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roots.

Arts & Culture | October 10, 2016

Observer: Do you want to just tell us a little bit about who you are, and about your project?

M: I’m Muna Mohamed, I am a sophomore here at Tufts, and I’m working with Yaa on a project called “Roots,” which we’re really excited to have come out this upcoming fall.

Y: And I’m Yaa, I’m also a sophomore at Tufts, and I’m also really excited for this to come out.

O: Can you tell us about why you made “Roots,” or what your thought process was in working with TUTV?

M: My freshman year winter break I was bored at home, and was looking at this series that Yaa sent me—a video series called “Strolling” that she can tell you about—and through watching those videos, I wanted to do something that involved video. Yaa is into film, and I wasn’t at all. So I remember messaging her on Facebook at 12, and she was in Ghana, which is six hours ahead or something, like, “Yo Yaa, I have an idea, let’s do something that involves video, and I know you’re into it.” And as time went on, it kind of just blossomed.

Y: Yeah so, “Strolling” is this docu-series by this British-Jamaican filmmaker named Cecile Emeke, and each episode she follows a different Black person, primarily in Europe, but she’s trying to go all over the world, she’s done Europe, she’s done—well, a bunch of different countries in Europe, sorry, not the whole continent [laughter]—and she’s done Jamaica, she’s done three episodes in America. I remember sending this to Muna and we both liked it, primarily because it was one thing, especially with identity, to figure it out on your own, and another to hear people say the exact same things that you think about, when you thought you were the only one. And I know it helped me a lot.

M: And echoing her point, there are some videos that followed a Somali person in England, and talked about their experiences being Band Muslim, and I’m like “That’s me!”—but in America. And it was cool—Cecile’s saying that what “Strolling” is meant to do is connect the stories of the Black diaspora, and this made us realize that we’re not alone. So, by watching “Strolling” and using Emeke’s work as a basis of what we wanted to do, as our inspiration, we developed “Roots.” We decided to not have it just be focused on Black students at Tufts, and make it broader and larger for the entire people of color community, including staff, faculty, and students.

O: Why’d you decide to do it with all people of color and not just Black students?

Y: We talked about it, and we just felt like one big part of it was quantity. It just wouldn’t go for long if we just did Black students at Tufts. A second part was also the fact that Tufts especially can feel—not divided—but that the conversations are happening separately, even when they have overlapping points of discussion. So we felt like, if we’re dealing with different-but-similar things, or things we can connect on, especially last year, which was really turbulent—it was our freshman year and we had the Three Percent and everything [going on]. And because of that it felt like, okay, you’re hanging out with Black people, and we’re working through this, it would be a way to connect people’s stories and for us to hear each other as well, and be a part of changing that idea and centering ourselves, especially in this time I feel like it’s what we need.

M: I agree completely. Storytelling is just so powerful, and now more than ever people need to listen to us. So when we have a video come out of a janitor who works here, who’s a person of color, and they’re telling their story, and the people that ignore them when the janitor is cleaning their common room, or cleaning their bathroom… I guess them listening to their stories, we’re just trying to give them the mic. In this day and age, what people need most—whether you’re a person of color, whether you’re Black, Latinx, whether you’re White, whatever—is to listen to one another. And we’re trying to put the emphasis on POC because that’s who we feel need to be listened to the most.

O: This is a two-part question. How did you both decide on TUTV as the distributor for your project and what kind of reaction did you receive from your friends and the other people you had talked to about this project?

Muna: That’s a great question. So with TUTV, we were looking at our options at first and people said, “Oh you can look at the Ex-College, they have equipment, or you can look at TUTV or renting a camera through Tisch.” We looked at all these options, and in addition to last year and the climate of Tufts and feeling like we couldn’t be in certain spaces because they’re predominantly White spaces. But that means we can’t be in a lot of spaces here because a lot of spaces here are predominantly White. I remember talking to Yaa multiple times, saying things like “What if people don’t feel comfortable talking to us because we’re a part of this group, that isn’t known for having a lot of people of color?” I remember talking to the people that run TUTV saying “we want our own channel, we don’t want to have a playlist under yours, just because we don’t think that people will look at it” and I guess that came from my inner skepticism from people not feeling comfortable with us working with a predominantly White group.

Y: I remember even freshman year writing for the Tufts Daily and a similar thing was, during the Three Percent protests, and someone basically told me “no, that’s a White space”—or something like that. And questioning what it means to be authentically Black and work with TUTV and this attitude that we shouldn’t go there, but then we figured it was just as much as our space as it was anybody else’s. And they have equipment and a community, and the producer and the heads of TUTV were really friendly, heard our concepts, and admitted that TUTV isn’t the most diverse space.

M: Now we’re glad we’re a part of TUTV, and of course the equipment is nice, but also the sense of community and knowing that if we need someone on our crew, we can ask these people who already know the film. So we’re learning and that’s what college is about, to learn, and oftentimes as students of color, it feels like we have such limited spaces that the learning is so limited. And we want to have POC freshmen on crew so that once we go abroad or once we graduate, “Roots” still carries on. There are a lot of people here who are interested in film or interested in the arts and it’s just the matter of saying “here, we’ll help you out.” Even if you feel like a space isn’t meant for you.

Y: Which is valid though. Not to downplay not feeling like a space is yours. I feel like people make it seem as though it’s all in your head, but it’s in your head for a reason. So we understand why there were concerns.

O: Just to end on a hopeful note—well, the whole thing has been hopeful—but what do you hope to get out of the project, both for yourselves and a larger audience?

Y: I feel like, at least personally, that especially at Tufts, and just being in college in general, there’s so many people that I admire that I don’t necessarily talk to, but that I like from afar, and so many people have interesting stories, and everyone’s here for a reason. And getting to know the people on this campus… I remember in the pitch document, one of the things that we wrote was that “Roots” may educate people or a non-POC audience, but we’re not trying to educate, and we’re not trying to humanize. No, this is more a personal thing, getting to know your friend and their personal experiences.

M: Yeah, I echo that. I’m excited to hear stories, actual stories—not that, “Hey, where’re you going, want to have lunch soon?” Not the surface-level stuff. We know people but, do we really know them, and do others really know them? I guess that there are people on this campus, even in communities of color, that might not be in the community of color, you know? Or they might be in the community of color, and have a very strong voice and presence, so: why? So I’m really excited to hear why. And also, just to become friends with more people, because that’s always fun.

O: Thank you so much!