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Accuracy • Independence • Integrity

December 11, 2017   |   Ithaca, NY

Opinion

Senior films confront racial tensions and stereotypes

In the cinema production concentration, students spend four years waiting to make their senior thesis film. The culmination of technical and creative skill sets are fleshed out on the big screen after an entire semester of production. For two emerging female filmmakers, one black and one Hispanic, this was the semester to risk it all. The following are reflections on their films.

The media today fails to portray how Arizona’s SB 1070 has revived and reemphasized racial tensions in the United States. The danger is that the message of unfair and inhumane treatment of Hispanics gets lost in today’s major media outlets. Ithaca College senior Sean Temple asked me to get on board with a screenplay he was writing as part of a David Ames Award project, where he would win $5,000 to bring the script to life. Of course, I agreed to co-direct the film “Illegal” with him. When the film wasn’t chosen for the David Ames Award, we felt even more empowered to show this is an issue that must be talked about. It is currently our senior thesis project.

I also wanted to tell another story. As part of my second thesis project, I’m directing another short film, “Morado,” that deals with a topic not often explored in student shorts. For me, the issue of domestic abuse hits close to home. Too often films depict the victim as a weak female, eventually finding a way to escape the wrath of her abusive partner. But the reality is that many women, especially in the Hispanic community, submit to their partner’s authority, not merely because of weakness but because of love and what it means to them.

In my films, I seek to not only expose the underrepresented groups of society — illegal immigrants and victims who decide to stay in abusive relationships — but also examine the power dynamic held in today’s society. What is film if not a means to generate debate among spectators?
Jalissa Cruz

With “Jemila’s Tale,” I stepped into uncharted territory. I hesitated at even writing a script about a young black girl named Jemila, who makes her own black fairy tale. What if I couldn’t corral all the complexities of black identity into a coherent short film? Thankfully, I formed a team with cinematographer Ayshea Khan and producer Allie Taylor, two senior cinema production majors who were true collaborators in this journey.

The film follows a young black girl feeling underrepresented in the predominantly white fairy tales she reads. As an emerging black filmmaker, even coming up with an idea about a film centered on a black character was easier said than done. It required shelving my knowledge about technical film production and going back to the organic nature of why I tell stories. It took a lot of soul searching on my part about being a black person today and still not seeing myself fully represented in mass media.

It was a challenge casting a dynamic child actress to play Jemila. I felt frustrated, even at our class’s auditions, because I was looking for such a specific demographic. I had to find a young local black girl, who was enthusiastic about the part, had a flexible schedule and had family supportive of the project. I finally did meet a little girl named Cynthia, who I have been excited to learn and grow with. Most of all, she reminded me every day of why I should continue writing films about compelling black protagonists. Good films are reflections of how filmmakers see the world around them. That’s why I love film. If I don’t like what I’m being shown, I can always tell my own tale.
— Christina Bryant

Jalissa Cruz and Christina Bryant are senior cinema photography majors. Email them at jcruz2@ithaca.edu and cbryant1@ithaca.edu.