“I used to think I was the strangest person in the world, but then I thought there are so many people in the world, there must be someone just like me who feels bizarre and flawed in the same ways I do. I would imagine her, and imagine that she must be out there thinking of me, too. Well, I hope that if you are out there and read this and know that, yes, it’s true I’m here, and I’m just as strange as you.” - Frida Kahlo
On a late Friday afternoon in Kaimuki, preteens and teenagers trickled into our gathering space (the Hawai'i Filmmakers' collective) somewhat timidly. As more and more students arrived, a dull roar of young voices and laughter filled the echoing room. Making Media That Matters 2016 had officially begun! I sat in observation for a long while, making small chit-chat with a few of the girls and gently eavesdropping on their conversations. Selfies were being taken, snacks were being eaten, and nervous giggles echoed around the space.
Making Media That Matters (MMTM) is dedicated to creating a place for girls to unleash their power, creativeness, and all-around awesomeness through filmmaking. Our program wishes to provide a courageous and imaginative space for cis, trans, and non-binary girls to express their stories and ideas. Exposure to new ways of understanding the world, exploration and education of issues that women face (on both micro and macro levels), and building a supportive community dedicated to the creative artistry of our girls is of the utmost importance. Critical thinking capability and innovation are just some of the skills we hope to instill or further cultivate.
The evening began with a heart-felt welcome from Vera, the director of the program. We all huddled in a circle on the floor as we introduced ourseleves one by one, including our chosen pronouns (if we would like to be referred to as he, she, they, etc.). Vera gave a brief description of the agenda for the evening and then introduced Maddie, who would be leading our group in deciding upon our "community agreement" - a list of rules and ideas we will create and adhere to in order to operate an open and courageous space.
One by one, the students and staff discussed and listed suggestions for the community agreement. Many of the girls were participative and vocal, eager to assist in creating our living document. We
explored ideas of respect, openness, constructive criticism, boundaries, and courtesy. Each new idea presented was agreed upon by the whole group before adding it "officially" to the list. This agreement is subject to change or alteration throughout the program, but here it is as it stands currrently:
1) Be respectful. 2) Clear-up moments (if you need clarification about something) If you don’t know, ask. 3) Phone’s away (if it’s important you may step out). 4) Supportive of each other – uplift other people.
5) Listen with an open mind (eye contact, responding, non-verbals, emoting, not interrupting). 6) Commit to areas of self-growth. 7) Self-care (If you need help, ask for it). 8) Last Call. 9) No shaming. 10) "Step back, Step up" reminder 11) Pronoun check-ins every session. 12) Be curious before getting angry (code word: "cucumber"). 13) Let others know if they have hurt your feelings. 14) Confidentiality.
The group took a brief break for refreshments and I wandered around to meet some of the other students. I chatted with a student that
talked with me passionately about her poetry and how she hopes to incorporate it into film. I spoke with another young girl that seemed a little shy and misplaced, but when we started talking about music she lit up and listed her favorite hip hop artists. We have this in common and she smiled from ear-to-ear when I mentioned I am a long-time lover of Talib Kweli. I love these moments...when a 36 year old haole girl can connect with a 15 year old local girl over a love of Common, Mos Def, and Lupe Fiasco.
Working with young girls is both complicated and enlightening. We as adults like to think we have some sort of understanding of the pressures and issues that teenagers face, but you will never be proven more wrong than sitting and talking story with a group of girls for several hours about those pressures. Making strong and honest connections with our students is vastly important, as we all learn to trust each other and learn together.
We came back together as a group and one of our workshop facilitators, Serena, leads the group in a discussion about topics that are of interest to the girls. One by one we went around the room and the students listed issues that they care about deeply. I was shocked and impressed by the level of knowledge shown about some incredibly intricate and complicated issues; heteronormativity, entitlement, bullying, human trafficking, houselessness, gender roles and conformity...the list goes on and on and I found
myself raising my eyebrows in awe of the issues these girls are willing to delve into. Of course, much discussion and education and awareness-raising will have to happen in conjunction with these topics, but at least the building blocks seem present.
Next, our other workshop facilitator, Noa, leads a writing session with the students. She asked the students to answer a few rounds of questions to get their creative minds churning,
then gave the students time for a short free-writing session. Some of the girls were laying on the floor, scribbling furiously in their notebooks; others were in chairs or propped against the wall lost in thought. I couldn't help but feel a swell of happiness that I was in that space, at that moment. And the thought was further solidified when the girls began to share their work. A few brave souls read their pieces and the writing was raw, powerful, inquisitive, and honest.
Before we knew it, the session was nearly over. Three hours had flown by and closing remarks were about to happen. The students shared some final thoughts before closing and we all stood to gather in a circle. Maddie asked each student to give one word to describe their experience. Words like, "open" and "exciting" and "moved" were offered up and we closed the session with a hearty round of applause and snaps.
Many girls stuck around to help clean up the space and talk story with each other and with staff. The staff members held a brief meeting afterward to process and deconstruct the session with one another. Several serious issues had arisen in only the first meeting, and staff discussed how best to move forward and talk about these complexities with the students. We all desire to create a place of awareness, empathy, and learning. Figuring out how to balance the girls' ability to speak freely, while also ensuring the safety of everyone in the room, is paramount. We wish to neither stifle
conversations nor to trigger anyone with discussions about issues that could be traumatizing. Girls - cis, trans, and non-binary, all come with unique perspectives, personal trauma, and backgrounds. The
notion of the "good girl" is still impressed upon females, which often equates to not speaking your mind, watering down your opinions, or apologizing for your actions or words. We wish to instill a model of bravery and boldness, so that these students know their words, dreams, and actions matter. Moving forward, MMTM hopes to improve upon our skills as a collective team...realizing our dream of a courageous and inspirational space. We can't wait for next week!!!!