Black Lives Matter and Beyond

Sumita Chatterjee includes South Asian voices in the current conversations around anti-Black racism

by Isabella Vaccaro

PHOTO: Sanjeev Chatterjee

Media for Change Director of Research Sumita Chatterjee has been having conversations about race in America long before the Black Lives Matter movement resurfaced this year. As a University of Miami lecturer of both Gender and Sexuality Studies and History, with a focus on South Asian cultures, Chatterjee is now using MfC as another outlet to explore racism beyond the scope of just black and white.

Chatterjee immigrated to the U.S. from New Delhi to pursue a PhD in history at UMass Amherst. Years later, when her spouse, Media for Change founder, Sanjeev got a job at the University of Miami, he and Sumita left Massachusetts and never looked back, trading in bleak winters for palm trees and year-round sun. Needless to say, Sumita has been involved in Media for Change since its inception in 2013 as a homegrown effort but joined the Board of Directors as Director of Research in 2020.

As a first-generation immigrant, Sumita said she has struggled with different forms of racism but has learned how not to let it define her. “Yes, I did face kinds of micro and macro racism, but at the same time, I also learned how to get past it,” said Sumita. “Our organization [Media for Change] really tries to bring many different kinds of voices to the table, many different ways of looking at our problems and seeing how we can find common ground.”

In an effort to bring light to race issues beyond the typical black and white narrative, and having taught classes on subjects like systemic racism, Chatterjee moderated a multi-generational conversation among South Asian Americans and their reactions towards the Black Lives Matter movement. “We wanted to look at anti-black racism, and how first-generation and second-generation immigrants are engaging with it,” Sumita said.

In the same vein, Sumita and a team comprised of two UM Public Health professors, an English professor, a geographer and Sanjeev, the filmmaker of the group, received a grant from UM’s brand-new U-LINK Social Equity Challenge, an initiative that will fund ten projects looking to discuss racial equity.

Poster of virtual event hosted by Media for Change and moderated by Sumita Chatterjee and Herman Bathla in June 2020.

Sumita said theirproject will focus on “intergenerational dialogues about anti-black racism, but within various immigrant communities.” She added, “there are immigrants who have come from Asia,Africa,Latin America, and the Caribbean, and the first generation may not have paid attention to the history of racism in this country, whereas their children, who have gone through schooling in the American school system, have a different understanding of that. So, we are going to try tounderstand and address anti-black racismthrough youth engagement.”

And that isn’t Sumita’s only undertaking this semester. She has also accepted a Mellon CREATE Grant from the University of Miami, in which she, alongside one of her classes, will create an an oral history collection for the Richter Library’s Special Collections called, “Archiving Untold Immigrant Stories, South Asian in South Florida.” The class, which focuses on South Asian Americans who immigrated to the U.S. and the Caribbean, will record oral histories of South Floridians who identify as people of color (and of South Asian heritage), but aren’t necessarily black or white.

“So, we are going to be recording their stories, their narratives of how they came to America, what struggles they faced and how they made a life for themselves,” Sumita said.

Sumita Chatterjee reading at the Immigrant Voices event at the University of Miami in 2017, PHOTO: Tim Watson

Besides these two extensive projects on Sumita’s agenda, she also finds time to help her students get hands-on experience, beyond the classroom. Sumita said this semester she is teaching a civic-engagement class called ‘Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr: call to Civic Engagement’.—a class that not only analyzes these influential leaders’ ideologies but is taking them one step further. Sumita and her students partnered with Refugee Assistance Alliance—an organization that helps Syrian refugees resettle in South Florida—and help them with various projects. In the past she and her students have worked with City Year Miami. She has also continued to foster these relationships by holding workshops etc. Her involvement with Media For Change inspired her to get more involved beyond her teaching at the University of Miami.

“I’m a lifelong learner, and my passion is in teaching and learning and being able to share that through either the classroom or by civic engagement in my local communities,” Sumita said.

In combining her own experiences as a first-generation immigrant and her love of discourse on an array of social issues, Sumita is a consistent force for good, both at Media for Change and in the South Florida community. Keep an eye out for her projects in the UM Richter Library and on

Gonzalo Mejía

Journey to Film

Gonzalo Mejía joins Media for Change with a hunger to help others 

by Isabella Vaccaro
PHOTO: Elisa Gutierrez

Gonzalo Mejía grew up scrutinizing MTV music videos as a young child in Ecuador—it seemed everyone in his close circle knew that he’ll grow up to be a filmmaker, except for him. Mejía didn’t fully realize his passion for film until he started college at the University of Miami, where he surrounded himself with friends who were studying film and quickly fell into line with his peers.  

“I probably never realized film as a career because over 20 years ago, if you told your parents or friends, ‘hey I want to be a filmmaker,’ people would say ‘you’re crazy,’” Mejía said. 

Despite the opinions Mejía went ahead with his goal of becoming a filmmaker.   During his time at the School of Communication at the University of Miami he would meet an important mentor, Sanjeev Chatterjee. Mejía said his first impression of Media for Change founder was intimidating, to say the least, but once he began to take classes with Chatterjee, he soon considered his film professor a role model. 

 Even after Mejía graduated, he and Chatterjee never lost touch—and Chatterjee actually hired Mejía, then back in Ecuador, to line produce his award-winning documentary  One Water,  about the global water crisis so many know so little about.

At the beginning of his professional career, Mejía opened an ad agency in Ecuador, and after 5 years, this very job forced him to come to terms with his true calling: filmmaking. He decided to return to the U.S., Mejía lived in New York and Atlanta, where he began his own production company, Bananas Films, which he started mainly to produce narrative feature and documentary films, but eventually began producing dozens of commercial video content for big name brands in both English and Spanish.  Quite a few years after, Mejía would move his business back to Ecuador, where he said he pioneered the online video content industry, were his production company singlehandedly created the highest number of online videos in the country at the time.  

For him, owning his own business was the end goal, and he was adamant about remaining self-employed. Luckily, there was one condition to his steadfast rule.  

“90% of my career has always been on my own,” said Mejía. “So, I said I don’t ever want to work for anyone—unless I work for UM. And suddenly I got this offer from the Frost School of Music where I work now, and even though I still keep Bananas Films going, I’m more invested in UM at the moment.”  

Four years ago, Mejía became the Director of Media Production Services for the Frost School of Music.  There he creates all of the school’s audio and video content as well as online graduate courses for Frost Online. 

Gonzalo Mejia
On the set of the short film Las Llaves, un Gato y el Pez Negro.  PHOTO: Roberto Knapp
On the set of his short film La Monedita, PHOTO: Daniela Moreno

Another serendipitous event occurred as Mejía moved his life back to Miami—Chatterjee asked him to join Media for Change as the Director of Sustainability. Mejía said he was more than flattered when Chatterjee, whom he described as his “go-to person” and someone he aspired to be like, extended the offer, and accepted it on the spot.  

Now, Mejía will join the Board of Directors as the Director of Organizational Administration, a new role he said will entail seeing projects through their courses and making sure Media for Change is “keeps moving forward.” Besides monitoring the progress of certain projects, he said he is also “connecting with nonprofits around Miami to spread the word that we exist, and find out how we can lend a hand.”  

It is the perfect role for Mejía, who says filmmaking and helping others are both a part of his DNA. Growing up in Ecuador, he said, his parents were always involved in helping others.  They always found ways to feed, clothe, provide health, educate and even find homes for the less privileged.  Mejía now feels that he’ll continue their legacy in the form of storytelling alongside Media For Change. 

“I always say film can cure any disease,” said Mejía. “And the reason is because it’s the best way to connect, besides person to person.”  

Bringing His Passion Full Circle

Chad Tingle joins Media For Change with plans to support up-and-coming filmmakers and more

by Isabella Vaccaro

Media for Change’s newest member and Director of Incubations Chad Tingle spent the onset of his career in film working various odd jobs that gave him a comprehensive understanding of the industry. Today, he owns his own production company, Crown Street Films, and joins Media for Change with a passion to help a younger generation of filmmakers find their way.

Tingle was born in Jamaica and grew up in Brooklyn, where he says his mother had dreams of him becoming a physical therapist because of its potential for employment opportunities. But even back then, Tingle knew that storytelling, rather than science, was going to be his ticket.

At the University of Miami, Tingle fell into the right group of friends—students majoring in screenwriting, film and broadcasting—and even met Media for Change founder Sanjeev Chatterjee, who was his professor and mentor. Tingle says it was through these connections that he was inspired to study and hone his film editing skills, chalking it up to ‘osmosis’ or the fact that he was always surrounded by creatives.

Chad Tingle (left) with the New York Yankees’ Aaron Judge during a recent project for Oakley. PHOTO: courtesy Chad Tingle

“He [Chatterjee] was the first professor who wasn’t afraid to throw me into some real-world situations and say, ‘hey, you know, go run with this and if you make a mistake, you make a mistake, but, you know, go do it,” Tingle said.

Chatterjee invited Tingle and a couple of other students to work on a documentary project during Tingle’s junior and senior year at UM called “Big Plans,” which followed a UM football player and rapper trying to launch his career. Tingle recalls using Chatterjee’s digital camera at the time—a Sony DX 1000—to shoot the film, reminiscing about a project that not only armed him with helpful skills but whose topic mirrored his own ‘big plans’ for his life.

“What really appealed to me, was telling stories about real people,” said Tingle. “I didn’t necessarily understand all the ins and outs, but I understood that I had this ability to tell stories about real people and to do a form of storytelling where you could still have emotion and drama and conflict but understand where those people were coming from based on a lived experience.”

After graduation, Tingle worked in the dub room at a post house in Miami, which he said was a ‘great learning experience,’ but he ultimately didn’t see a future for himself at the company. He then got a job in tech support at a company that built editing systems for churches, schools and municipalities. Tingle said he quickly became an asset because of his knowledge of nonlinear editing and, through the job, eventually learned how to build computers. Taking with him the knowledge he gained from these companies, Tingle again shifted gears and began working for Midtown Video Miami, where he made a slew of professional contacts in the distribution world.

Chad Tingle with director Marlon Johnson during the World Premiere of their film Deep City at SXSW

Through it all, however, Tingle and his college friends managed to convene on their off days to work on their passion projects (documentaries, films, etc.) in hopes of one day leaving their day jobs.

“We kind of all convalesced in this one house in South Miami that my friend Jamie and Rob rented,” said Tingle. “We had two edit suites and they lived in the house. I lived by myself, but it was kind of like this place where I worked, but I also hung out there.” Tingle referred affectionately to the group as “this little unit trying to make stuff happen.”

In 2002, Tingle was working as a production assistant for “Too Fast, Too Furious,” which shot in Miami, when he totaled his car in an accident. In an instant, the trajectory of Tingle’s career changed again, and he began waiting tables to make some quick money. Though he admits the change felt humiliating at first, Tingle said it turned out to be one of his most important career moves. Not only was Tingle able to come out of his shy shell and form his own opinions, he realized some striking comparisons between the food and film industries.

Tingle said that in film, the grips, electricians and camera people “do the hard butt-busting work that makes the director and the director of photography look good, and they don’t really get much of the credit. Those are the people in the kitchen staff.” As a waiter, Tingle got a feel for what it was like to be in the ‘front of house,’ like a producer or director, as he would be the one to get tipped if guests enjoyed the meal.

Chad Tingle directs Magic Johnson during the filming of a healthcare commercial in Miami

At 28, Tingle took one last stab at a career in film and began working closely with a Scottish producer on service jobs, which set up international production companies with locations, casting and other logistics so they could shoot in America. Tingle eventually worked his way up from a production assistant to a production manager to becoming a full-time producer of commercials.

Tingle realized that he now had the time and resources to finally pick up where he and his friends had left off in starting their own production company. Thus, Tingle’s company, Crown Street Films, was born. Named after the street Tingle grew up on in Brooklyn, Crown Street Films produces a variety of commercials, branded content, documentaries and more.

“Crown Street Films is kind of like a mixture of using the commercial work to subsidize the work that I really want to do,” said Tingle. “So, the goal is to, every year, work on a documentary project.”

So, when Tingle got a call from Chatterjee asking him to be the Director of Incubations at Media for Change, he knew, like every other step in his career, that this one was divinely guided, too. As the Director of Incubations, Tingle is responsible for securing projects for Media for Change to adopt or helping other filmmakers secure funding for their projects. Additionally, Tingle hopes to bring on other storytellers and help young creatives get their footing in an industry he knows well.

“I also kind of felt that as I approached my 40s, now I was at a place where I should be giving back,” said Tingle. “I was always trying to figure out how I was going to do that. And so, yeah when he [Chatterjee] called me, it made sense.” Tingle also hopes to mentor young black filmmakers in South Florida, because he noted that “there’s a certain part of the business, like at the upper above the line portion, where there’s not a lot of people who look like me.”

There is no doubt Tingle’s unrelenting passion for filmmaking led him to a fulfilling career and now, as the newest member of Media for Change, a chance to give back to his community.



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