Webdocs for social change? (2)

19. 12. 2017



Last time we started to think about if - or how - interactive Webdocs could be a trigger for social dialogue, engagement, awareness and empowerment. Can they improve or or help to transform the lives of their protagonists? Can interactive webdocs be a tool for social change?

Let’s take a closer look to The Question Bridge: Black Males Project, which we discovered in the last blog.

Question Bridge: Black Males is an innovative transmedia project that uses video to facilitate a conversation among black men in America. It has become a platform for Black men of all ages and backgrounds to ask and respond to questions about life. 

"It opens a window onto the complex and often unspoken dialogue among Black men, creating an intimate and essentially genuine experience for viewers and subjects, while providing new opportunities for understanding and healing." explains Chris Johnson. He originated the Question Bridge concept with video installation he created for the Museum of Photographic Arts and the Malcolm X library in San Diego, California.

Since then the project takes on many forms to connect with a wide audience; an interactive website, a mobile app, a book, community engagement events and an education curriculum for high school students.

Healing Dialogue

So, what does a "Question Bridge" mean and how does it work?

The process is straightforward: on video, a black man poses a question to another man they feel estranged from. A black man representing that difference records his answer. These exchanges create a Question Bridge - "a media-based forum for necessary, honest expression and healing dialogue on themes that divide, unite, and puzzle black males in the United States." The simple process of videotaping people asking and answering questions creates a safe, nonjudgmental space where participants feel comfortable posing and responding to questions in a way that they might not have otherwise.

The questions range from droll ones as “Am I the only one who has problems eating chicken, watermelon, and bananas in front of white people?” to profoundly philosophical ones as “How can I live peacefully when I am surrounded by evil?”. As visitor of the webpage you can browse the pool of footage by topics you're interested in.

As the artists explain: "This question-answer exchange, the Question Bridge, reduces the stress of normal face-to-face conversations and makes people feel more comfortable with expressing their deeply held feelings (...) Question Bridge is about who we are and what we mean to one another. Most critically, it asks: how can we start to dismantle the myths and misconceptions that have evolved around race and gender in America—how can we reset the narrative about ourselves?"

You probably know about the background: Although a black man was the President of the United States, black men are still severely over represented in incarceration and high school dropout rates, and suffer disproportionately from various preventable health risks and as victims of homicide. (...) American media rarely shows whole, complex and authentic images of black men. Empirical data shows Americans, including Black people, still harbor negative associations with Black males that directly impact their ability to function successfully in this country. (http://questionbridge.com)

If you need some remedial education in the dreadful history of race in modern America watch Raoul Peck’s outstanding, oscar-nominated essayistic documentary I am Not Your Negro (2016)

Share Your Question - New Technology as Democratic Tool

In providing a stage for deeply personal conversations, Question Bridge invites audiences and participants to uncover the many surprising truths about what it means to be a black man in America today.

What I love about this project: it urges the participants themselves to be at once the researchers and the subjects.

The app allows the user to join the movement. By recording a video using the native camera on their computer, phone or tablet you can contribute your own questions and answers. When the video installation is showed in museums or galleries, the visitors are -like the subjects on the screen- invited to answer questions and leave responses at an interactive station in the gallery. Educators use the Question Bridge curriculum with students in high school and up. 

And one of the Co-founders explains: "In one of our recording sessions, a young man posed this question to elders: “Why didn’t you leave us the blueprint?” It inspired us to create our Blueprint Roundtables, events designed to create dialogue among Black males from different generations. During these sessions, the attendees identify practical roadmaps to success for Black men and boys. The program launched in 2012 and has spread to over 15 communities across the country."

This democratic nature is a crucial aspect of Question Bridge. What started as an art project became a movement.

The Two Sides of Everything

It has to be said once again: The digital revolution brings tremendous questions and problems. It's frightening indeed. Like most human achievements, it is disaster and chance at the same time. If you feel uncomfortable with it or not: There's no way back. So let's enhance the positive aspects and opportunities.

Only a short while ago mass communication was one way, and information was only served through television, radio and print. Today, with the rise of mobile technology, people have suddenly found themselves with virtual megaphones that are heard throughout the world. The voice of one can reach billions. We can build virtual bridges everywhere – and help societies deal with challenges in new and more communal ways. There is a potential of doing marvelous things.

Back to Question Bridge:

This project shows: A well implemented interactive platform does not only provide us with a greater objectivity in which to view the world. It can become a democratic tool that creates connection and conversation, it can be a catalyst for real social engagement and empowerment of communities.

"If we succeed in deconstructing stereotypes about arguably the most opaque and feared demographic in America, then the Question Bridge model can work to overcome limiting assumptions about any demographic." says the Co-founder. And I ask myself:

Why isn't there a Question Bridge: Eritrean refugee woman in Switzerland or Question Bridge: depressed retirees?

Would it help? I don’t know - but we should try.

This article series is researched and written by Tanja S. Since 2016 Tanja works at dubbed perceptions in different and ever evolving roles.

[Go to previous: Exploring WebDocs Part 7]