Filmmaker Justin Ching talks about empowering underrepresented voices

Representation — an individual seeing themselves represented in a work of art — is one of the biggest topics in media today. In the past, studies have shown that a lack of depictions of women or Black people, or a glut of negative depictions, can have an adverse effect on the self-esteem of children who identify with those groups. The last few years in the film and television industries have seen in upswell roles and stories geared toward historically underrepresented groups, but according to filmmaker Justin Ching, it’s just as important to get more diverse people working behind the scenes as directors, writers, and producers. Ching appeared on Digital Trends Live on Tuesday, December 4, to talk to host Greg Nibler about J-school, a production studio he founded to foster diverse talent behind the camera.

According to Ching, J-school’s mission is to empower communities to tell their own stories.

“We’re a production company that’s really focused on marginalized groups,” he explains, “i.e., people of color, women, the LGBT+ community, and frankly a lot of others that I don’t think we always talk about; but my goal is to help the voices out there that are not being told, and to give them the ability to have a first-person narrative.”

Ching himself came from what he calls as “a remarkably unremarkable place,” San Bernardino, California. “It’s a place where you’re surrounded by mostly Black and Latino folks — in my specific community — and then around that are sort of self-proclaimed “redneck” white folk … For most people, it’s the last, big freight truck stop on the way to Los Angeles — and that’s predominantly our traffic.”

Although San Bernardino is only an hour or so away from L.A., Ching says that “emotionally it’s very distant, or symbolically very distant … I never really saw filmmaking as this career path. It was this very, very foreign thing.”

When he was 17, two things changed the course of his life: He got into the University of Pennsylvania, and he lost a friend to suicide.

“And that experience going into college was sort of this shattering,” he says. He had to rebuild and re-examine his priorities “…now that I was in this new world in college where there was all this opportunity, that maybe there was an opportunity to take the storytelling that was my only coping mechanism and combine that with these professional aspirations.”

J-School has launched a number of projects, which readers can learn more about on the studio’s website. Among Ching’s favorites is Esfuerzo, a short documentary by Alana Maiello about migrant laborers working in the wine industry. Ching says he is working with Maiello to expand Esfuerzo into a full-length feature.

Digital Trends Live airs at 9 a.m. PT from Monday through Friday, with highlights available on demand after the stream ends. For more information, check out the DT Live homepage, and be sure to watch live for the chance to win a $100 Amazon gift card.

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