Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
This dissertation offers a self-reflective case study of documentary films that I produced in collaboration with the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 105 and with Black Lives Matter 5280 (BLM5280) in Denver, Colorado, to understand the role of media practices in building progressive solidarity and networking movements. Activist media is defined as the use of digital technologies and online social media platforms to (a) interrupt social, political, and journalistic discourses about race, class, gender, citizenship status, and labor; (b) complement local organizing; and (c) connect community meetings, direct actions, and protests to political campaigns for social change.
Through 2.5 years of ethnographic research that included collaborative filmmaking, attending direct actions and public community meetings, and following activist organizations on social media, I understand activist media and social movement networking practices as social processes that occur with and through media in local, national, and global contexts.
The work explored in this project is in conversation with scholarship on radical, alternative, and social movement media, but it makes an important, added contribution by offering a first-person account of my work with SEIU and BLM5280, illuminating challenges that I encountered as an allied filmmaker in the fight for racial and economic justice. By focusing on relationships I developed with SEIU, BLM5280, and other grassroots organizations in Colorado, I theorize activist media practices (i.e., filming, interviewing, writing, editing, exhibiting at community screenings, and distributing via social media) as relational processes that are intricately connected to traditional community-organizing efforts, such as protests, public demonstrations, and community meetings.
Media practices alone will not bring about the revolutionary change that is needed to achieve an egalitarian democratic society but multimedia practices do have the potential to enhance solidarity amongst activists and construct a coherent narrative that outlines a more just society and how to realize it. Positing filmmaking as activism requires a dialectical understanding of the social, political, and technical aspects of media production practices, to situate these processes within their historical and local political economic contexts. Theorizing documentary filmmaking as a mode through which Left activists might promote solidarity amongst members and allies is a timely and relevant project, given the contemporary political moment in 2018. This project harnesses the renewed anger and energy of progressive activists, and it narrates an imaginative political project that centers the work of women, people of color, and those who are immigrants in the struggle for social justice, and honors the humanity of all people.
Canella, Gino, "Activist Media: Radical Filmmaking and Networked Social Movements" (2020). Media Studies Theses & Dissertations. 7.
Available for download on Sunday, October 31, 2021