Conversations allow people to connect, develop new ideas, and share personal experiences. As the ability to have complex conversations in classrooms, the workplace, or even offices that determine change slips away, Jonathan Brown II ’23, Political Science and Film and Media Production, created a documentary that demands viewers listen to each other.
“There is more to us than meets the eye. We have two ears and one mouth for a reason: more listening, less talking. Biologically we are 99 percent alike, but we tend to focus on our external differences. This project aims to show that we all share similarities, but often fail to recognize them based on outward appearance,” said Brown. “The purpose of this was really to emphasize the importance of our voice.”
During the project, Brown met with more than 20 people from his community in a safe space of their choosing. Having a conversation in a safe location allowed Brown and the interviewees to connect and be honest about questions being asked.
“I made sure that I was interviewing people from a broad set of demographics, across age, gender, racial and social demographics to capture their personal experiences. I tried to reach any and everybody, regardless of who they are. I’m very grateful for them,” said Brown. “I wanted to talk about the things that people are very uncomfortable talking about. I asked questions about their experiences during COVID, especially their views on education, race, and privilege.”
The multimedia documentary, “A Thousand Words,” is broken up into sections such as COVID-19, education, and self-reflection. Brown is clear that there are no right or wrong answers, leaving space for the subject to be honest and open about their experience.
“My favorite thing about this project was really just getting to see people be very comfortable with themselves. Some people really took time to pause to answer because they never really asked themselves these types of questions,” said Brown. “If we’re not having difficult and sometimes uncomfortable conversations in the classroom or workplace, we aren’t leaving time to self-reflect, to really look at yourself and see what you can do to better the people around you.
“This multimedia documentary leverages implicit bias instilled by visual stereotypes and then intentionally removes it, forcing the audience to simply listen. This choice creates a culturally inclusive environment to speak freely without fear of judgment,” said Brown. “The purpose of this was really to emphasize the importance of our voice. I really want the listener to be fully immersed into what people have to say.”
Sabrina Evans-Renkar, assistant professor, Media, worked directly with Brown on his capstone project.
‘“A Thousand Words’ gives every voice equal footing in a collective conversation about the challenges younger generations are facing and how they impact the future we’re all forging together,” said Evans-Renkar. “One of the things I love about Jonathan’s project is how he was able to successfully capture a complex reality by using a seemingly simple premise for his multimedia documentary. He begins the project using video of himself introducing the piece. In doing so, he both invokes and calls out the inherent bias every person carries with them into daily interactions. He then makes the radical choice to pull the rug out from under his audience by pivoting to using audio only – a decision that forces the viewer into a place of literal color blindness.”
At the 27th Annual Symposium on Undergraduate Scholarship and 7th Annual Graduate Research Forum, Brown was awarded the Diversity and Inclusion Research Award and given the opportunity to give an oral presentation.
“My findings showed that we are often more alike than we acknowledge and that we struggle to have conversations about controversial issues in formal settings because of our tendency to judge one another based on appearance,” said Brown. “I hope this documentary inspires others to engage in difficult conversations, regardless of the environment.”
To view “A Thousand Words,” visit https://youtu.be/0Dxm5bqT1xY.