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Bringing Social Change to China Through Film

USC Social Work published an article, "Bringing Social Change to China Through Film," published here by Creative Commons license.

September 9, 2015

Originally published by USC Social Work on September 9, 2015. Written by Maya Meinert.

A college student falls into a deep depression. A young person from a rural village has difficulty adapting to his new urban home. A couple from different socioeconomic backgrounds deal with the fallout from their parents.

These might seem like scenes from any number of films, but this particular collection is special. Borne out of a week-long intensive filmmaking class held at Nanjing University in Nanjing, China, these 12 short documentaries were the first of their kind produced by Chinese social welfare students, educators and workers to combine the art of film with messages of social change.

Rafael Angulo, clinical professor of field education at the USC School of Social Work, traveled to China at the invitation of the head of Nanjing University’s sociology department to teach this filmmaking technique to 75 students from various urban and rural communities in China. Angulo has made a name for himself, having taught a similar social change documentary class at the School of Social Work for more than a decade.

“Documentaries have a way of being part of larger social movements and can effect social change,” he said. “These students had never heard of filmmaking embraced as a social intervention.”

Though there were many similarities, there were also many differences in how the Chinese students presented their topics. Students tackled social problems relevant to their lives, including mental health, homelessness, juvenile delinquency, domestic violence and intergenerational relationships. However, the Chinese students did not include critiques of their government’s handling of these issues, as American students might have done. Also, they used a lot more music than Angulo has seen American students use.

“I told them, ‘You are storytellers. Films use facts and form, but stories transform,’” he said.