131 East 104th St., New York, NY 10029
Southwest corner of West 30th Street and 10th Ave, New York, NY 10001
Grand Concourse and E 161 St
To Be Heard (Edwin Martinez, Roland Legiardi-Laura, Deborah Shaffer, Amy Sultan | New York, NY | 87 min.)
To Be Heard transcends the confines of an advocacy film, but it’s hard to come away from it with anything other than absolute encouragement for the arts in schools. The filmmakers are developing a social media campaign designed to empower and give voice to the unheard in our city via text message. At Rooftop we work in New York City public schools and we’ve seen firsthand how artistic expression can open up possibilities for students who never thought they had them. Early in the film, Pearl reveals a list of her good and bad traits, which she keeps on her bedroom wall, and it’s heartbreaking to read that her bad traits include “big,” “black” and “ghetto.” But the Power Writers program has a motto: If you don’t learn to write your own life story, someone else is going to write it for you. It’s through the process of writing down these feelings that Pearl and the others begin to overcome these insecurities to see their own potential.
This is not to say that To Be Heard has some happy Hollywood ending. The students continue to live in neighborhoods where a $6/hour job at McDonald’s doesn’t compare to the money you make hustling dime bags on the corner (and at least hustling you can make your own hours.) These teens are still raised by single mothers and they “step over dead bodies like it’s just another day.” One of their teachers, Joe, tells them that he can’t teach them what he knows, only how he knows, and each of these students takes away life lessons that will carry them through whatever it is they face in the future. The opening shot of the film, with all its overbearing New York noise, frames what these teens are up against, and by the end of the film, their voices have definitely been heard.
Rooftop is thrilled to be screening To Be Heard here in the Bronx, and we hope you’ll spread the word about the Power Writers program and the film’s advocacy campaign. Visit their website to learn how you can get involved.
- Stephanie Skaff