After a hearty breakfast of pancakes, fruit, and various cereals, the Summer Documentary students at Media Institute for Social Change filled the living room to share their favorite pieces of media. As students curled into couches and on the floor, gripping mugs of hot coffee, their peers bestowed documentary clips, podcasts, articles and photojournalists to the group.
North Bennett, from Whitman College, shared The Important Places, a short documentary film that features a young man returning to the places his father deemed as “the important places”. This journey leads the narrator to the forests of his childhood and the river he calls home- the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon. I had seen the film before coming to camp, and so was pleasantly surprised at North’s choice. The Important Places depicts stunning shots of the canyon’s wild beauty that inspires wonder and awe of the natural places surrounding the viewer. The way the film knits together the relationship of a father and son to the land and memories embedded in the landscape speaks in ways that other nature films can’t. It gives a timeless and nostalgic quality to the archetypal father-son relationship, and holds a special place at the top of my list of environmental films.
Sindi Mafico, from Skidmore College, discussed the ways that masculinities infiltrate society and men’s everyday behavior through the film The Mask You Live In. This film followed the highly regarded Miss Representation, which highlighted the ways in which women are both represented and left out of media and the effects that media have on society’s perceptions of women. Sindi is especially interested in studying and analyzing the ways in which hypermasculinities manifest themselves into young men and cause them to act out in violence. The Mask You Live In was the most powerful response to male violence and the lack of support for men in our society that I have seen. As a feminist, I am deeply concerned about men’s issues and helping men overcome the patriarchal social structure that causes so much harm to so many, and this film breaks through the walls that keep men stationary and isolated in their struggles. Social change activists can influence the ways in which society thinks about masculinities by changing the ways in which media discusses and portrays masculinity. Films like The Mask You Live In are crucial to creating social change because they directly address social issues and can be distributed through mass media to a wide audience.
Frankie Breedlove of Reed College shared a podcast series titled Call Your Girlfriend, which originated organically when two friends started calling each other from across the country to discuss politics, social issues and their daily lives. Frankie describes listen to Call Your Girlfriend as “being a part of a conversation between two well-spoken and engaging women.” This podcast started out as an informal and personal look into the lives of two best friends, and has quickly turned into a sophisticated and well rounded discussion on anything from election politics and Supreme Court rulings, to menstruation cycles and their personal lives. Call Your Girlfriend is quirky, witty and quickly becoming a personal favorite.
Pilar Curtis from Virginia Commonwealth University shared the photojournalist Mary Ellen Mark and her work documenting homeless youth in Seattle. Mark broke cultural stigma surrounding queer and teen homeless youth through her photo essays published in LIFE magazine in the early 1980s. Her most well known subject was Tiny, who in 1983 was a teenaged prostitute in downtown Seattle. Mark photographed and profiled her for years in order to document her journey through homelessness and developed a very close relationship with Tiny. After the release of Mark’s harrowing book Streetwise, homeless outreach skyrocketed nationwide in an effort to address the housing crisis. The city of Seattle has authorized tent cities on public property, established safe parking lots for people living in cars and in 2016 budgeted a record amount of almost $50 million for homeless outreach services. Photojournalists like Mark played an essential role in uncovering and publicizing homelessness and starting a domino effect of social change.
For my media share, I chose a journalism piece called The Big Uneasy by Nathan Heller. The Big Uneasy was originally published in The New Yorker and delved into the rise in political activism on American college campuses, with a particular focus on Oberlin College. Articles like this one are crucial in affecting social change. They shine a light onto activism and organizing that is often done in the dark and they bring a sense of community to organizers facing an uphill battle to make change. The Big Uneasy is an engrossing article and hooked my attention immediately because of the connections between social justice movements at Oberlin and my university, Western Washington University in Bellingham, Washington. During the last academic year, Western’s campus has been particularly active with student organizing and student groups have been especially vocal with their demands. Groups like the Native American Student Association; Student Assembly for Power and Liberation and the Ethnic Student Center have all experienced heightened activity and empowerment. Campaigns for local and sustainable food, fossil fuel divestment, and campus waste reduction have met more success and interest than ever before. While these groups and campaigns have met opposition and difficulties within administration to implement changes, the student and faculty support for social change has been unparalleled to previous years. Articles like The Big Uneasy provide in-depth analysis to the roiling activism taking place on the liberal arts campus, and discussion of nationwide activism and rising trends in political engagement is crucial to building and maintaining a strong progressive movement for social change.