-n-tell” presentation. Each student brought in 5 pictures that represent something they are passionate about. The point of the exercise is to start connecting students with other like-minded students, ideally beginning to form “production teams” based on their interests. The student presentations were great, and made me feel like I was getting to know all of the participants better. Some talked about their love of the environment and the ‘aina. Some spoke passionately about animal rights or indigenous issues. Several students were passionate about educating others on the ill effects of stereotyping and discrimination, while others were focused on finding their place and voice in this world…all in the pursuit of happiness and wholeness. The students stood up to speak one-by-one on what their chosen images represented. I loved seeing their faces light up when they talked about their puppy, or their Mom, or Hawaiian culture. We adults could likely take a cue from their enthusiastic passion. One student boldly declared, “Being different is not a problem, being treated differently is. People shouldn’t be judged by how they look, or what they wear, or what color skin they have. We should all be treated equally.” I mean…MMTM youth for president, right? ☺
Based on the student presentations, we grouped their ideas into 8 different topics, then allowed them to sign up for the topic that was most interesting, and boom! Production teams were born! We now have 3 working production teams: Equinauts (whose main focus will be on discrimination and stereotyping), Cool Kids Productions (whose focus will be on creativity and art), and Ÿoonique Productions (whose focus will be on celebrating uniqueness and finding what makes one happy). The students all come up with their production team names and original logos. MMTM is all about letting the participants guide their creative process. I jump into the Equinauts group, as they begin to throw around some story ideas. A student pitches an idea about a girl that hates the stereotypes forced upon her, but plays into them anyway, in order to be accepted. I jerk my head up in amazement; these students never cease to impress me with their maturity and understanding of human behavior. Another student suggests that it would be interesting to have the film focus on 4 very different characters, all whom embody different stereotypes, and thread them together in some unifying way. The group collectively nods their heads and murmurs their approvals; this idea seems to be accepted unanimously. We all set to work on creating 4 characters, hoping to have one that represents someone with a disability, a person of color, a female struggling against gender norms, and a queer-identifying youth. The group is fun and playful, but also quite thoughtful in their suggestions. I’m impressed at how easily they support one another’s suggestions.
After discussing character ideas and stories in our separate production teams, Lisette, our film instructor, calls the students back together to hear what everyone has been working on. Each production team explains their story idea. The Equinauts divulge our plan, then Ÿoonique Productions share a story idea about a young girl in middle school that creates a work of art that looks strange and abstract. Someone decides to post it on the internet and she feels bullied and has an anxiety attack. Eventually, however, people come to realize that it’s actually an amazing work of art. Cool Kids Productions pitches a comedy about a girl on her first day of work at a new job working for a card company. She’s incredibly different and artistic but ends up conforming to social pressures and hiding her unique abilities.
We all cheer and congratulate ourselves for a job well-done. I look around the space at all of our participants, so excited for the challenge they’re about to take on. I can’t imagine being 13 or 14 years old, directing, producing, and editing my own feature film. What a cool opportunity!
The staff has decided that we will discuss one or two large conceptual issues or terms every week, in an effort to continually promote social justice. This week, we’ve chosen “Feminism.” I stand up to try and boil down the concept of Feminism in just 6-7 minutes, in a way that teenagers will understand. I have the students first define it for the group, and they struggle a little. One student meekly states, “Um, equality?” and I nod profusely. YES. Equality. I go on to explain that feminism is the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes. I define intersectional feminism, as that is what MMTM is striving to emulate and to teach. It is so difficult to explain these things in a palatable way, and I find myself feeling exhausted when I finish, already pondering how I could have explained it better.
We end the night with a closing circle, and staying on theme with the beginning circle, we ask the students to tell us one goal that they’ve set for themselves in 2017. The answers, as always, are quite diverse: “I will make better grades!” “Finish high school!” “Complete person art projects!” “Read more!” “Volunteer with the Bishop museum!” “Work on my communication skills!” “Go to more auditions!” Once everyone has spoken, we end the evening and celebrate the conclusion of another successful week! Some of the students stay behind to socialize, and the staff talks story and begins to clean up the space. I ask one of the participants what she thinks of the program so far and she says, “It’s pretty cool. I feel like we’ll do some hard stuff and learn some film stuff and also have a lot of fun.” “Right on,” I reply, “I couldn’t have said it better, myself.”