People 21 January 2018
Filmmaker, business owner, mom and painter, Rochelle Leanne White is no stranger to using her voice for good. She grew up in Reading, PA, a small city not far from Philadelphia, which gained national coverage in 2011, for being recognized by the New York Times as the poorest city in the country. That same year, White moved to New York City to chase her dreams of working in the entertainment industry. She wasn’t sure in what capacity, but she knew that there was more out there for her than the confines of Reading, Pennsylvania.
"I was always a dreamer. I always wanted to share and express the way the thoughts would play out in my mind so others could understand it," says White. "Just to be able to express that and have people enjoy it or at least critically think about it."
White got her start as a filmmaker filming yoga videos for her mobile yoga company, Creative Mindz Yoga. But she’s always had a passion for social justice causes too. "I knew I was always going to do something social justice oriented I just didn't know what and I didn't know how, but there's always been an underlying passion in me to fight for what's right, and not only fight for what's right but embrace what's right and progress. I don't believe in being stagnant," says White.
Inspired by filmmakers like Michael Moore, White began to take her camera with her when she would attend social justice marches in New York City. “I started to go out to these events and rallies and bring my camera. From there you have to do something with the footage, so I would process the footage and put it online. I noticed that it was getting a better response than the written content that I produced.”
One march in particular, the Millions March NYC, which took place after a grad jury deliberated not to indict the officer responsible for killing Eric Garner, turned into one of White's first documentary films. P.S. I Can't Breathe a film that found White on the frontlines, in the streets of Manhattan documenting the public's voice and frustration in what she believes is a flawed criminal justice system.
She wasn’t sure what would come of that footage, but she knew that she had to do something; she had to document the moment. P.S. I Can’t Breathe has since went on be screened at a number of film festivals including the Winter Film Awards where it received an award of recognition for the Best Shorts Competition. The film, which is accompanied by a study guide, is currently being used by universities and colleges both nationally and internationally.
As White matured (and learned that she wasn't all that good at memorizing lines), she moved away from wanting to be in front of the camera and found her niche behind it, helping to bring other people's stories to life. "My ultimate goal is for my work to create change, to create a social movement...a social impact, that people can refer to it and it actually has done something to change their lives in some way, or to change the world, that would be my ultimate goal," says White.
Her latest feature film, Middlemen aims to do just that. With P.S. I Can’t Breathe serving as the catalyst, Middlemen picks up where Ava DuVernay’s 13th left off, exploring modern day policing with a special emphasis on how current policing models affect communities of color. In the film, White attempts to tell both sides of the story, that of the general public, as well as that of those whose sole purpose is to protect and to serve.
"I see these two groups of people and I want them to just come together and merge because they're both being treated in ways that are creating this environment,” says White. “Upper management needs to change it for the betterment of the community, and for the officers that work those communities, to create an environment where there's less likelihood of people being killed, period."
White started working on Middlemen three years ago, just a year and a half after she released P.S. I Can’t Breathe, and has for the most part funded the entire film on her own with the exception of a $5,000 grant that she received from the Riverside Church Sharing Fund. She is currently in the post production phase of the film and still working hard to raise money for post production costs. The film features parents of victims of police brutality, including the mother of Eric Garner, the father of Sean Bell, the mother of Amadou Diallo, and others. In the film, White explores the idea that unknowing police officers (middle men) may be contributing to mass incarceration and racism under the CompStat policing model. White’s ultimate goal is to earn a broadcast deal for Middlemen, and to get the film out to as many people as possible.
When she’s not trying to save world as an activist filmmaker, White does yoga and meditates regularly to try and maintain some sense of work and life balance. "God is very instrumental in my life. I keep pressing forward, that is the number one thing," says White. "I just do, I don't really think twice about it. If I have something to do, I just get up and do it. I do try to focus on productivity."
Meet Lila Green, a film about a woman who overcomes domestic violence through entrepreneurship, sisterhood, and giving back is White’s next feature film, that she’s hoping will make it into the Sundance Film Festival. White is also in the process of developing two apps that will help her yoga and production companies run more efficiently.
Middlemen will be released in the fall of 2018. Follow this link to make a tax deductible contribution to post production costs.
4 min read
One of the few things I remember from grade school biology is the concept of tropism. In plain language, tropism is the reaction of a living thing, like a plant, towards a stimulus like sunlight or heat. You've likely seen this before but just didn't recognize it for what it was. If you've ever seen the leaves of a potted plant bending towards a windowpane, that's tropism in action. The plant is bending towards the sunlight.
If you've ever seen the leaves of a potted plant bending towards a windowpane, that's tropism in action.
In our everyday lives, we are all inundated with stimuli throughout the day. The driver in front of us that stalls at the yellow light and zooms through the red light, leaving us behind to wait. Or the customer service rep that leaves us on hold for an ungodly amount of time, only for the call to prematurely drop. There are so many examples both common and unique to our individual lives. The trouble begins when we form the habit of responding to everything — particularly negative stimuli. By doing this, our mental peace is disrupted and diverted making us slaves to whatever happens to happen. Much like the plant bending towards sunlight, we oftentimes react and lean into whatever is happening around us. Now take that concept and multiply it by the number of things that can happen in a day, week, or month. What happens to you mentally with so many emotional pivots?
For me, the result is: Restlessness. Anxiety. Sleepness. Mindless Eating. Everything besides peace of mind.
Much like the plant bending towards sunlight, we oftentimes react and lean into whatever is happening around us.
Earlier this year, something pretty trivial happened to me. I'm sure this has happened to you at some point in your life also. I was walking through a door and, as I always do, glanced back and held the door longer and wider than normal for the person coming behind me. My gracious gesture was met with silence — no thank you, no smile, not even a nod. I remember being so annoyed at this travesty of justice. How dare they not acknowledge me and thank me for holding the door? After all, I didn't have to do it. I know I spent the next few hours thinking about it and probably even texted a few friends so that they could join in on my rant and tell me how right I was to be upset. In hindsight, I should not have allowed this pretty petty thing to occupy my mind and heart, but I did. I let it shake my peace.
I've since taken some classes on mindfulness and what I've learned (and I'm still learning) is the art of being aware — being aware of the present and my feelings. Recognizing when I'm triggered towards annoyance or anger gives me the opportunity to take a step back to understand why and assess whether it deserves my attention and energy. We're all human and having emotions is part of the deal but as mindful adults, it's critically important to choose what you're going to care about and let everything else pass along. There are several tools on the market to help with this but the Headspace app has really helped me in my mindfulness journey. The lessons are guided and coupled with some pretty cute animations.
Recognizing when I'm triggered towards annoyance or anger gives me the opportunity to take a step back to understand why and assess whether it deserves my attention and energy.
Over the course of the next week, I'd like to challenge you to pay more attention to your reactions. How aware are you of how you allow your environment to affect you? Are you highly reactive? Do you ruminate for hours or even days on events that are insignificant in your life? If so, practicing a bit of mindfulness may be the way to go.