CHEO TYEHIMBA TAYLOR
Complaints about the depiction of Black males in media is nothing new, it just continuous. Just listen to the hub-bub about Tyler the Creator’s Mountain Dew commercial. Instead of preaching to the choir, a group of talented Africans from across the country (and in Pittsburgh) have been confronting the issues with actions and images.
The GAME CHANGERS PROJECT is a national media fellowship program for emerging Black filmmakers in partnership with community-based organizations dedicated to improving outcomes for Black males.
The purpose of the fellowship is to catalyze “activist storytellers” across the nation who will regularly shoot, edit, and produce 4-minute “micro-documentaries” about Black men (and other underrepresented groups) in America who are “changing the game” in various areas such as education, justice, wellness, entrepreneurship, fatherhood, gender equity, etc. Fellows produce short films on the work of unheralded community heroes, social justice advocates, ex-offenders, innovators, politicians, thought leaders, celebrities, professional athletes, and individuals working to improve outcomes for African- American men and boys.
Pittsburgh’s 2012 fellows have been game changers all along. Some are familiar (Chris Ivey, “East of Liberty” and activist/rapper Jasiri X, “What if the Tea Party was Black?”), others not as well known: Haji Muya, a recent graduate of the Art Institute of Pittsburgh who’s work includes a short piece on the Gators youth football program; and James Robinson, a CCAC graduate with who created a web-series about the African American Music Institute’s Boys’ Choir.
The Game Changers Project was sparked by a 1997 interview with the late legendary photographer Gordon Parks by GCP founder Cheo Tyehimba Taylor, who at the time was writing for VIBE magazine. Parks shared a comparison of guns and cameras.
Taylors recounts his “aha moment: “’look, you have a .45 automatic there on your lap,” said Parks. “I have a 35mm camera on mine. I think my weapon is just as powerful as yours if used right.’”
“For Parks, his camera was the ultimate ‘choice of weapons’ and he used it both to make beautiful pictures and to fight ignorance and intolerance,” says Taylor, who heads a consultancy, Forward Ever Media.
“Years later, I asked myself what would it take to re-imagine stories about misunderstood segments of society –Black men for example – and to find talented and determined filmmakers who could use their cameras to tell authentic stories that shift perceptions and help to change lives?” said Taylor. “Could their stories inspire and transform societal stereotypes? If we could produce a compelling web series of high quality, digital short films that captured the complex journeys of community change makers, who would most benefit?”
With the support of generous funders, including The Heinz Endowments, The Game Changers Project was launched in 2010 as a part of the 2025 Campaign for Black Men and Boys. It offers an alternative to the dominant, often stereotypical, narrative about Black men in mainstream media and has grown to include eight cities: Chicago, Philadelphia, Milwaukee, New York City, Los Angeles, and Oakland. Pittsburgh was added in 2012.
During a three-month fellowship, Game Changer fellows are “embedded” within local community-based organizations and produce short films to advocate the organization’s mission.
According to local GCP manager, Desiree Davis Lee, the application is open to Black men (only in Pittsburgh, due to its funding provided by The Heinz Endowments African American Men and Boys Initiative – other cities allow Black women) between the ages of 18-35.
“For the class of 2013, we’re looking for a cadre of serious filmmakers with a proven track-record of producing stories for social change,” says Davis Lee.
Although WQED-TV broadcast a segment on the project earlier in the year, its official debut to the community takes place on Saturday, May 11 at the Kelly-Strayhorn Theatre from 3-9 p.m. It includes youth media workshops, a reception with GCP filmmakers, a screening of “We Got Next,” an inspiring multi-part documentary film about unsung community heroes, and “We Changed the Game, a new music video, followed by a town hall discussion about what it takes to improve social outcomes for Black males in Pittsburgh. Cheo Tyehimba Taylor will be in attendance.