Critical What?! – Teaching media literacy to youth filmmakers

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HSPop MPH student Marie Antoinette Perez worked as a research instructor on a documentary film for her practicum project. Critical What?! follows a group of young people (ages 10-15) as they learn media literacy and critical thinking to become changemakers through documentary filmmaking. The youth filmmakers researched and documented their experiences with equity and inequity in areas like homelessness, education, the metaverse, a women’s role in society, and book banning. The film emphasizes how these issues influence the social determinants of health that impact their lives.

Marie Perez

Perez contributed by creating lesson plans and giving a series of presentations to the youth filmmakers that covered media literacy and basic research methods. She explained, “During these presentations, I guided conversations with the youth to help develop their understanding of cultural humility and positionality, as well as basic ethics when working with community.”

Perez related how this work connected to what she has learned in her Master of Public Health classes, “This project challenged me to apply coursework frameworks for understanding structural biases to lesson plans for youth. I worked with the Critical What?! team to ensure that I applied these frameworks in an age-appropriate way. I also incorporated what I learned about positionality and cultural humility into the lesson plans to help guide the youth during the research process of their documentaries.”

She was surprised to find that she also gained media skills. “Before starting this practicum, I already really valued the arts, including film, as a way to enact positive change. I always saw myself as more of a consumer and appreciator of art, but after this practicum I found that I can contribute to creating art.”

The practicum is designed to give students field-based experience working in a public health setting to tackle real-world issues. Every student receives guidance from a faculty advisor and a site supervisor. The film’s executive producer Audrey Covner (DNP, JD, BSN-RN), served as Perez’s faculty advisor. In addition to her work as a documentary filmmaker, Dr. Covner is a clinical associate professor at the UW for both the Department of Health Systems and Population Heath and the School of Nursing. Patricia Boiko (MD, MPH), the film’s producer, editor, and co-writer, served as her site supervisor.

“My time working on this project taught me that there is so much potential in youth to enact change in our society. Youth can contribute so much insight and perspective to how we address equity issues that we encounter in our everyday lives.”

-Marie Antoinette Perez

Critical What?! was directed by Tifa Tomb (MFA), Sr. Media Producer of Storytelling at the University of Washington. The documentaries were screened on December 9th, 2023, at Northwest Film Forum. Visit the Critical What?! website to view the trailer, learn about plans for additional screenings, and donate so the youth filmmakers can complete their feature-length film.

The 26th annual MPH Practicum Symposium Reception will take place on Wednesday, April 17th, 2024 in the HUB Ballroom, and virtual presentations will be conducted over Zoom this week, starting today, Monday, April 8th. MPH students across all programs in the UW School of Public Health will present their practicum projects at either the in-person or virtual symposiums—except for students from the COPHP MPH program. They will present at a separate event in June.

To explore more projects from 120+ students, visit the:

2024 MPH Practicum Symposium Website

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