Stories As Bridges by B. Campbell
Stories as Bridges to Other Lives
By Benedict Campbell
In college, we were taught as film students to "write what we know." My student film reflected on my experience as a teenager growing up on Long Island. What I wrote was fiction, but it was a reflection of me, or more specifically, a reflection of my identity as a gay, white teenager. It's been a good ten years since I made that film.
At some point I realized if I only wrote what I knew, I wouldn't be interested in seeing my own films. I became a filmmaker to tell untold stories that widen our collective perspectives about one another. That is why the script I brought with me to this fall’s Stowe Story Lab, THE HIGH BRIDGE, is about an African-American teenager confronting fatherhood in the Bronx.
When I decided to take a closer look at the subject of teenage fatherhood, I realized I never saw a film that tells the story of a young father who succeeds. My research and conversations with family planning professionals confirmed that the portrayals of teen dads we tend to see are as unhelpful, unloving and unsupportive figures. And my research – and life experience – confirms this portrayal is flawed.
My friend had the experience of being a young father growing up in the Bronx. He rose to meet this challenge by supporting his daughter and her mother. It wasn’t easy for him. When I asked him to reflect on it, he looked back and knew he did all right. Stories like his – like stories about other marginalized people – weren't getting told.
I set the story close to where his story took place and where I now live. I named it for a landmark bridge that links the Highbridge neighborhood of the Bronx to upper Manhattan. I wanted the main character to shatter misconceptions of young black fathers and a strong female protagonist that challenges how we view the role of women and mothers.
In this story, it's the mother who wants to provide for her daughter by attending West Point to better support their prospects, and it's the father who struggles with what he can, wants, and has to do. Spoiler alert: Ultimately he succeeds, as many in his situation do in real life.
I'm determined to change an overly negative understanding of the Bronx as a place. The Bronx has seen (emphasis on the has) some hard times, but my community is filled with families, children, long-time residents and immigrants, all playing in the safety of outdoor parks and public spaces. The High Bridge is one of them. Formerly closed for forty years and prone to violence, the bridge is an iconic part of the New York City. I do not like perpetuating narratives that reinforce an association between people of color and poverty, drugs or violence. There is certainly room for those stories and voices, but I think it's important to tell stories defined by their success as well. It can be harder to tell these stories, but they're the ones I know I’d want to see.
Benedict Campbell is a Bronx-based writer and director focused on fictional dramas for short and feature films. He is an alum of Stowe Story Labs.