cross posted from my Media Justice column
This is the second interview in a series of interviews with various media makers who have agreed to share with us their motivations, process and hopes for the media they create. Read the first interview with youth media maker Espie Hernandez.
Earlier this month my homegirl Jaz posted a video on Facebook called “Walking Home.” I watched the video and immediately shared it with people in my community. The responses were amazing and affirming of the video. “Walking Home” presents an interdisciplinary story of the street harassment women experience. I wrote a quick post about this film hoping a dialogue would begin among educators about how to use the film effectively in a classroom or with youth, especially young men. Take a moment to watch the video:
I reached out to filmmaker Nuala Cabral who agreed to a virtual interview about her film(s). In my communication with Nuala I asked if she would give me permission to use her film in my class. She was very supportive of her film being used by community members and in various spaces to produce discussion and education. My class in which I use her film is coming up next week and I’m very eager to hear how my students respond to her film. I encourage you all to please share here with Nuala your thoughts about her film as well! Below are her responses about her motivations in making the film, hopes for it’s use, future work, and media justice.
1. What were some of your goals in creating this film?
I wanted to shed light on a personal and universal issue so I say that I created it for the walkers, the talkers and those who say nothing. For the walkers, it is an effort to honor and reclaim our humanity in the public sphere. I want those who identify with this experience to know that they are not alone in their frustration, fear and feelings of powerlessness. I think many of us have grown to accept street harassment. This film attempts to question and disrupt that acceptance and the pervasive silence around these everyday interactions.
2. What makes this an “experimental piece” for you in comparison to your previous work?
Most of my previous work fits in the documentary or music video genres. This piece combines poetry, music, video and film. I call it experimental because it does not easily fit in one category.
3. How do you go about choosing the music and poetry in this film? Did you write the poem yourself?
I wrote the poem and my friends added the parts about the meaning and significance of their names. After seeing a rough cut of Walking Home my friend April King, a talented drummer and emcee, sent me songs that she thought would work well. I wanted the music to give an edgy feel that enhances the words and the images… I didn’t want the music to distract; I wanted it to add intensity.
4. What have been some responses to the film since you have shared it?
After watching the film some men have admitted that they hadn’t really thought about what goes through a woman’s head when she experiences street harassment. One friend wrote “it made me feel uncomfortable (in a really effective, good way).” A few men have told me that the film has made them rethink the way they approach women.
The majority of responses I have received have come from women who relate to this experience. One woman commented ”I felt my blood pressure rise and my body tense as I watched the film and re-lived so many of those same moments captured in the film. By the end, I just wanted to scream… I think had I seen this when I was younger, I would have been able to identify harrassment (sic) and not hold myself responsible for how others reacted to me.”
I received an email from a woman that I have never met who wrote about how her father’s constant catcalls to women on the street affected her and her sister. She wrote, “your work brought to the forefront of my mind for the first time in many years that hurt, that anger which was never addressed and never healed. It really moved me, exactly what great art does.
These words inspire and motivate me as an artist. They remind me that I am not just creating art for my own journey towards healing and growth. Others are on this journey too and art helps connect and sustain us on this journey.
5. Do you see yourself as a media maker? How do you see creating media as fitting into a larger social justice agenda you have?
Yes. I view media as a powerful tool for social change and I see myself and other artists as potential change agents. I want my work to reveal humanity and complexities that are overlooked. I hope to create media that fosters understanding and dialogue among people who rarely communicate. I want my work to inspire people to connect and become change agents in their own communities.
6. Will you share with us how you began creating films and media?
When I was in 7th grade I began documenting my life at school with a tape recorder and this continued through high school. In college I upgraded to a video camera. However, it was not until I took a video production course my last year of undergrad studies, that I began to see video as more than a hobby. Screening my first documentary, “Who’s that Girl: Women of color and hip hop” to audiences around the country was a transformative experience that greatly shaped me as a media maker and activist. This film also introduced me to the world of media literacy, a field where I can fuse my passion for media analysis with media production.
7. For readers who are seeking to create similar media for their communities, what would you like to share from your experience?
I started shooting films with those around me— my family and my peers. I used the simple equipment that I had access to; I didn’t wait for fancy equipment or lots of money. I began to think about the issues that were important to me and the messages I wanted to communicate. As a filmmaker I have learned that addressing an issue alone is often not enough, however. Good films involve good stories that make people feel something. I have also learned a lot from mentors and community resources, such as Third World Newsreel in New York City and the Scribe Video Center in Philadelphia.
I have also learned that it is extremely helpful to build relationships with those who share a passion for the issues I want to address. For example, Holla Back, (http://hollabacknyc.blogspot.com/) a digital project that seeks to expose and counter street harassment, widened my audience for Walking Home when they posted my films on their blog. When it comes to grass-root media making, building these kinds of relationships is critical.
8. One of the comments I made at the RH Reality Check post was if same gender street harassment was different, and if so how. What are your thoughts about this form?
I would argue that there are both similarities and differences. I think power/powerlessness has much to do with street harassment and gender dynamics and other aspects of identity play into this. For example, as a woman I may feel more threatened by street harassment when it comes from a man. It’s interesting and important to recognize the interplay of race, gender, class and sexuality when looking at street harassment or any social issue really.
9. What future projects are you working on?
I am currently working on a multi-media project called FAAN Mail (Fostering Activism and Alternatives Now) with several women writers, scholars, artists and activists. This project has elements of media literacy, media activism and media justice and is designed to promote critical audiences, alternatives, and accountability in the media. Our website is currently under development, but we do have a facebook page.
10. What does Media Justice mean and look like to you? What responsibility do viewers and consumers have in your opinion?
To me, media justice is about promoting equality and fairness in the media. It raises questions about access to information and the quality of that information. It raises questions about who gets to produce and distribute the information we consume and who is omitted from this process. I think we as viewers and consumers share a significant responsibility to be aware and critical about the media we consume. However, I recognize that this is difficult to do. It is difficult to think critically about the things that we consume, particularly when these things give us pleasure. This is further complicated when young people are taught to consume media but not taught to think critically about it. This is where the need for media literacy in schools comes in.
We should not expect media producers and owners to work towards media justice on their own. We as audiences and consumers can support this movement or impede it and ultimately I believe we must work together for change.
11. If readers want to contact you what is the best way to reach you?
My email is firstname.lastname@example.org.