Community Media-Making Practices and Aesthetics: Potentials and Pitfalls

Summer 2022

Vol. 22 no. 2

This special issue of The Projector brings together three perspectives on contemporary community media activism and aesthetic practices. Yulia Gilich explores the 2020 location-based sound instillation “Abolition Orientation” organized by the University of California, Santa Cruz, Cops Off Campus Coalition, which emerged during early COVID-19 lockdowns after a wave of student labor actions were met with brutal police responses. Gilich shows the complexity of organizing under COVID, and the capacity of organizers to harness community media-making practices to build a creative, nurturing, and caring liberatory praxis. Michelle Y. Hurtubise shares Gilich’s interest in collaborative art-making. Focusing on Kin Theory, an Indigenous media-maker database, Hurtubise argues for the indigenizing possibilities of co-liberation joy and narrative sovereignty, or joyous and collaborative Indigenous and BIPOC media-making practices. Ben Arthur Thomason, on the other hand, draws attention to the danger of uncritical consumption of community-media aesthetics, arguing that the aesthetic of grassroots activism is weaponized through the Oscar-winning The White Helmets, a documentary profiling the Syrian White Helmets rescue group.

                                                                                          ---Guest editor: Jamie Ann Rogers   

Image by Chris Sansbury

“Abolition Orientation”: Direct Action and Community Art

by Yulia Gilich

The Cops Off Campus Coalition emerged in Summer 2020, amidst a deadly global pandemic, relentless state and far-right violence, and a Black Lives Matter uprising for racial justice. Originating at the University of California (UC), the coalition soon grew to incorporate dozens of chapters at colleges and universities across North America. Cops Off Campus declared October 1, 2020, the first National Day of Action. Participating campuses held teach-ins, virtual gatherings, and in-person direct actions to mark the public launch of the campaign. Navigating the conditions of the COVID-19 pandemic, a number of the Cops Off Campus actions featured an inventive use of digital media that enhanced their capacity for political intervention. This article focuses on UC Santa Cruz’s locative sound installation titled “Abolition Orientation,” which effectively combined direct action and community art.

Image by Erica Lewis

Indigenizing Towards Co-Liberation Joy Through BIPOC Film Festivals and Sovereign Media Making

by Michelle Y. Hurtubise

Indigenous-led initiatives are inspiring a resurgence of narrative sovereignty in today’s media industries and film festivals, expanding possibilities for historically marginalized creatives. BIPOC industry support systems are on the rise as communities find mutual strength in effecting social change. Amidst a global pandemic and intense racial reckoning, the Nia Tero foundation launched Kin Theory, a global Indigenous media makers database to support Indigenizing the film industry. This article adds academic theorists to the discussion, putting Paulo Freire, Augusto Boal, and Clemencia Rodríguez’s interdisciplinary liberation work into conversation with Leanne Betasamosake Simpson, Glen Coulthard, Sonya Atalay, and additional Indigenizing theorists. By weaving their scholarship into the development of Kin Theory and festival events, it highlights pathways towards co-liberation joy through media making. Aiming beyond decolonization towards Indigenization, BIPOC theories illuminate how media practices not prescribed by colonization flourish.

Image by Mahmoud Sulaiman

Save the Children, Launch the Bombs: Propaganda Agents Behind The White Helmets Documentary and Media Imperialism in the Syrian Civil War

by Ben Arthur Thomason

Amidst the destruction of the Syrian Civil War, an ostensibly grassroots humanitarian search-and-rescue and media production organization, Syria Civil Defence, popularly known as the White Helmets, filmed, photographed, and reported on thousands of bombings, civilian rescues, and civil society efforts in rebel-held spaces that Western journalists could not access. This earned the White Helmets wide praise in Western media, Nobel Prize nominations, and a 2016 Oscar-winning Netflix documentary about them. However, studying the powers behind the White Helmets and their self-titled film reveals a deeper geopolitical and propaganda struggle. This article offers a political economy analysis of The White Helmets, arguing that its aesthetic of authentic grassroots activism was weaponized by the Western state and corporate forces that created and disseminated the film for the purposes of manufacturing consent for regime change in Syria. In detailing the powerful oil, intelligence, consultancy, and public relations agents behind the documentary and the White Helmets themselves, it suggests that theories of Western media imperialism and information warfare remain relevant for the digital age.