THE UNTITLED 19TH* NEWS FILM
DIRECTORS: Heather Courtney, Chelsea Hernandez | PRODUCER: Diane Quon
I am a third-generation Mexican-American documentary filmmaker born in San Antonio, Texas and raised in Austin. Never taught Spanish by my parents because of the punishment they faced speaking Spanish in public schools when they were growing up, my childhood is a reflection of the American melting pot’s effects on Latino and Latino-American families. Through my documentary work, I use my lived experience to share the stories of the misrepresented or the marginalized; those that have been forgotten about and those that endure the heartache of the “American Dream.” My recent previous work honed in on the backbreaking and exploitative work of undocumented construction workers and the mental affects of expecting Latino mothers during the age of Trump. I believe this next film about The 19th* will continue my work of highlighting the effects of this country’s melting pot ideologies on modern society. The 19th* is named after a historical achievement that should also be called out for its failure to include indigenous women and women of color. News has always been known as a credible record of history. But when the newsroom has historically been white and male, it is our duty to call out the blind spots of these reporters and the lack of stories by and about women, BIPOC and LGBTQ+. I was personally drawn to The 19th* because of their effort to create a platform to uplift and shepherd emerging voices of color in journalism. It’s something I wish I had when pursuing my own career in broadcast journalism. At 8-years-old, I strived to be the next Katie Couric. But I couldn’t SEE myself in the news because the news didn’t look or feel like me. I see my success as an artist by the collaborations made and its impact on audiences and emerging filmmakers. My work embodies the Greek saying, “They tried to bury us. They didn’t know we were seeds.”
I became interested in The 19th* as a documentary subject in part due to my own experience studying journalism in college – my first internship was at a mostly male, all-white newspaper. While my fellow intern, who was male, was covering breaking news, I got assigned the “exciting” stories about the Girl Scout who sold the most cookies. That experience made me decide to not pursue journalism, and I wonder sometimes what my impact could have been as a reporter. As a filmmaker, my films are character-driven, mostly observational documentaries, that tell personal stories about bigger issues – undocumented immigration, the price a community pays when their sons go off to war, the rural/urban divide. It’s this deep dive into a person’s life that changes minds, or opens up new worlds and experiences to viewers. That core approach to my filmmaking is very much a part of The 19th* News Film. But this film is expanding my creative practice both visually and in process. Because of the pandemic we’ve had to capture scenes beyond the usual vertité handheld filming — through zoom recordings, the protagonists filming themselves with small digital cameras while we direct them remotely, and more locked down shots from a safe distance. While we have plans to return to a primarily observational handheld approach this spring and summer as we follow the reporters venturing out across the country we are creating a mosaic of different kinds of footage to tell a story of the time we’re in. My creative practice is also expanding in the spirit of the racial reckoning long overdue in this country, and acknowledging my own white privilege. Inspired by The 19th*, we are building a diverse collective of directors, producers, field producers, and cinematographers who bring to the film their different experiences as women, LGBTQ+ individuals, and people of color, in a truly collaborative effort. It’s not without challenges. But what’s most important to me now is my role in upending my own status quo, and I know this film and the process of making it will contribute to that.
When Heather first approached me, I remember watching the demo and hearing Errin say she’s “been writing the same story for over 10 years.” That line resonated with me. Twenty-five years ago I was bullied by five young white men outside my home in LA. They taunted me with pretend Chinese words and told me to “Go back where I belong.” Twenty-five years later, especially with the anti-Asian/COVID backlash, my adult daughters and I continue to face the same harassment. My non-Asian friends are often surprised when I share these stories about the racist hate crimes I experienced many years ago, and as recent as just a few months ago. But this anti-Asian hate is nothing new. It’s just that these Anti-Asian stories haven’t been important enough to be given the attention needed in the legacy newsrooms. Can the 19th* newsroom help to change that? I think so. Can allyship work? I’m counting on it because we can’t change things unless everyone comes to the table. I want this country to be a safe place for my children. That is why I signed on as a Producer. I’m honored to be working with the talented directors, Chelsea and Heather, and admire Heather’s vision to have a diverse filmmaking team!