The Teen Girls of Reel Grrls: Producing Media Activism
by Mary Erickson — University of Oregon
January 26, 2012 – 00:00
Reel Grrls is a Seattle-based organization that teaches digital media production skills and media justice and empowerment to teenage girls. The students participate in workshops to produce short videos, becoming equipped with the vocabulary and technical skills to speak about representations of gender, race, and sexuality in the media, media concentration, and other issues. Additionally, the girls have the potential, through digital (primarily online) distribution, to reach audiences. Their content is not produced in a vacuum. What’s more – and just as important – Reel Grrls provides a space for girls to learn digital technology in an all-female environment, a shift from the typically male-dominated production that mixed-gender classes tend to foster.
One of the defining moments in Reel Grrls’ history came in May 2011, when the organization tweeted, “OMG! @FCC Commissioner Baker voted 2 approve Comcast/NBC merger & is now lving FCC for A JOB AT COMCAST?!?” The organization had been receiving corporate sponsorship from Comcast for its flagship summer program but, when a Comcast executive heard about the tweet, the company pulled its funding. Although Comcast backpedaled and reinstated the funding, Reel Grrls received over 500 unsolicited donations, resulting in $24,000, and broke funding ties with the cable company.
Reel Grrls founder Malory Graham reflected that this situation allowed Reel Grrls to “walk the walk” with regards to the organization’s promotion of media justice. This debacle demonstrated to the girls that, despite the magnitude and influence of Comcast as a media corporation, a small organization and, by extension, its students, could uphold the principles that drive their work. Many of the students’ media projects in the summer of 2011 used this incident as a jumping-off point to produce critiques of big media. Comcast agreed to air these shorts on Comcast On Demand (a move that opens up a whole other line of discussion for another time).
In the media production environment that tends to privilege white male adult voices, it is encouraging to see spaces in which teen girls from a range of racial, ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds learn the tools necessary to upend and challenge dominant media messages.