AMP: Grassroots²

Chrystian Rodriguez of Third World Newsreel

What do you do? I like to think of myself as a filmmaker and educator. For most of my professional career, I’ve focused my work within the intersections of cinema, youth development, and community engagement. I got into the community media and youth development field as a young person who was really interested in film and visual arts, particularly connecting with a wider community of young artists and cultural organizers. I’m happy to say that’s what I’ve been doing since high school. I’ve dedicated over 15 years to working with diverse communities in order to help them gain the knowledge and skills to create thoughtful media that challenges oppression and amplifies critical topics related to equity and social justice.

What is your why? I want to support youth in their development as artists, but also ideologically as individuals by empowering them. My overall value is really about creating spaces for underrepresented communities to not just be seen because I feel like we often hear about networks and spaces for folks to be seen, but it’s not about people becoming powerful leaders in their own right and on their own terms, which should always be the end goal.

What is your why? Part 2 As a young person, I was really interested in comics. The funny thing is that I really got into cinema because I saw a movie that I really hated based on a comic book that I loved. The movie was based on the Spawn comic book, where a black man is condemned to be the leader of Hell’s army because of the terrible things he did on earth. Of course he rebels and becomes the popular anti-hero but the comic literally demonizes a black man, which holds a mirror up to the way society represents black communities. As a child, I didn’t think about the complexities of this type of representation, but I knew I liked the comic because the lead character was a man of color. I was angry about how the filmmakers disrespected the characters I got to know well through the comics… but even more upset that it didn’t address the social issues that it could have addressed. That experience taught me not just about film but the emotional and psychological places that film can impact its viewers. Prior to formulating this thought, I had a gut feeling that film can be a tool for transformation, especially for those of us who don’t see ourselves accurately or sufficiently represented in media.

Media making helped politicize me and understand my own power as a storyteller. It’s why I’ve worked at the intersection of film and youth development to bring that impact to young people who aren’t always able to share their stories or are told that their stories aren’t important. My personal mission is to create opportunities that provide systemically underrepresented communities with the support they need to develop as artists, utilizing media as a tool for social change. We hold a lot of power as filmmakers and storytellers, and so it’s imperative that I understand the values and beliefs I promote through my work. I strive to empower media makers to identify their ideological beliefs and explore strategies to create media with intention, carefully articulating its purpose and identifying the intended impact they seek with their audiences, especially within their communities.