Introduce yourself! Tell us who you are and what you do.
I’m the Founder/CEO/CCO of Legacy Connections Films and the creator of “Belonging in the USA: Stories from our Neighbors”, a new web series seeking to create empathy, connection, and a reimagining of what it means to be human right now in America. I will interview different people to share their life stories, experiences, struggles, and wisdom, all in the context of this insane political climate we’re currently living in (without making it all about politics). It will feel like you’re in each character’s living room, invited to join in on an intimate conversation between them and me, the curious seeker bringing out their story.
With this show I feel that I’m creating an opportunity to explore some of the themes and ideals that are most important and valuable to me and discover whether they are important and valuable to others. What is universal? What is true? Do you derive meaning from the same places/in the same ways that I do? And if not, what life experiences caused you to be/feel/act the way you do?
The goal of the show is radical empathy, the idea of experiencing another person’s life story as if it were your own. My vision for the series is that by getting to know our neighbors near and far we begin to imagine how we can all live through these difficult times together.
We will host screenings around the country to create opportunities to engage larger communities and particularly communities that don’t often intersect to have public conversations about race, values, privilege, unconscious bias, what it means to belong in America, how to be a neighbor, and what empathy looks like in an age of ever-increasing complexity, pseudo-connection, and anxiety.
The pilot episode of “Belonging in the USA” features Michael D. McCarty, member of the Chicago chapter Black Panther Party, army veteran, acupuncturist, and professional storyteller who currently teaches storytelling workshops to inmates in the California prison system. Michael’s story is one of personal transformation, systemic transformation, and passing along the gift of transformative storytelling in the work he is doing today. Michael has been a friend of my family for my entire life, and he has been a great teacher of mine since my adolescence. I am honored that he has entrusted me to share his stories with you.
How do you define feminism and how does that play a part in what you do?
I don’t know how anyone can love, be, or be related to a woman and not be a feminist. Feminism is recognizing that women’s lives and women’s stories matter. Feminism is acknowledging and empowering women for the gifts they bring to the world. Feminism is celebrating the feminine energy, the divine feminine in us all. Feminism is recognizing that the history we have learned in schools and the programming we’ve received has taught many women to hate themselves and to reject their gifts and talents. And feminism also means that I acknowledge the fact that no one else but me should get to decide what I do to or with my body.
I don’t think that feminism plays a part in what I do; I think that it is just an essential part of who I am, and so all of my choices reflect it. In my current projects, giving voice to women is at the core, including being an on-screen representative for the larger female audience and community I am building.
Why is film the medium you chose to tell this story?
Movies have the unique ability to evoke empathy. As humans, we are naturally inclined to put ourselves into the stories we are watching, becoming the characters whose journeys we are watching as we experience them unfolding. This project’s main goal is to break free of the old “us and them” black and white thinking that has gotten us into this mess. Building this kind of radical empathy is a natural byproduct of good storytelling, and I choose film because I believe that it allows us to bear witness literally to another person’s journey, second only to being live in the room watching. When we are given the opportunity to sit back and reflect on how our personal journey has unfolded and this reflection process becomes a permanent record, huge shifts and transformations take place, not only in the storyteller, but also in the witness. I have experienced this countless times over the past decade and a half when I have interviewed my subjects and witnessed their healing and transformation. I experience the reverberating effects in my own life and the lives of their loved ones. With “Belonging”, I am expanding the work I have been doing with families to create a bigger picture human family project. I feel that only when we start to see that my joy is your joy, my pain is your pain, my struggles are your struggles, only then are we truly capable of creating the type of country, world, and planet that we can be proud of in all ways.
What’s been the most challenging part of doing this work? The most rewarding?
The most challenging part has been waking up to my own prejudices, judgments, and bias. Noticing the things that keep me separate and apart from people is both painful and illuminating, but the effort to get inside of stories and experiences that are so far away from mine and to really keep my heart and mind open as I listen is an incredibly worthy challenge. And that’s the whole point – we don’t have to all agree on everything, but we have to learn to respect our differences and hear each other out. However, I still feel a moral imperative to defend what I feel are self-evident truths, and to shed light on the darkness that threatens to take over our world right now. I will not be a neutral observer to any forms of hate that may come up in these uncomfortable dialogues, but I will have to remain present. If I’m going to sit down across from someone who is racist or misogynistic, that will be a challenge. I believe, though, that sometimes giving someone the chance to express their inner-most ugly can give them the chance to transform it. Saying things out loud is powerful. I will not be giving a platform for hate-speech at all, but I will try to understand the root causes of this hate/fear in the individuals featured in the series. Where does it come from in their personal histories? What made this person this way? It will be a challenge to interview people with diametrically opposed politics, etc. This is why the first few episodes of the show will feature characters whose differences from me are more superficial and less ideological. In later episodes, I will tell the stories of female Trump supporters and immigrants who support him, two groups of people I personally struggle to understand. The most rewarding part so far has been filming the pilot episode and hearing the stories, experiences, and visions of the amazing people who will be featured in it.
How can we support the project and follow your work?
You can make a tax-deductible donation on our “Fractured Atlas” page. We are currently looking to raise $8000 more to finish our pilot episode. But even more importantly, we are creating a community and build awareness of the project. So even a $5 donation will go along way to both getting the pilot finished and building this community. Please like, share, and comment on our YouTube trailer (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=B8RFlpjNJbA) and sign-up to receive our news at www.belongingintheusa.com. You can also follow me on Twitter @ArielleNobile. Also, stay tuned for updates about local community screenings of the pilot and all upcoming episodes. A huge part of the project involves sparking and facilitating dialogue between people in this country who rarely cross paths or take the time to get to know one another face to face.