Diversity & Documentaries
Diversity and Documentary Films: Where are the Christians?
The Road to Becoming a Filmmaker
About twenty years ago I read an article in the Los Angeles Times entitled, “Diversity Lags in Christian Colleges and Universities.” This article revealed the sad state of affairs within Christian colleges and universities, where students and faculty of color were small in number, subject to marginalization in predominantly white institutions. As I reflect reading that article nearly two decades ago, at the beginning of my career working with college students, I have to say the same issues are still with us today. Unfortunately, the data in that article could still hold true today.
I discovered very quickly that one of the most effective ways to engage students in dialogue was through the use of documentary films. The power of stories can spark critical thinking, reflection and dialogue like nothing else. In the midst of starting my documentary filmmaking, I was also struck again and again at how Christians lagged behind their secular counterparts. Not only did Christian colleges lag in numbers and awareness, they lacked their own educational resources. In other words, Christians lacked documentary films produced to address issues of diversity from a Christian worldview. Topics such as biblical justice, reconciliation, eliminating oppression in the church and world, the example of Jesus in reaching out to the poor and marginalized and ultimately seeking the Kingdom of God realized “on earth as it is in heaven” were ostensibly missing in our curriculum.
I would often wonder about the possibility of producing a film that could cover these issues needing to be addressed. I had no film background whatsoever and I learned this profession by trial and error, but also by seeking others who were raising diversity awareness through training and education. Being that I knew near to nothing about cinematography, lighting or editing, I would obviously have to hire people to do this. As I would inquire of what it took to make a film, the issue of money always brought everything to a halt. I had no money, hence, my ideas stalled. I did explore other means but they also ended up dry, mostly due to the high level of resistance on the part of Evangelicals to deal with issues of racism and reconciliation.
I was continually amazed, year after year, as students told their stories, listening and affirming each other, their lives were transformed. I always wished this process were captured on film so others could benefit and learn. I knew I wouldn’t have to search far to find constituents to tell their stories and share their insights since they surrounded me all year long. It became obvious I would have to find a way to learn filmmaking techniques for myself or continually see endless possibilities pass me by.
As time went on, I continued to express my vision of creating resources for the Christian community to engage in serious diversity training. As students heard my yearnings, they networked with other students who could offer insight. To make a long story short, I continued to inquire, to observe, to seek insights from those willing to share. Through a long process of trail and error, I picked up techniques having to do with HD cameras and film editing (thanks also, in part, to editing software becoming more accessible to the general public). The process continues to this very day. Like climbing a mountain, it’s been an uphill struggle. Making mistakes, gaining insights, step by step, little by little, I finally completed my first film. Then my second. Then my third. Funding continues to be an issue, but that’s why I needed to begin learning how to work a camera and direct, produce and edit my own films. After I came home from my “day job,” I would work into the late hours of the evenings and even on the weekends. Still making mistakes, still learning, but moving forward.
I continue to be a filmmaker today. I am still moved by people’s stories as they travel this road of reconciliation and self-discovery. I believe in the power of film to ignite critical thinking and dialogue. The need to engage in a conversation that brings awareness and ultimately healing in our world is as great as it has ever been.
I mentioned the twenty-year old Los Angeles Times article about Evangelical Christian colleges lacking a diverse student body and faculty today. But the concern here is not only about numbers. I have searched the scriptures in years past seeking to know the truth of God’s heart on these matters. Doing the work of diversity in Christian Higher Education is a challenging task. There is a lot of heartbreak over the lack of progress in this area and with that, a lot of soul searching one faces when they encounter resistance on every level. In short, I am convinced that we must be about this work because the biblical text demands it. It is throughout the Old and New Testament that we find passage after passage exhorting us to be about the work of justice, righteousness and compassion. It is part of our witness to the world to care for the suffering of those around us. To address the needs of the marginalized and to celebrate diversity in our midst is a crucial aspect of God’s Kingdom.
I often wonder when will the Body of Christ be leading this discussion? When will Christians be known for a progressive movement in our world addressing and eliminating oppression of all aspects? When will we lead in educating others through our writing, publishing, and production of documentary films? When will our teaching and preaching truly transform society? When will the world come to us for answers and insights as opposed to having a reputation of intolerance and closed-mindedness?
This is not about being in competition with anyone. It is about being who we are supposed to be and doing what we are supposed to do. This is why I continue to engage in the ministry of reconciliation. This is why I continue to produce documentary films. It is my earnest prayer that you will find these films as a challenge and a source of inspiration in your personal process and that you can find use for them in your teaching, training or ministry in the church.— Glen Kinoshita