Friday January 26, 2018 was the first session of Making Media That Matters program. This was going to be my very first internship with Hawaiʻi Women in Filmmaking (HWF), a physical collective of people and agendas, unlike my past internships.
As a student at Chaminade University of Honolulu, we’re required to take on advanced internships in order to fulfill our requirements for graduation and HWF appeared to be the best fit, given my outspoken feminist views and my dreams to work in the film industry. Although my views and arguments between a common bully were fool proof, I could only imagine what other types of perspectives I would be introduced to here as I supposed these members were well seasoned in these heavy subjects.
Initially, I was expecting to walk into a sorority-like setting, where women would be in unwavering chatter about current events, advanced research studies, or in-depth subjects I had no knowledge about. While I was walking to their new meeting spot, Kamakakūokalani Center for Hawaiian Studies , I was preparing my mental fortitude, repeating to myself, “It's ok if you don’t know about what they’re talking about; they’ll probably laugh at you for not knowing about the recent rise of a women’s movement in Afghanistan… will they even let you through the door?”
As anxious thoughts ran through my mind, I hardly realized where I had ended up. I started following a woman in a purple shirt, and as I looked beyond her I saw Vera, who promptly ran up and greeted me with a warm hug and affectionate words of affirmation, confirming my attendance was welcomed.
The large room I entered, which was initially empty, began to fill up with girls and young women of all backgrounds. In my early interview, Vera had repeatedly informed me that the HWF was a safe space for comfort and information; I was pleasantly surprised that she had spoken truthfully.
We began the session with a round of simple introductions, that later became a game of talking about our quirks, goals, and pure joys of life. The game consisted of us writing these thoughts down on a piece of paper, crumpling it up, then throwing it into the middle of the room, and then one by one an individual would read one aloud, at random.
Some mentioned their passion for acting, their musical talent, their connection to native peoples, and their desire to travel the world. It was fascinating to hear the differing identities, and even more fun associating them with the person they belonged to. Some were silly, “I am obsessed with bananas!” and some were serious, “I would give anything to go to Japan!”. Not a single aspiration or detail of their life was fake or phony, but all expressed with unadulterated exhilaration and ambition.
Eventually, we began to explain our views and perspectives on subjects, such as what it means to be a team member. While the expected answers were “working together,” and “making sure everything is fair…” the student’s responses were far from naive. They described how patience, listening to people’s struggles and strengths, and being empathetic to all the group members would make a stronger workspace and community. Though I hardly knew anyone, I was beginning to get the sense that this was not going to be a normal type of “afterschool” seminar.
The conversation later evolved into how or what components create “Social Justice.” The leaders split us into two groups to discuss the matter in detail. Moving around the room and listening to all of these women gave me a better understanding of what this program will entail. Though in age and experience they differed, they all wanted one common goal: to allow those who are in unfair conditions, including themselves, to be acknowledged.
The participants spoke of minority communities: race, gender, sexual orientation, religious affiliation, class, and more. At the the end of the assignment, we broke off into smaller groups and conversed about issues like pro-choice vs. pro-life, the damaging effects of religious schooling, and the hardships of racism.
I hardly noticed how much time had passed talking before we were ushered into our seats once again to begin the second portion of the session. Before we knew it, Laurie Sumiye, film instructor for HWF, was talking to us about the importance of film in relation to honesty, fairness, and telling stories no one has told before. Some of the young women began to chime in on creations they had seen and worked on that covered trying subjects, such as body image and women’s place in society.
As a short film began playing, the fluttering voices were silenced as everyone’s eyes turned to the screen on the wall. The images in the music video were a kaleidoscope of effects; a neglected child that initiates a school shooting. The music video was made for the song Jeremy by Pearl Jam. The video featured disturbing images of objects, places, and scenarios in which the boy, Jeremy, suffers through bullying, abuse, and mental illness, which eventually leads him to take the life of his classmates. While many have likely deemed the visuals confusing or sinister, the class recognized it as a wakeup call. When discussing the parameters of the short film, we realized it was to take the initiative to be aware of ourselves and the people around us. We discussed how hugely important it is to acknowledge people and their feelings; it’s good to keep an eye out for everyone instead of only ourselves or those dearest to us.
The individual conversations ceased, and the next video was queued. A familiar face appeared. If I were a Boy by Beyonce was played on the screen, to the delight and squeals of “That’s my QUEEN!” by the girls. The video features her playing the typically accepted societal standard of a man; drinking with the guys, flirting with girls, and ignoring the wishes of his partner, only to then have the roles reversed to show the unfair standards held between men and women. Many of the students mentioned that though they have yet to experience heartbreak in such a way, they could relate to emotions of disappointment, betrayal, and anguish.
As the class came to an end and the students began to disperse to find their rides, I couldn’t stop thinking what a positive experience this was. I feel like I found a forum in which I can express my views, discuss differences, encourage critical thinking and empathy, and learn to be more open-minded. As a newcomer, I couldn’t have felt more welcome to be part of Hawaiʻi Women in Filmmaking.