BETHESDA, MARYLAND - Over the last few months, a group of upper classmen at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School - known as BCC - in the U.S. state of Maryland, produced a film exploring the power of video and storytelling in tackling a serious problem: racial stereotypes. And it’s not only to expose the problem and the negative feelings it provokes, but to suggest solutions.
Racial stereotypes are painful
The film, called I,Too, am BCC, focuses on the school's African American and Hispanic students, who share their thoughts and experiences. They talk about remarks they've heard that reflect racial stereotypes, like blacks aren't as smart as whites.
Some of them express how they often feel that they have to go the extra step to prove that they are on the same level and to prove that they can do it. Others say that being the only black or Hispanic students in an advanced course makes them feel as if they don’t belong and how being a straight A student is sometimes surprising to other kids.
Abigail Braithwaite is one of the three student filmmakers.
“They kind of ended up telling a story,” she said. “It’s funny because a lot of these stories are kind of connected where it was all the same experience in different situations. In the video, a student, Yannik Alexis, tells a story about his friend, who was like, 'Oh you don’t look like you get straight As!'
"That story kind of made me feel a certain way just because I felt that before. I had a friend tell me, ‘Oh, I wouldn’t know that you take like Honor's cams or you took IB English.’ I feel like it’s because of the perception they get for me for being identified as an African American girl. And it’s kind of degrading all the achievements you’ve ever made,” she said.
Makdes Hailu said their film puts a human face on racial stereotypes and allows students who make those sorts of comments realize how painful and devastating they can be.
"It’s nothing like, you know, 'I hate you because you're black,'” Hailu explained. "It's none of that. It's really small, micro comments that you hear. It's not necessarily like the person being racist, but the person is buying into all these perceptions that that media portrays and other outlets that we learn about other people from, small things like, ‘Oh, you should straighten your hair,' Just small things that don’t sound racist, but when you think twice, you kind of [think] that can pertain to my race.”
Talking about it
The young filmmakers held screenings in class, followed by informal discussions about race.
“Watching the video is nice, but it’s not really put to effect unless you have discussions afterwards," she said. “We went to 50 or so classes. We talked to students. I think the overall message that we’re trying to send to these kids was that stereotypes are wrong.”
Producing films on racial stereotypes is part of the school’s Minority Scholar Program, says BCC assistant principal Sharif Robinson.
“Our goal for the Minority Scholar program is to empower students to identify issues at their school,” he says. “Not only to identify the issues, but also come up with the solutions. That’s exactly what these students did. For me it benefits them tremendously. It’s given them extremely great leadership skills.”
Looking for solutions
Orlando Pinder, the film's director and cinematographer, said everyone was open to talk.
“We had times during the shooting where even people who were not involved in the shoot started talking because they felt empowered,” he said.
And when people feel empowered, they can think about solutions to the problem.
“What we say is just try to meet someone of another race,” he explained. “Try to meet someone who is different from you because if you live in a very segregated area, if you’re with only black people or with only white people. you’re not going to get the sense of people you’re going to work with. You can’t go through your life avoiding another race, being scared of them or worried how some of them might perceive you.”
The young filmmakers are now taking the conversation beyond BCC. They are interviewing students from other high schools in the area and creating a second film on racial stereotypes.