Imba Means Sing & the 72 hours that gave me clarity

This past week has honestly been a crazy mix of emotions. Within 72 hours, I went to the Nonprofit Networking night, watched two powerful documentaries Imba Means Sing and Audrie & Daisy (incredible documentary about sexual assault), and got the chance to meet the producer of Imba Means Sing. I’m the type of person who usually loves to have a game plan and a schedule but have been consistently unable to put my life after college down on an agenda pad – and it has been beyond frustrating. Everyone is constantly asking me what I want to do with my two majors (Human Health and Anthropology) after I graduate, or what field I want to go into after college. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve said “I’m not sure yet, just kind of doing my own thing and seeing where it takes me;” I also can’t tell you the amount of disappointed looks I’ve gotten from that response. I mean I’m a junior… I’m supposed to have my life together right?

All of my friends have awesome internships and summer jobs lined up, and all of my friends who have graduated are living in big cities, loving life, and working for great companies. And then there’s me. Unless you count babysitting and “interning” for my dad’s financial services company as work experience then I literally have none – yep this is terrifying, I know. Part of this is because I’ve always been consumed by basketball (I was on the varsity team here at Emory for my first two years) and part of it is because I just didn’t want to get a job, I didn’t want to grow up and have to “be an adult.” So yeah, in the end I’m the only one to blame and I take full responsibility for my lack of work experience but I also take full responsibility for my desire for life experience. I crave new cultural experiences. I crave the feeling you get when you go to a place you’ve never been before. I crave the independence that rushes through my body when I’m traveling without my mom by my side or the perspective I gain by going to different parts of the world that are so different from what I’ve learned to label as “home.”

If one thing has been a constant in my life, it’s how much I love to do nonprofit work. I know I’m kind of going on a rant here but I promise it’ll all add up in the end. I’ve been involved with volunteer work for a really long time and it was never something “I had to do” but always something “I wanted to do.” But still, I’ve gone through high school and half of college with absolutely no idea of what “I wanted to do” career-wise. Then this past week happened, and everything started to make sense. I should probably mention an event that I went to the week before – the all-anticipated Career Fair – and I should probably mention, sorry if I offend anyone, that it was literally the worst thing I have ever been to… ever.

Stand in line. Have multiple copies of your resume – wouldn’t want to run out. Smile! Wear lip-gloss. Look pretty. Shake their hands firmly. Make sure you get a $40 leather portfolio to put all of your freshly printed resumes in! Compete for a spot in line. Don’t let someone else come by and take over the conversation. Assert yourself. Be confident – but not too confident, especially if you’re a woman talking to a man, I mean you wouldn’t want him to think that you’re full of yourself (don’t get me started here…).

 So yeah, I absolutely hated it. Because of that experience I almost didn’t go to the Nonprofit networking night because I was so drained from how ridiculous the Career Fair was, but I changed my mind last minute and went. The contrast was immediate and extremely refreshing. It was everything the Career Fair wasn’t and it was everything I could’ve hoped it would be. I had some amazing conversations with incredible people running/working for inspiring organizations and I loved every second of it. This is where 2 + 2 was finally starting to equal 4. I want to work with a Nonprofit – or start my own! Duh! It was so obvious, why hadn’t I thought of it before? Well, a number of reasons, but I can address those some other time.

Then, we watched Imba Means Sing and I just fell in love with every aspect of it. To be honest, I’ve always loved documentaries and although I’m not extremely talented with a camera, I’ve always enjoyed making mini-movies for class projects and things of that nature. Not only did I love the documentary but Erin was such an incredible person to have the chance to meet and her work is truly inspiring. I didn’t even know The Creative Visions Foundation existed and this past weekend I stalked every component of their website and signed up for anything/everything I could through them! I honestly can’t say what exactly it is, and I’m still immensely confused/scared about my future, but something clicked for me this past week and I’m so excited to move forward with this newfound inspiration and potential life goal.

In regards to Imba Means Sing specifically (sorry I digressed from the questions), I think one of the main strategies that made the film so accessible to young audiences was its focus on the children. A lot of individuals in my generation can more easily empathize/connect with younger kids versus adults, at least in my opinion. With their focus on the children, and a focus on 2-3 in particular, the filmmakers were able to elicit an emotional response from the audience. Young audiences were able to develop relationships with the “characters” and as the documentary progress; we wanted to see them succeed.

Moreover, I think that this increase in social practice art is due to the characteristics of the world, or at least country, we live in today. The US is defined by its technological advancements and our generation is equally defined by our reliance on/proficiency with all things “social” via technology. That being said, videos, pictures, and documentaries are a very successful way to relay messages to our generation, as those are three platforms we are familiar and comfortable with. So, linking social change to art inevitably increases the change’s potential for success. It also makes social issues or concerns more accessible. Sometimes issues taking place halfway across the globe don’t impact people because they don’t seem relevant. But I believe that once someone creates a tangible piece of art to almost bring that issue “to life” it becomes more accessible and in turn more impactful for the general audience. I’m not saying that this is how things should be – we should care about the world that we live in and want to take part in something bigger than ourselves everyday – but I think it’s how things inevitably are.

Imba means cha-ching!

I couldn’t resist! I won’t resist!

This post is dedicated to creating to expanding our vision, to creating new visions, even if that means destroying some visions and imagining others. It’s meant to show a glimpse of the potential that awaits when we start destroying the lenses we mistake for our own eyes. Destructive Visions, yeah I like the sound of that!

One of the first things that came to mind when I watched Imba Means Sing was the cultural appropriation by the Children’s Choir organization right from the beginning: commodifying aspects of a culture and stripping them of local, historical and personal context so as to present them in a profitable way within consumerist society.

As I watched this film I felt a certain constellation of sensations.

Only a few kids get out.

Read that and think it over for a bit…

Do you like that fact? Why does it happen? And why don’t we really pay any attention to this fact?

I felt angry for all those who will never get out and never have gotten out.

But come on, what could be wrong with raising money for kids to get an education? That’s got nothing to do with any of this stuff you’re speaking about, right?

Well… are you so sure?

But before I get started.

Is it better than doing nothing? Well maybe… but I think this is a trap question, or at least one we shouldn’t limit ourselves to. What we should really be comparing our actions to—if we truly care to make the greatest difference—are other actions. Not: film vs. no film, but film vs. different film, and even film vs. other actions or film vs. film and other actions, and so on….

The film has been praised for showing the conditions that the children and their families live in. This is a good first step, certainly better than hiding or ignoring them, and it needs to be followed up by more.

Why do the conditions that these children live in actually exist? And why do they persist? You could make hundreds of documentaries and just scratch the surface of this question, but couldn’t we at least include the question? Otherwise it’s as if we accept it as a given, and this is certainly the assumption that slips in if just you watch the film, even more so if you’re a kid, I think. Such assumptions are not characteristics inherent solely to this organization or film, but rather reflect the prevailing assumptions of our society and culture.

I grew up for years wondering why the world was the way it was and no one seemed to know the answers. I think it would have been amazing for this film to even dedicate 30 seconds to raising questions about the nature of society and the situations these children and their families find themselves in: “how did things get like this? Why do they stay like this? Why has it not changed? Who is really in control of what’s going on?”

Of course, there are probably limits to what an organization like this will allow a film maker to include about them before closing up or losing interest, just like advertisers and information sources (people, groups, institutions) do with media stations [2].

But let’s ask ourselves some more anyway.

“Why hasn’t anyone changed all of this already?”

The answer is: they can’t.

I can see no other reason. Can you?

Why can’t they? Because society is not run by just anyone but by those with power and ownership, and all who obey and reproduce such an ordered disorder. And no amount of petitioning others to act on our behalf will ever change the fact that we are pleading for others to use their power to remedy the ills caused by structures of concentrated and coercive power. No one will ever offer you the freedom to act as you see fit because no one can—not any politician or product pusher.

I do not find the prospects of the education system all that hopeful either. For one, it fosters a competitive separatist mentality over false scarcity (grades, ranks, status) just like the capitalist and state structures. It also prepares people to assimilate into the current social system and work on its terms rather than challenging the status quo. So you get your schooling done, go get a job and then perpetuate the whole system whose foundations and effects you just needed help to escape from.

Whoever can offer a wage to those who need it determines what should be done and how. Schools are an extremely efficient mechanism for absorbing dissent and channeling energy to support the institutions that control the schools and dominate the overall culture.

Again, our comparison should not be to “nothing, aka no education” but to other forms and to seriously question what we consider to be education [1]. Most schools will never raise serious concerns about the institution of private property (aka absentee ownership backed up by threat and use of violence), let alone any alternatives.

Why are we still accepting the neo/liberal ideologies and disseminating them? Like the idea that we just need to increase some vague notion of equal “opportunity” so people can better compete for positions within the fabricated and arbitrary hierarchies that serve to subordinate everyone for the privileges of a few?

This is the whole point: by not drawing attention to these assumptions in our media, they become embedded in and reproduced through the viewers.

Even though these issues are beyond the scope and perhaps purpose of this documentary I wish it at least acknowledged them rather than becoming another voice perpetuating the dominant narratives.

It does not explicitly or likely even intentionally do this either, which is what makes the whole process so insidious! No fundamental alternatives exist! We are pretty much never taught to question these things in any school. These societal and cultural assumptions are so pervasive it’s as if they were the fabric of reality itself.

What makes me so angry is that so many films seems to uncritically accept and reinforce the state-capitalist-consumerist trifecta that relies on a hidden history of (neo)colonialism, racism and other systems of exploitation. Even ones that try to challenge this often rely on the same fundamental activities and often support the nonprofit industrial complex [3]: vote your way out, consume your way out, focus on a becoming a professional and making a career.

In creating certain visions, we also destroy others. By bringing attention to select aspects we create certain narratives and distract from details which do not fit it. This is the paradox of filmmaking and perhaps all narrative and art. These are all just as much about what is not included, and what does not make the final cut as what does.

So we should look at our films, our art, our narratives, our stories, and ask ourselves: what is missing? What is not being said? And why? And whom does it benefit?

One may counter that these perspectives have no bearing if the intentions and goals of the film are different, but I find these notions lackluster and evasive at best. Can creative visions not be expanded? Must they be limited by denying critical engagement? I do not think so.

So what am I doing about it? My point is to point out that what often seem like innocuous details in fact re-establish fundamental paradigms that support the problems and status quo we are seeking to change.

If we cannot see the problems, then we act as if there are no problems. If people start with the wrong assumptions they’ll never get to the roots of the issues they wish to change.

It would be quite interesting if someone—perhaps the authors themselves—made a documentary critiquing and expanding on their own work and engaging critically with it, really critically. Has anyone ever done that? Follow up their(?) own work with a critique of it? I think that would be pretty cool.

References

[1] Haworth, R. H. (2012). Anarchist pedagogies: Collective actions, theories, and critical reflections on education. Oakland, CA: PM Press.

[2] Herman, Edward S, and Noam Chomsky. Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media. New York: Pantheon Books, 1988. Print.

[3] Incite! Women of Color Against Violence. (2007). The revolution will not be funded: Beyond the non-profit industrial complex.

Imba Means [More Than] Sing

The filmmakers used an unobtrusive documentary style to film Imba Means Sing. By doing this they truly captured the real moments such as the performances and the children’s’ interactions between each other. They also shot on the children’s’ eye level so instead of looking down on the young kids they were on the same level. This prevented the insinuation of looking down upon children or even further African children. It makes us feel equal and youthful as if we are one of their friends that are looking in the eye talking to instead of us towering over them and looking down on them throughout the film.

It is great to see that the children’s’ voices were heard throughout the movie, not only by song but also by the limitation of adult voices. Their culture is displayed by juxtaposing American lifestyle and cuisine to that in Uganda. It is also shown through their songs and outfits when they perform. I think there’s been a rise in organizations like the African Children’s Choir since people find as many similarities as they can to feel like insiders rather than outsiders. Connections like aspiring to be a pilot or a chef are collective dreams that any race or ethnicity has. Imba Means Sing was more than a film about a choir of African children on tour. It was a film that shared culture at the same time reminding us that no matter what country we are from we all have dreams and passions.

 

Imba Means Sing

Imba Means Sing is a touching documentary film that draws a striking comparison between the living conditions in Uganda and in The United States. It was confronting to see firsthand the stark disparity in wealth and another thing entirely to imagine the children’s perspective on why their home is so different from what they’ve seen abroad.

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The film follows a group of children from The African’s Children Choir, an organization that is an inspiration to the world. This is not an organization that idly or passively offers aid, but rather works hands-on with the children in their program, to ensure that they have a better life filled with greater opportunity and the skills to impact change for others. I think it is especially worth noting that the program returns the children to their homeland after the completion of the program. This encapsulates what the mission of the organization is. It aims to spread change, education, and betterment through the children they serve to the larger African community. I find this model of social impact to be highly successful and admirable.

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It was an incredible experience to meet the producer of Imba Means Sing. I was touched that she had personally been volunteering and following the African’s Children Choir for years before she made her film. As a class, we have been talking a lot about the role of the filmmaker and how to manage one’s involvement with the subjects. Is one’s access dependent upon one’s insider or outsider status? I found that her genuine care for the children came through in her portrayal of them. It was clear her personal relationship with them granted her different access than a distant observer trying to capture what Ugandan children are like. Ultimately, Erin Bernhardt’s personal touch made the film a warmhearted portrayal of the children’s past and desired futures.

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Both Imba Means Sing and Dan Eldon’s work deeply inspire others to foster their creativity as well as use it to promote social change. Media or art allows everyone to share a message of any kind with the world. Being able to harness this power and use it to concretely make the world a better place is probably the reason behind the growing link between social change and art.  Art has always reflected some aspects of the world in which we live.  With the rise of technology and affective ways of sharing video and ideas, organizations begin to view media as their outlet to being heard, raising awareness, and ultimately creating social impact.