The world is in a rough state at the moment, and America in particular, when it comes to equality and tolerance, seems to moving in reverse. But fashion photographer and filmmaker Barnaby Roper has directed a hopeful antidote to America’s strife. My America is a 15-minute short documentary that raises the voices of a group that are often accounted for, but seldom listened to: youth. The film follows a small group of disenfranchised young people as they describe what their personal America looks like, and how they are trying to enact change in their own way.
The opening lines of the film reflect the sentiment that carries throughout, with a teenage boy saying: “Many people, especially adults, don’t like to listen to their youth, and I don’t think it’s fair…There’s many things that I could say that maybe could help us out”. The tone is set right from this opening – the youth of America do have things to contribute, and they need to be included in the conversation.
The film's subjects are wide-ranging and diverse. There’s a young female boxer who boxes to keep the memory of her brother – who committed suicide at age 17 as a result of bullying – alive. Next, a southern family of black cowboys, who rodeo to reject the stereotype that black teenagers grow up dreaming of being basketball players. The film also features a black transwoman who tells of the discrimination and abuse she faces.
These amazing people – young poets and freestyle rappers, local community activists, free thinkers – tell their stories of struggles for equality, for an end to gender and race discrimination, for an end to negative stereotypes, and the struggles to make ‘the land of the free and the home of the brave’ a truly better place.
The stories are told over a montage of powerful footage, including drone footage of traditional portrayals of America: wild mustangs roaming free on the plains of Utah, golden hour over the edge of the Grand Canyon, buffalo being herded across a dirt road. But in parallel, a more realistic image of the country is shown, with oil drills, cracked pavements, chain link fences, and dive bars brought into focus. The contrast is stark, but it serves to show us that these romantic Hollywood images are not the real America.
Roper’s insightful, personal film serves to show that, with the help of these diverse and intelligent generations, in time his images could be the real America.