Students from local high schools participated in a number of workshops during the “I Too Am” Media Festival.
Photo by: Spencer Quinn

L.A. high schoolers explore identity, belonging and community

On Feb. 1, 2020, USC Annenberg hosted the “I Too Am” Media Festival, funded by California Humanities, the independent nonprofit partner of the National Endowment of the Humanities. The day-long event was organized by Alison Trope, clinical professor of communication, DJ Johnson, associate professor of practice from USC School of Cinematic Art’s Media Arts + Practice Division and communication PhD students Jessica Hatrick and Olivia Gonzalez.

The festival, which was open to all Los Angeles high school students, received more than 50 total submissions from 21 schools. Student film projects addressed themes of identity, belonging and community, challenging often typical representations that are widespread in contemporary media. In alignment with USC Annenberg’s Critical Media Project, the films touched on a range of identity categories, including race and ethnicity, gender, LGBTQ+, religion, age, socio-economic class, and disability.

In addition to viewing select submissions, students also had the opportunity to participate in hands-on participatory learning experiences in storyboarding, [maga]zine-making and music production. These workshops were designed to strengthen attendees’ storytelling skills and awareness of the relationship between art and activism.

Speakers at the festival included Edna Chavez, a young activist who spoke at the 2018 March for Our Lives event in Washington, D.C., and Brett Gray, star of Netflix’s On My Block. Both shared experiences of how they had to fight to have their perspectives seen and heard. In addition, they shared their respective work in community activism and media industries.

“The event took place one week prior to the Oscars, and we were excited to celebrate a more diverse and expansive set of stories through the inaugural ‘I Too Am’ Media Festival,” Trope said. “As an extension of the work we do in local schools with Critical Media Project, we hope this festival empowered participants to think about the ways media impacts them, while also encouraging them to tell their own stories about their own experiences and their own communities.”

Commenting on the impact of the day, attendee and staff member from the City of Los Angeles Friends of the Expo Center, Thai Buckman said, “Giving our youth this stage is not only life-changing, it’s life-saving. Please continue your platform.”

More photos of the festival can be found here.

Student awards:

  • First place: Not Quite Here, Not Quite There—Emily Ponce, Diana Peña, Kianna Teachout
  • Second place: Our Reality—Zenzelé Moore-Ysaguirre
  • Third place: Made in China—Jessica Lau
  • Fourth place: Detour—Delana Lewis