Teenagers Speak Out on Social Issues

By Riya Bhattacharjee
Friday August 10, 2007

Mahaliyah’s If Concrete Could Speak was one of many films that screened May 31 at the Berkeley High School Film Festival, films that deal with topics often considered taboo even today. 

Students at the Communication Arts and Sciences School (CAS) broke a lot of barriers, raised a few eyebrows and became all grown-up for a few days in May when they embarked on a mission to produce videos for the annual festival.  

“We wanted to highlight gun violence at the festival simply because it seemed the right thing to do,” said Dharini Rasiah, who teaches video production to CAS students. 

A graduate of UCLA and UC Berkeley, Rasiah is quick to point out that this year has been the most difficult one for CAS so far. 

“There have been several incidents of violence against students and teachers and our community has really suffered a lot,” she said. “Canon was a student at CAS and his death is on students’ minds a lot.” 

Mahaliyah, who lives in South Berkeley, said that shootings were a normal phenomenon for her. 

“I can’t count the number of times I have been around one,” she said. “There is nothing cool about being shot. The media has to stop glorifying it.” 

By integrating academic curriculum with social justice issues, students work with Rasiah on original topics for their senior seminar. 

CAS students Trystan Burke and Luara B. Venturi decided to tackle the way young African American males behave with their female counterparts. 

In Imperialism: the Black Woman’s Pimp, Trystan and Luara try to get the audience to think critically about modern-day black culture. 

“Originally, the black community never disrespected their women,” said Trystan. “It’s only during post-slavery that we started using words such as nigga’, bitch and ’ho. It’s the ignorance in us speaking. The lack of education. The lack of respect for our roots. Maybe that’s why we refer to ourselves as niggas ... we have lost our sense of home.” 

“We have been raped by colonization,” added Luara. “I think it’s horrible, I think it’s unacceptable. When did calling a woman a ’ho become the norm?” 

As Luara and Trystan struggled for answers, their friends Simone Obidas and Coimbra Jackson looked for stereotypes in the movie Teen Pregnancy. 

Working non-stop after school for three weeks, the two went to great lengths to interview teenage mothers. 

“The hardest part was coming up with the right questions,” said Coimbra.  

“Most of the mothers we talked to were high school graduates. We were happy to see that most were proud of their children.”  

Both Simone and Coimbra agreed that topics such as teen pregnancy and abortion still carried a big stigma in most social circles. 

“Yes, it’s a touchy subject but our peers are kinda blind to it,” said Simone. “They think it’s funny.” 

Max Perel-Slater, a CAS senior who will be studying pre-med at Wesleyan University this fall, made his movie on the pains of educating citizens of Shirati, Tanzania about the AIDS epidemic. Traveling with a group of CAS students, Max stayed with Dr. Charangi for three weeks on the shores of Lake Victoria to shoot live footage for Shirati Hospital. 

“It was beautiful and sad at the same time,” said Max, staring at the moving images of malnutritioned children on his computer screen. 

“Dr Charangi is a really amazing doctor and yet he still chooses to work in a small village. The extreme poverty in Shirati was beyond anything I have ever seen. They don’t have the means to buy anything. There’s no electricity and they live off ugali, a kind of paste.” 

Max remembers watching a C-section being performed on a woman under a flashlight, but the memory doesn’t make him squirm. 

“When the flashlight went off, Dr Charangi used the light from his cellphone,” he said, hero worship written in his eyes. 

“That’s what I want to do one day. I want to help these people get better. Make their lives better. Once I get my degree, I am going back to Shirati.” 


Photograph by Riya Bhattacharjee. Berkeley High CAS teacher Dharini Rasiah comments on Max Perel-Slater’s video of Shirati Hospital at the school’s video lab as student film makers Mahaliyah, Simone Obidah and Coimbra Jackson look on.