Puck Lo, our workshop coordinator, blogs about the first day of the TILT workshop at Youth Uprising:
The commercial might be familiar to anyone who watched last year’s Superbowl. In the classroom at Youth Uprising in East Oakland, seven high-school aged students, all youth of color, watched the commercial, which had been projected onto the wall. It was the first day of a nine-week Mobile Media workshop.
“Can I have some French fries…” the Black man seated at the restaurant asks the waiter, and a woman seated across from him, presumably his wife, kicks him.
Then a scene shows the same woman pushing the man’s face into a pie at a kitchen counter. Another scene finds him in the shower, about to bite into a doughnut, only to have it ripped away at the last moment by the woman, who replaces it with a bar of soap.
Cut to a park bench where the man, seemingly alone at last, pops the top of a Pepsi can. But the woman enters, stage left. The man’s eyes widen even as he thirstily gulps down his carbonated beverage, but the woman just takes a pull from her own can of Pepsi.
“Hey!” the man exclaims in disbelief. “I thought…”
“Pepsi Max,” the woman says, smiling. “Zero calories.”
A young white woman jogs by the couple, sitting at the bench next to them. She and the man exchange smiles, to the Black woman’s chagrin. She makes a face at the man and throws her Pepsi can at him. But he ducks; the can hits the white woman and knocks her out cold. She rolls off the bench and onto the cement.
The Black couple make wide-mouthed faces of horror, but unbelievably, they take each other by the hand and bolt away, the Black woman apologizing to the laid-out white woman almost under her breath as they flee the scene.
Many of the students in the East Oakland classroom tittered. Vincent Cortez, the course instructor, also smiled, but he was trying to make a point.
“When I first saw that I also laughed,” he said. “But why is that funny?”
Vincent had been discussing media literacy: the ability to critically analyze any platform or vehicle that communicates an idea or message. The discussion turned to the depictions of the Black couple in the ad – their casual violence, and how they ran away at the end.
“Someone somewhere might actually think this is how Black folks act,” one of the students said. Others nodded.
Breaking down and analyzing the messages embedded in various media is just one part of what the students will do in the upcoming weeks. They’ll also be countering mainstream depictions of themselves and their communities by creating video postcards that will tell a story – perhaps about their own lives, or a fictional narrative. Using cell-phone sized flip cams and Final Cut Pro, these teenagers will author two to five-minute long videos.
By the end of the two-and-a-half hours, all the students had made pictorial timelines illustrating their own lives and shared their work with the rest of the group. Each student filmed a fellow classmate answering the questions: “When people who don’t know me see me, they think… But if they did know me, they’d know that…”
“When people who don’t know me see me, they think I’m a dork,” one girl said, laughing. “But if they did know me, they’d know that I’m the coolest dork there is.”
At the end of the nine weeks, the East Oakland students will screen their work in San Francisco with another group of youth participants in the same program.