Friday, August 24, 2012

Anacostia Short Documentary Misses the Mark

Good-willed white people innocently travel to the jungle to teach the natives about their untapped resources. Yawn. While I support cleaning up the Anacostia, and we need all the help we can get, Meridian Hills Pictures new short, "Anacostia Paddle" gives the kids an overview, but doesn't give our youth any real tools to make a change. At some point, the environmental movement needs to stop beating our heads against the wall. Watch the kids being talked at and see if you can find any real solutions woven through this self-absorbed piece.

Some may say, "Anacostia Yogi, you raise problems but where are your solutions?". Where do I begin?
1. Will a clean river offer jobs or create industry?
   How about building a stronger connection between cleaning the river and job prospects? Ralph Nader suggested that we encourage our youth to speak up intelligently against environmental degradation via a citizen scientist program. Sure take the kids on the river for now, but also help them see into the future. What will this mean for food on my table and clothes on your back? How does the environment connect to the everyday life of a black teenager?

2. Why aren't you talking to Maryland teens?
The video blames the damned Marylanders for all of our problems. But then tells the kids that they have to make changes. Huh?? Why Anacostia? Go where the problem is, not where you see poor black people.Where is the collaboration with Maryland-based environmental agencies or efforts? The messages contradicted each other and didn't lead to any real long  term actionable steps.

3. Why were the youth voices muted?
  Why couldn't we get a solid quote or experience from the kids? Why do we only  see the Great White Hope blabbering away about "culture".

4. Give the kids something that they can believe in.
More than taking our kids on a boat ride.  Do more than a community service project and pat yourself on the back. Link real resources or outreach to their lives. After watching the video, I thought, "What do I do now?" The videos ends with no real resources or tools to help the viewer take action.

The video originally aimed in the right direction but missed the mark as the producers are too self indulgent and the "Great White Hope" theme too predictable. Instead, I recommend spending time with Groundwork DC or Anacostia Watershed Society to build a solid connected organization that empowers youth to make sustainable changes.


Anonymous said...

I usually love your writing, but this seems to be unnecessarily snarky. Some of the speakers from this film are staffers from the Anacostia Watershed Society, preaching in the manner that you've dismissed. That said, I don't understand how AWS would offer a more culturally sensitive trip on the river.

Sure, the video does not discuss green jobs, but the youth involved took this trip as a part of their green job, the city sponsored Green Corps program. I think they already have an understanding of what a green economy is and how a cleaner Anacostia would support that.

I am all for calling out patronizing BS when I see it--that Underground Railroad comment was a bit much--but I don't think the speakers here were too out of line. Sure, they did not engage the youth enough, but their work is admirable.

Sariane Leigh said...

Thanks for your comment and feedback. Strange, I actually appreciated the "Underground Railroad" reference.

I think this is 4th or 5th video about kids taking rowing and paddling on the Anacostia River. I would like to see a more compelling conversation about activism and sustainable progress.

We are all in this together and I support Meridian's collective vision.