By Marisa Wong.  Marisa is WITNESS’ Tools & Training Program Assistant.  Read her previous posts on our blog and follow her on Twitter. Read previous posts in our 16 Days series here.

A few weeks ago I was fortunate to sit in a dark room with the inspirational and multifaceted collection of voices that make up the Media that Matters Film Festival.  Showcasing its 11th premiere this year, Arts Engine’s annual screening curates diverse independent films and shorts which jump start thought, conversation, and action – a celebration of video for change in its many shapes and sizes.  

After my summer working on WITNESS’ new training resource for video advocates, the clear objective, audience, message, and style of Nuala Cabral’s anti-street harassment video, “Walking Home,” were difficult to ignore.  Defined as “a form of sexual harassment that takes place in public spaces,” street harassment is one of the most under-reported forms of harassment, yet it happens everyday on streets all over the world.

As part of our series on the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence, we’re sharing an interview I conducted with Ms. Cabral about her film.  Watch “Walking Home” here, and then read my interview with Nuala Cabral where she shares insights on planning and creating her advocacy video, the impact of her social media distribution strategies, and her advice for aspiring video advocates.

Video Facts:

Title: Walking Home, see it on the Media That Matters Film Festival website here.
Date Created: 2009
Who Made It: Nuala Cabral – Educator, Filmmaker, Activist
Length: 4:03 minutes
Location: USA
Human Rights Issues: Street Harassment, Gender-Based Violence

About Nuala Cabral (referred in the interview below by her initials, NC):
NC: “I am an educator, filmmaker and activist. I currently teach media literacy and media production at community organizations and Temple University, where I recently obtained my Master’s degree in Broadcasting, Telecommunications and Mass Media. Most of my films deal with issues that confuse, frustrate or fascinate me– the objectification of women in the mainstream hip hop, gentrification and street harassment are all examples of issues I’ve explored through video. With each film, I have sought to generate honest and constructive dialogue across boundaries of gender, race and class. I think a lot of times advocacy begins with constructive dialogue, and video is an effective and accessible tool to spark those conversations.”

Advocacy Objectives & Audience
Cabral wanted to raise awareness, inspire dialogue, and mobilize community action to address and end street harassment – not just for the victims and perpetrators of street harassment, but also for the witnesses and bystanders.

NC: “Experiencing and witnessing street harassment on a regular basis was the motivation for making this film.  Growing up I mostly ignored street harassment, but then found myself living in cities where ignoring street harassment was not always the safest response. I began to realize that navigating street harassment was like an art form, something many women and girls learn to do in order to stay safe and comfortable. Since making the film I have also been thinking more about how non-gender conforming individuals and LGBT folks are also forced to master this “art” of avoiding or responding to street harassment.

In 2008, I was living in Brooklyn and participating in a six-month documentary production program at Third World Newsreel, a community media organization for filmmakers interested in social justice. I had the opportunity to direct two short films while in this program; “Walking Home” was one of them. I have found filmmaking to be an excellent tool to explore social issues and engage audiences in critical dialogue about how things are and how things could be.

“It is important to first identify who the key audience is.
Now I ask, who will care about this video? And I research to find out.”

Starting with certain communities in mind is helpful, but I knew I wanted to expand my audience beyond those who already recognize street harassment as a problem.  Encountering street harassment can feel alienating and lonely — even when bystanders are around and especially when bystanders say nothing. I hope the film speaks to this cross section of people because clearly we each have a role to play when it comes to ending street harassment.”

Content and Style
Cabral alternated between flip video and 16mm footage, voice-over, original poetry and music to communicate her message.  Narrated by several different voices, you get the impression that the message is being delivered from the perspective of every woman who has ever experienced street harassment.  The product is an atmospheric and emotionally charged visual statement – one to which viewers can’t help but react.

NC: “The film incorporates both video and film. I used what I had access to. The film also plays with color. I wanted the moments of objectification to be in black and white.

I think poetry can be an effective tool to reach audiences that may not tune into a documentary or newscast.  Originally the film was supposed to be a music video, but we started backwards in that we shot the footage (16 mm on a Bolex camera) without a particular song in mind. Deciding on a song that fit the tone of “Walking Home” was challenging so I held off on editing for a while. A year later, I was living in Philly and participating in community media workshops that inspired some reflective writing (thanks to Messages in Motion and poet/author Sonia Sanchez via the Scribe Video Center). Adding my own narration and the voice-overs of my friends and family made Walking Home especially personal.  I then shot a bit more footage on a flip video camera.  Drummer and composer April King offered her music after seeing the piece. I chose a song of hers that added intensity without distraction.

I think Walking Home is ideal for the web because it’s four minutes long
and I can send it directly to target audiences via a tweet, email or post.”

Distribution Strategies & Social Media
NC: “From the beginning, family and friends have been incredibly supportive and many have passed “Walking Home” along to their networks. Activist organizations (like Hollaback), online news sites and feminist communities and blogs (like the Crunk Feminist Collective) have also expanded the films audience.  Some bloggers and online editors have used “Walking Home” as an illustrative example in articles or blog posts about street harassment. When I discover these blogs I share them, which lends momentum to my video advocacy and the larger movement.”

Social media allowed the audience to grow– people were posting it on their profiles, emailing it around and discussing it over the web. For the first year, only a few small festivals and cable access channels contacted me about screening the film in the U.S. and abroad. I didn’t have much luck getting “Walking Home” accepted to larger festivals –and because those submission fees can be so expensive, I chose to focus on distribution through social media.

Social media has been an incredible resource because it has connected me to a movement that is working to end street harassment. Developing a better understanding of twitter and hashtags, for example, helped me enter an ongoing discourse around #streetharassment. Those interactions led me to organize in solidarity with others beyond the screen at the First Annual Anti-Street Harassment Day, a day of action spearheaded by author and activist Holly Kearl.”

International Screenings & Role of Network and Allies
Aside from screening at Media That Matters 11, “Walking Home” has been screened to youth in high school and university classrooms, where Ms. Cabral teaches media literacy and activism.

NC: “Media literacy helps students develop critical thinking skills and creativity, but it also can help instill the idea that media matters. I want my students to feel empowered when they create media and tell their story.  I think it’s important for media literacy to go beyond the classroom and engage all ages, however. This is why I co-founded a grassroots media literacy project called FAAN Mail (Fostering Activism and Alternatives Now), where we talk back to the media and create the messages we wish to see.”
What responses have you received from the video?
NC: “There has been a range of feedback. “Walking Home” has resonated with many women and men who have witnessed or experienced street harassment. Many comments reveal some common understanding.

There has been dismissive and sarcastic feedback as well, but those responses can sometimes
lead to constructive dialogue.  And the occasional backlash at least tends to underline
why I needed to make Walking Home in the first place.

I am grateful that “Walking Home” has been embraced and utilized within the movement to end street harassment. I consider this a huge success. I am particularly excited about this film being used in classrooms and look forward to developing teaching guides that help teachers unpack “Walking Home,” since many young people encounter forms of harassment on a daily basis.”
What advice would you give to first-time video activists?
NC: “Use whatever equipment you have access to and just do your best to tell your story. Before you shoot, familiarize yourself with basic camera techniques and approaches to storytelling. The WITNESS Video Advocacy Toolkit is an amazing resource for that. Once your video is complete, use social media (blogs, Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, etc.) to connect with the movements, audiences and change-makers associated with your subject. Try to document the dialogue around your video because you can learn from the array of interpretations, feedback and questions you get from viewers. Stay open to opportunities to collaborate and build on your media. Right now I am working with others to organize a week of international activism next year called “Meet Us On The Street.”Being involved in this form of activism was not something I envisioned when shooting my film. During the production process you never really know where your media will take you and what impact it will have. This can be frustrating at times, but it’s also pretty exciting.”

5 thoughts on “Educator, Filmmaker, and Activist Nuala Cabral Takes On Street Harrassment

  1. Hey, I would love to see the video but the link says it’s private. Any way to get access?

  2. THANKJ NUALA ! This is GREAT what you are doing ~ KEEP ON KEEPIN’ ON ! xoSarah B.Meardon ( Yeah , Marilyn’s daughter !) xoxoS

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *