Category Archives: Uncategorized
What is racism and how it came to happen?
By: Ahmed Alzahrani is a graduate student at the University of Central Missouri, pursuing a Masters in Mass Communication. He is a guest blogging for the Show Me Justice Film Festival.
There is no easy methodology that can be employed to answer the question of what is racism and how it came to happen. Racism is unlovely. It has separated people based on our ethnicity and skin colour. It occurs at situations where people think that it’s quite good to treat others with brutality as we carry on with our daily lives.
Racism is not good and it occurs in couple of different means. At times you can over hear it when people are making jokes or hating on one of the ethnic groups. Or even when people bully others and call them racist names because they are of different race. You even see it when people make offensive and negative comments online, write racist graffiti on public places simply because we don’t belong to the same race.
Why is it that people approach something indefinite such as race, something that we cannot choose, can make us better than other people? Racism is complicated and confusing, evidently it is not usually based on the skin colour as many people believe it to be. For example, the white supremacists who held rally recently hate the African-Americans who opposed them.
Racism comes as result of complicated interplay between people’s attitudes, practises and also social and moral values. Racism occurs in many forms since it’s deployed in the deeds of people and their institutions. It can take forms such as the use of abusive language, bullying and harassment or use of negative comments towards a specific ethnic group.
Despite that racism can lead to acts of physical abuse and disagreements, it can also lead to some people being excluded from getting involved in employment , education and other social activities. Also racism can happen in some institutions that have set aside some harsh policies that drawback specific groups. The belief that some ethnicity is superior or inferior to others is sometimes employed to manifest the differences. At most cases racism is illustrated through unconscious preconception. In that racism operates to bring differences in access to power/ruling, opportunities and resources in different racial and ethnic groups.
In today’s world racism is one of the key problem. In our current world there are many people who are not aware whether there are many cases of racism in our work forces and in other social activities. There has not been to racism as it was decades ago. It’s in very much existence and it’s the high time people need to come to full realization on how to curb this world key issue. In many cases people belief racist individuals were brought up in racist environment. Government, anti-racism groups and institutions are among many other basic causes of the racism. All in all, every person is born innocent and not racist “All people are equal like the teeth of a comb”, but as they grow they learn on how to become racist if they are exposed to racist institutions and many other hidden activities.
Ahmed Alzahrani is a graduate student at the University of Central Missouri, pursuing a Masters in Mass Communication. He is a guest blogging this week for the Show Me Justice Film Festival.
Did you know Islam embraces Social Justice and teaches the importance of implementing it in our daily lives? Social justice is the equal distribution of resources and opportunities, with no prejudice as pertains to gender, race, social class, religion, etc. However, there is no upper hand of a rich Muslim over a poor Muslim except in terms of righteousness. Islam calls for social justice for non-Muslims as well in terms of peace, treatment and rights.
In the Quran, God promises men and women equal reward if they have belief and are righteous: “Whoever does righteousness, whether male or female, while he is a believer – We will surely cause him to live a good life, and We will surely give them their reward [in the Hereafter] according to the best of what they used to do.” [Noble Quran 16:97] Also, Islam teaches the importance of equality and gradually abolished slavery. Only belief and obedience to God is taken into account, not race, social classes, etc. Prophet Muhammad said, “O mankind, your Lord is One and your father is one. You all descended from Adam, and Adam was created from earth. He is most honored among you in the sight of God who is most upright. No Arab is superior to a non-Arab, no colored person to a white person, or a white person to a colored person except by Taqwa (piety).” the Quran said “O mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another. Indeed, the most noble of you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you. Indeed, Allah is Knowing and Acquainted.” [Noble Quran 49:13] And, Islam clearly mandates non-Muslims should enjoy fair rights as well. Prophet Muhammad stated, “Beware! Whoever is cruel and hard on a non-Muslim minority, curtails their rights, burdens them with more than they can bear, or takes anything from them against their free will; I (Prophet Muhammad ) will complain against the person on the Day of Judgment.” Although God has presented us with methods of how to lead our lives in a way that does good to us and the society in whole; there is still a lot of injustice due to bad choices made by those who choose to remain ignorant. However, finally on the day of Judgment, justice will prevail. God promises us that everyone will be dealt with justly and nothing – not even the weight of a mustard seed- shall be forgotten:
Islam is not only a religion, but a system of social justice pertaining to the needs of everyone. The goal is to bring harmony and cohesion in each and every society in the world. We all strive to be just and ensure each person is receiving their rights as God intended.
Herma Too is a graduate student at the university of central Missouri perusing a master of art degree in mass communication.She is guest blogging for the Show Me Justice Film Festival as part of a project for her Media Promotions course.She advocates for gender equality and minority rights.
Over the last two months the Kenyan media has been a buzz over the murder of a university student Sharon Otieno. The strange tale starts with the discovery of Sharon’s lifeless body by Mr Moses Ongili, a peasant farmer from Ogero village in Homa Bay County.
Sharon is one among a number of Kenyan women who have died under mysterious circumstances and their deaths linked to their romantic relationships with either Kenyan politicians or the haves.
The most disturbing thing about it is ,the fact that majority of these cases end up as either cold cases or unsolved, as the public eye and law enforcement turns a deaf ear to the cries of the souls that were taken too early.This is a trend that developed several decades ago yet no changes have been made to ensure justice for the victims.
In 2011 what promised to be a night of fun and debauchery for Mercy Keino ended tragically. Her disfigured body was found on Waiyaki Way the next morning. Her head was smashed in and she had multiple fractures and bruises. At 6:30 pm the day before, Mercy and her cousin had arrived at Wasini Apartments on Church Road, Westlands. A resident, Maurice Mihango, was hosting a high-profile house party that included among others, the then Juja MP William Kabogo.
Mercy, a light drinker, settled on wine and whisky cocktail. As the alcohol kicked in, she became rowdy, broke glasses, and disturbed the party. She was ejected but stormed back in, this time incurring the wrath of the politician. He slapped her, and then she was carried outside by his bodyguards. When she was ejected again, she ran towards Waiyaki Way. That is the last time anyone ever saw her alive.
She died sometime after that, most likely after being hit by a car on the busy highway. At the ensuing public inquest, one witness claimed he had seen a lady waving down cars at roughly the same spot Mercy’s body was later found. She could have staggered onto the road right in front of a speeding car. Injured or dead, she would then have been run over by several other cars.
A second theory, which roped in William Kabogo, suggested that she might have been killed elsewhere and her body then dumped on the road. One of the first policemen on the site noted the absence of a blood trail that would support the first theory. Another witness said she had seen a Mercedes stop and drop off a human body. The public inquest ended without any solid conclusions.
On the morning of St. Valentine’s Day 2012, Careen Chepchumba’s brother used his key to access her apartment at Santonia Court, off Kirichwa Road. She had been incommunicado since February 12th. In the bedroom, he saw her in bed, tidily covered with a bed sheet. There was music playing from a laptop placed on the bedside table. Nothing looked amiss. Except that Careen had been dead for 18 hours.
Careen, a 26-year-old engineer and employee of Kenya Power, had not reported to work at 8 am February 13th. Instead, she called a colleague and said she would be in by 11 am. But she never made it. Someone raped or had consensual sex with Careen between 8 am and 12 noon of February 13th. He then strangled her before covering her up neatly and walking out undetected.
There was a handwritten note on the table that read: “I wish they would let me do my way. Even if we were not together, you are still in my heart. You will still remain so dear to me Louis.”
The only Louis known in Careen’s life was Louis Otieno, a celebrity broadcast news presenter. Careen and Louis met when the latter moved into moved to the ground floor flat at Rose Park apartments in Kilimani in 2011. Her family claimed the two began dating shortly after, and Louis started extorting money from Careen to fund his lavish lifestyle. Hosea Kili, Chepchumba’s father, often repeated that Careen had incurred debts amounting to KShs. 3 million to fund her new relationship. The day before her death, she had gone to her family and asked for help. Her father agreed to pay, and Careen’s brother took her home at 9pm.
Louis said their’s had been a close friendship but not a sexual one. During the investigations, he readily gave samples of his DNA and biological evidence for comparison. He implied that Careen’s father was overbearing and that she often alluded to physical and sexual abuse at home.Louis Otieno was never formally charged and Careen’s murder remains an open case.
Dear Kenyans,stand up to injustice and bring the perpetrators of these crimes to justice. Do not allow power dynamics to come in the way of justice.When will you say No to injustice?
Herma Too is a graduate student at the university of central Missouri perusing a master of art degree in mass communication.She is guest blogging for the Show Me Justice Film Festival as part of a project for her Media Promotions course.She advocates for gender equality and minority rights.
Stop Justifying Sexual Abuse Against Women!
Violence against women is among the most tolerated injustices across the globe. Every day women faces unwanted sexual advances, harassment and sexual abuse. When a woman faces any of these injustices they often remain quiet because of a culture that condones,explains and excuses violence against women.This is a pathetic culture that shouldn’t be condoned to any degree,as it keeps women in dark places shunning their light.
Rape is one of the most common form of sexual assault. The common attitudes held towards rape are nonsensical.These attitudes place the blame on the victims, and don’t hold perpetrators accountable for their actions.Questioning the victim’s credibility.Hence when a woman is raped the first question that will be asked is;what was she wearing?Similarly other questions like:was she sober?;Where was she?;why was she there?;was she too sexy to provoke the perpetrator? will be asked.With these questions you would think that the sexual offenders are animals who have no control over their sexual urges.These questions often shame the victim placing the blame of the assult on her.
Now ,it doesn’t matter how short her dress was,how sexy she was,how “wasted” she was at a house party or whether she was walking alone in the dark.These are just nonconsequential excuses that let sexual offenders get away with sexual abuse.What is of the essence is that, a crime was committed and her rights were infringed upon.The question is,what are we doing about it?
The social stigma that surrounds rape makes it unsafe for victims to come out to the police or even seek medical help.Even when a sexual assault victim is brave enough to come out,she is ridiculed and her case is never taken seriously.People are quick to discredit the victim not knowing what she goes through or how she gets herself to sleep at night.It is this attitude that cultivates and justifies these inhumane behaviors.Rape is traumatic!Healing is not an event but a process!Instead of punishing rape victims,let us create a ruthless society for the sexual offenders.As Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie says culture does not create people rather people create culture.My country people !we have come so far let us say NO to a culture that justifies violence against women.
Let us not encourage this insidious mentalities that accepts and excuses violence.Let us allow our women to speak up!Let us allow sexual assult victims to heal!Let us take action against the perpetrators!Let us be cognizant of our attitudes towards sexual abuse!Would your current attitude towards sexual assault change if your daughter was the victim?
Adriana Vivas is a graduate student at the University of Central Missouri. She is pursuing a Masters in communications.
This past summer, the story of the first woman in Afghanistan to ever bring an incest case to trial, debuted at the Human Rights Film Festival. The director, Sahra Mosawi-Mani, is a documentary filmmaker who focuses on creating documentaries about her home country of Afghanistan.
An article written by editors from Cinema Without Borders highlights Sahra Mosawi-Man’s new film A Thousand Girls Like Me. The story of Khatera starts when she publicly accused her father on national television. For more than 13 years, Khatera was repeatedly raped and abused by her father which resulted in multiple pregnancies. Despite her father’s multiple attempts to abort, two of her pregnancies reached full term.
“Every woman in this country has a hundred owners. Fathers, brothers, uncles, neighbors. They all believe they have the right to speak on our behalf and make decisions for us. That’s why our stories are never heard, but buried with us.” – Sahra Mani, director, A Thousand Girls Like Me
According to the article, Khatera tried many times to file charges against her Father but the Afghan legal system was no help at all. Additionally, her uncle along with the rest of their family believed the only way to absolve Khatera’s father from the embarrassment was to kill Khatera and her three-year-old daughter. In her documentary, Sahra Mosawi-Man lived with Khatera for two years and followed her on her journey through safe houses and navigating the afghan legal system.
(picture from Human Rights Film Festival)
In an interview from Aisha Azimi for Free Women Writers, Sahra Mosawi-Mani explained what message she wanted her audience to walk away with.
“I want the film to help people think about what happens to a country where for decades war has been a daily reality and corruption has seeped deep even in the level of the family and society. I also want to bring attention to a judicial system that often gives power to abusers and tell the story of the lonely lives of three women from three different generations, a grandmother, a daughter, and a granddaughter, all victimized in the hands of a man empowered by a patriarchal society.”
Often when hearing about these types of unjust situations, you may think “well how can this be helped?” Sahra Mosawi-Mani is taking this step by bringing awareness to how women are treated in the judicial system in Afghanistan and around the world.
“I know that I cannot change the judicial system only by making films but bringing this subject to public discourse is the first step. Women like Khatera want to raise their voice and I have this ability amplify it. Among my audiences are policy maker, students, future leaders, artists, decision makers, judges, lawyers, neighbors, survivors, teachers… I want everybody to start talking about how we treat women in our society and in our justice system.”
By writing this blog post, I simply want to thank Sahra Mosawi-Mani for creating this film. Women like Sahra Mosawi-Mani deserved to be widely recognized for their dedication to filmmaking and resilience to social injustice.
To view the trailer for A Thousand Girls Like Me, please click here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3mGkQqK6DBU
To read the full interview, please click the link: https://womenyoushouldknow.net/thousand-girls-like-me/
Cinema Without Borders Article: http://www.cinemawithoutborders.com/a-thousand-girls-like-me/#prettyPhoto/0/
Adriana Vivas is a graduate student studying communications at the University of Central Missouri. For the past 4 years, she has traveled to Colombia to volunteer on medical missions as the social media coordinator and photographer.
The first time the topic of social justice really made a connection with me was on my first medical mission trip to Santander, Colombia. A good family friend of ours had started a foundation called LAUGHH that went on medical missions to very poor areas outside of a big city called Bucaramanga. When talking about public health care in Colombia, the mission briefed us on what types of circumstances we would see people in. Some had gone without health care for more than 10 years. Some maybe only two years. In Colombia, if you don’t have a registered address within the city, it is very hard to receive medical attention. People in rural areas most likely have to travel for two days if they even get the chance to see a doctor. All of this really opened my eyes to the types of social injustices there are in the world.
My job on the mission was to take pictures and video to update our social media every day of the mission and to curate content for the fundraiser we host every year. Basically, how people saw the mission was from my eyes and I wanted to make sure they could see the real good LAUGHH was doing for the people of Santander. On the mission, patients could see pediatricians, nurses, optometrists, physical therapists, general care doctors, wound specialists, surgeons and gynecologists. The most key element of the LAUGHH medical mission, however, was education. After seeing the doctor, each patient would go to education to learn about nutrition, breast education and sexual education. Some people truly did not know that what they were eating was killing them. One mother relayed that her son wouldn’t drink water unless there was sugar in it. Other patients with chronic disease such as diabetes admitted their diets consisted mostly of carbs and meats with little to no vegetables or fruit.
In some towns, drug abuse was consistently found in young adults. A boy I met named Carlos had Down Syndrome and while he was seeing the doctor, his mother told me a story about a time some boys in their town asked Carlos out to play and later that night, she found him in a ditch on the side of the road because the boys had drugged him. My eyes widened and instantly I started to cry. These were real life stories with people who have simply never had real access to healthcare or education. It was socially unjust in every way possible.
Luckily, there are other organizations in addition to LAUGHH that believe these people deserve better and are working to provide a better life for them. I am reminded of the starfish story every time there are cynics out there that question the real difference these nonprofits are making because well, the media rarely talks about the good that does happen in the world. It goes like this; one day a boy was walking on a beach that had thousands of stranded starfish. One by one, he picks up a starfish and throws it into the ocean. A man comes along and tells the boy “What are you doing, there is no way you can pick up all of these starfish. You won’t make a difference.” The boy picks up a starfish, tosses it in the ocean and says “Made a difference to that one.”
Simply raising awareness about social justice can have an impact on the lives of people in places you’ve never been. Each time you donate, volunteer your time or even share a social media post, you can help the fight to bring justice to those who don’t really have a voice themselves. What are some ways you have helped bring awareness to social justice? What unjust social situations have you seen or experienced? Leave a comment below and let us know!
Chris is a grad student studying communication at UCM.
M. Night Shyamalan and Indian Representation in Hollywood
M. Night Shyamalan’s career is an interesting subject to crack. Like many of his movies, it seems to find a way to surprise most people. I don’t know if I can think of another mainstream filmmaker that can create such polar opposite reactions in people when he is brought up. He has been labeled everything from “The Next Spielberg” and “genius” all the way to “one trick pony” and “hack.” He has made a best picture nominee in The Sixth Sense while also having the credit for what some consider the worst film adaptation of all time in The Last Airbender, a movie that sends shivers down the spine of the original show’s fans.
I’ve always been interested in his career full of ups and downs. I think when he is on, he is reallyon, but when he’s off… well, he’s definitely off. I appreciate that he still takes shots at telling original stories though. I’d even argue that there would be no Dark Knight trilogy without Unbreakable, a movie that showed realistic superheroes before it was all the rage. Hell, even Tarantino called Unbreakable “one of the masterpieces of our time.”
But I’m not here today to debate Shaymalan’s work, good or bad. Rather, I think his career warrants an interesting discussion on the representation of Indians in show business. I wonder what the sociocultural challenges Indian artists face while they work towards being successful filmmakers in the American film industry.
A quick Google search quickly shows that there aren’t many top grossing movies directed by Indian filmmakers in America outside of Shyamalan. Tarsem Singh (The Cell, Mirror Mirror) has had a few wide release movies but I wouldn’t bet on him being considered a household name. Aziz Ansari has done some great work in writing and directing his show Master of None, but still, nothing on the silver screen. Why is that? Why are there so few Inidan-American filmmakers finding success in Hollywood?
During a recent interview on Netflix’s Norm Has a Show, Shyamalan spoke about how overcoming the challenges of beating those odds started early, right in his own home. Growing up in a family that contains 14 doctors, he went against the norm and decided to pursue his dream of making movies. One of the things he commonly heard was, “it’s crazy, it’s Philadelphia, you’re Indian, this is crazy!” M. Night then went on to explain further, saying, “I get it, it is crazy…culturally that’s just not what you do. Artistry is not pushed in an immigrant family household.”
Outside of in-house cultural pressures, Shyamalan also noticed other pushbacks during his rise. During a behind the scenes featurette for The Sixth Sense, M. Night talked about a specific instance when he sent in a first cut of the movie for review. One of the first notes he received was a question flat out asking “what’s with the Indians, why are there so many Indians in the movie? Will it be distracting?” Shyamalan said he was confused at first, but then it kind of gave him a chip on his shoulder. Aside from his own cameo, there was only one other scene in the entire movie that featured two Indian-American actors.
Hearing that made me wonder if Shyamalan would have been asked to change the scene or cut out the Indian actors had he not negotiated having final cut over the film. I also wonder how many times “concerns” similar to that have been discussed behind the scenes before.
Since 1999, the population of Indians in the U.S. has more than doubled while becoming the fastest growing ethnic population in the country. Has the number of Indian artists working in the film industry reflected the fast rise in the Indian population? I really don’t get the feeling that it has.
Why is there such a low representation of the Indian population in Hollywood? Is it more of a familial or cultural influence? Societal? Both? What is your take on this? I’d love to hear any thoughts, personal opinions, and any extra information on this. Feel free to comment below!
And what would a post over Shyamalan be without a little twist at the end? So, in true M. Night fashion, here is a fun, surprising factoid: he penned the live action Stuart Little adaptation, wrote and directed The Sixth Sense, and ghost-wrote She’s All That (yes, the one you are thinking of) all in the same year. Each movie happened to be their three separate studio’s biggest hits of 1999.
Chris is a grad student studying communication at UCM.
Inclusion Riders and the Future of Hollywood
Back in March of this year, Frances McDormand took the stage at the 90thAcademy Awards to accept the award for Best Actress. Like her characters she portrays so well, she immediately grabbed everyone’s attention with her speech as she asked for all of the women in the audience to stand up. She told the room to look around. Told the men in the room to take notice. She pointed out how there are so many talented women who are ready to work. That there are plenty of people eager to bring forth new ideas to Hollywood, if only they had more opportunity. “We all have stories to tell,” she said.
Right before she left the stage, Frances McDormand ended her speech with; “I have two words to leave with you tonight. Ladies and gentlemen: inclusion rider.”
And the room listened.
Following her speech, many people wondered just what an “inclusion rider” actually was. Merriam-Webster even said it was one of their most searched terms for the day. It was apparent that more than just the room was listening.
So, what is an inclusion rider?
Well, a rider itself is simply a list of requests (or demands, however you want to look at it) that the performer wants fulfilled in order to complete the performance they were hired for. The requests can be technical or personal and often have a mixture of both. The personal ones are the fun demands you usually hear rumors about, like rock bands wanting only a certain color of M&M’s in a bowl, or pink toilet paper only. Riders can appear overly demanding but there is usually a good reason behind the specific things they request. *Keyword: usually.
Some are almost completely technical. For instance, I once received an email with actor Crispin Glover’s rider for a traveling live act of his I was going to help set up. When I opened his rider and saw that it was over six pages of single spaced walls of text, I thought to myself, “Holyyyy… for a small, one man show?!” But after looking it over, I quickly realized that he had written it himself and the whole thing was compiled over time to help the people in my position. He had seen what had worked in the past, what didn’t, and compiled an extensive list that (if followed correctly and not blown off) would make all of our lives easier when we worked together. It wound up being super-helpful and really showed he was both professional and courteous.
Some riders can get a bad rep, but some can be extremely helpful to everyone involved.
Now, when Frances McDormand brought the idea of an inclusion rider to the front of everyone’s minds, she was simply talking about using some of those requests to make sure some of your fellow co-workers have less of an uphill battle in trying to be considered for jobs.
This can be really effective when a bigger name adopts inclusion riders. The bigger the name, the bigger the pull. You think a studio is going to tell Meryl Streep or Denzel Washington to get lost when they request that their work environment resemble real world demographics? Nah. Definitely not. And that’s why it is kind of brilliant.
It will be interesting to see how it plays out, if people will use this tactic to help bring more diversity to entertainment. Actor Michael B. Jordan committed to having his production company, Outlier, adopt inclusion riders into their future projects. From there he convinced Warner Bros. to include it for a movie he is filming with them and in turn, they expanded it to a company wide policy.
Only time will tell how much of a difference it makes, but if a company as big as Warner Bros. is adopting it, I’d say it’s off to a good start.
Robin Canfield is the founder of Actuality Media, an organization that leads global experiential education opportunities for people who want to tell stories that matter. His documentary La Otra Manera is an official selection of the 2018 Show Me Justice Film Festival. La Otra Manera centers on an after-school program in Peru striving to develop each child’s potential and promoting the overall health of the community.
Last night was a morning like any other for me. That’s not to say my days begin by waking up after sunset – I had changemakers to call, people to talk film projects with. And last night the morning light in Cambodia was clearly shining on the other end of the video call.
I am based in Florida, as is Actuality Media – the Documentary Study Abroad organization I am the Programs Director of. The myriad changemakers we work with are scattered across the globe. Prepping for a call to an innovative food kitchen NGO in Guatemala for this summer, or for that call last year to the social enterprise hostel/education center in Peru that you’ll learn more about with La Otra Manera at Show Me Justice this April – those calls were easy.
Lusaka, Zambai – that’s seven hours ahead.
Jodhpur, India – ten and a half hours ahead.
Phnom Penh, Cambodia – a flat 12 hours ahead of me. And putting the call in the morning for the changemakers there isn’t just a nicety. In the developing communities where I am looking to take students and emerging filmmakers, the internet is not usually a reliable (we’ve even begun warning our crewmembers-to-be that they should prepare for an “internet drought”). So if a changemaker has to run to a cafe to get a better signal, it’s a much easier change at 11 AM than at 11 PM. And yes – that has happened.
The effort to schedule calls on the opposite side of the world paid off. Not just because I get to speak with people leading awesome organizations that are doing great work to solve social and environmental issues. There are – unfortunately – enough problems in the world that – thankfully – changemakers abound. I’ve spoken with, and filmed with enough changemakers over the many years I’ve been with Actuality Media that halfway through a call I’m usually holding back from starting in on documentary story examples and ideas that would fit to their work. I get excited by the possibilities but I hold it in because I want to hear it all, and I know if I wait long enough I’ll hear something that tells me what really makes them unique.
On both calls I made last night the organizations had that “more” factor, a twist on stories familiar to me that made them even more worth creating films about.
The first call was with an incubation group that designs products to improve sanitation and water quality conditions. These products are meant to sell on the open market and compete with less solution-oriented products. They aren’t sold by the changemaker, though – as I understand it, they spread the designs to locals across Cambodia to fabricate and sell. This was a unique quality already, but add to that their ultimate goal – not specifically to solve sanitation and water issues, but to render their own organization obsolete and unnecessary. It has been years since I spoke to a changemaker with such an ideal goal.
An hour after the first call, I started chatting with the Director of an NGO in Phom Penh that is adjacent to the city dump. They have support services for local youth in an area where many people are trash-pickers – they scour through freshly dumped trash and debris for anything they can sell. I’ve seen it before from afar when I filmed with a nonprofit school in Guatemala City, right next to the biggest landfill in Central America. Around the neighborhood plastics and metals looked to be erupting from under people’s couches and beds, and out their windows – waiting for the going rate to be high enough before they cash in.
In Cambodia the situation sounds much the same, but with a twist. The organization was previously also an orphanage (trash-picking is not a healthy profession) until the government recognized that many of the orphanages in Cambodia were swindling people with children forced to pose as orphans to bring in donation. All orphanages were outlawed. Now the organization helps re-integrate former “orphans” into life with the family they never actually lost. My amazement was surely palpable, even from 9,500 miles away.
There is a uniqueness to the story of every good changemaker. I’m practiced at finding it. Actuality Media will help emerging filmmakers and storytellers to find those qualities with changemakers this summer. And for you global citizens, students, supporters and audience members – every chance a changemaker has for their story to be told is an opportunity to learn not just what good they are doing, but what makes them unique.
You’ll have many such chances at the Show Me Justice Film Festival this April. Look forward to it, and I’ll keep making calls, and working to create more documentaries to bring you these changemaker stories.
Dan Goldes is the director of the documentary Arrested (Again), an official selection of the 2018 Show Me Justice Film Festival. Arrested (Again) focuses on activist Karen Topakian, who has been arrested dozens of times for using nonviolent civil disobedience to protest nuclear proliferation, human rights abuses, environmental issues, and war. In turn lighthearted and moving, Karen’s story speaks to the need for Americans, now more than ever, to exercise this important First Amendment right.
When Karen Topakian was studying filmmaking at the University of Rhode Island and getting arrested at a New York City demonstration against nuclear proliferation in 1982, she had no idea it would lead to a lifetime of arrests for nonviolent civil disobedience, culminating in a protest on a crane near the White House. Topakian, now the board chair of Greenpeace, Inc., is the subject of my short documentary film, Arrested (Again), which screens at the 2018 Show Me Justice Film Festival.
“My first foray into activism started in 1977 when my public interest lawyer roommate asked me to testify before the Rhode Island Public Utilities Commission about lowering residential rates during off-peak hours,” says Topakian. “Shortly after that I became a community organizer and haven’t stopped organizing since.”
In Washington, D.C. on January 25, 2017, Topakian and six other Greenpeace activists scaled a crane at a construction site near the White House to unfurl a 70-foot-long banner emblazoned with the word, “RESIST.”
“The protest itself and the simple message, ‘Resist,’ resonated with thousands of people in this country and around the world who need support and hope in the struggle for peace and justice,” says Topakian. This protest took place after Arrested (Again) was filmed.
The activist, who is 62 and lives in San Francisco with her female spouse, believes that nonviolence plays a key role in these direct actions. “I approach acts of civil disobedience with a strong commitment to do no harm to property or to people,” she says, “though I understand the anger felt by those who want to destroy the power structure that property can represent.”
After completing her film studies in Rhode Island, Topakian moved west to study film as a graduate student at the San Francisco Art Institute. After graduating in 1987 – and ahead of the IRS, which had caught up with the tax-resister and threatened to garnish her wages – she became a nuclear disarmament campaigner for Greenpeace in San Francisco. That was followed by 16 years as the Executive Director of the Agape Foundation Fund for Nonviolent Social Change, which awarded grants, loans, and fiscal sponsorship to California-based grassroots nonviolent social change organizations. In 2010, she became chair of the board of Greenpeace, Inc., and she now runs Topakian Communications, a freelance writing and communications consulting business that works primarily with advocacy organizations.
Along the way, Topakian’s commitment to activism never wavered. She’s regularly arrested at Hiroshima and Nagasaki Day protests at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and was arrested in October 2016 at Citibank’s San Francisco headquarters for protesting the bank’s financing of the Dakota Access Pipeline. She has protested the launching and commissioning of Trident submarines in Connecticut, blocked railroad tracks in Antioch, California, where DuPont produced now-banned ozone depleting chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), and was once arrested in San Francisco for simply being in the vicinity of a protest against Henry Kissinger.
“Taking risks every year is part of the credential of being an activist,” Topakian says, “and with this president, I’m concerned that if I don’t exercise my First Amendment right, he might try to take it away from us.”
For resources about nonviolent civil disobedience, visit the Arrested Again website.