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Encouraging Students to Challenge Traditional Narratives
Monica Medellin '11 and Katie McKellar, Assistant Director of the BCIL

Monica Medellin '11 is a director and producer, born and raised in Los Angeles. She is the CEO and Founder of The Gnar Gnar Honeys, a production company that promotes diversity and representation in front of and behind the lens. 

Prior to founding The Gnar Gnar Honeys, Monica worked as a content creator at the World Surf League, producing video content around women and women of color surfers for its global audiences, and as a video producer at Define American, a non-profit media and culture organization named to Fast Company’s most innovative companies in the world for film and TV. 

Previously, she worked at the Los Angeles Times, Revolt TV, Univision, and Vibe Magazine and freelanced for ACLU SoCal, and Color of Change. Her work has appeared on Vice, Conde Nast, The Washington Post, Shondaland, and at the Women’s March on Washington.

In October 2020, Monica visited Brentwood's LatinX in Los Angeles class in partnership with the Belldegrun Center for Innovative Leadership (BCIL). Students explored videos from her What are you? Race and the U.S. Census series along with her LA Made series.  

In reflecting on the creation of her most recent film Water Warrior, Ms. Medellin said: “I knew it was a story I wanted to tell, and I knew that it was an important story.”  She shared with the students that she created this film on a very limited budget and it has now premiered at the Los Angeles Latino International Film Festival, International Ocean Film Festival, Save the Waves Film Festival, and Patagonia Film Festival. Ms. Medellin continued: “I think it is a true testament to the fact that telling your story can change the world, even if you don’t feel like you are ready or you have the resources. I think it is really important to just get it out there and share it, especially if you feel passionate about it.” 

The students in the class really valued hearing Ms. Medellin’s life story and advice on how to approach long-term projects. Willy A. ’21 shared his feedback on the visit: 

Monica was amazing! Her story resonated with mine, which made me reflect on my story and the stories of others before me. Also, the energy Monica came in with—as a strong, independent Latina—made me really happy and energetic. Her videos were amazing!

Giulia G. ’21 gained valuable insights into the storytelling process: 

In her projects, Monica focused on exploring a breadth of experiences not commonly featured in the mainstream media, challenging the traditional narratives about our city, and inviting us to think critically about that media bias which informs our perception of the world around us. She also emphasized the importance of entering each project from a position of empathy and genuine understanding, allowing each person’s experience to drive the narrative rather than cherry-picking small segments to fit a preconfigured storyline. As she shared insights acquired through her extensive experience, I learned the qualities that make a successful journalist: the ability to listen, the ability to create relationships with a wide variety of storytellers, and the ability to present information with compelling and emotional footage that connects with a variety of audiences.

The insights gained from Ms. Medellin’s visit helped inform the semester-long projects of students in this class that address a range of issues relevant to the Latinx community, including the investigation of gentrification on the Eastside of Los Angeles as well as an in-depth analysis of the huge disparities in access to and quality of health services for the Latinx community. Projects will also explore the underrepresentation of the Latinx community in the film industry and the lasting effects of language segregation of ELLs (English language learners, most of them Latinx) in L.A.'s public school system.

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