Never the Same

Never the Same l link

Salome Chasnoff is a documentary filmmaker, installation artist and media activist. She has been an arts educator for more than 20 years in university and community settings, and has produced more than 25 works, several dedicated to expanding media access to the diverse stories of women and youth. Chasnoff founded Beyondmedia Education in 1996 and after serving as Executive Director for most of that time, Beyondmedia was closed in early 2012. She was interviewed about the pre-histories and recent post-histories of Beyondmedia in June of 2012. For further information about Beyondmedia check out their videos here.

Dr. Martha Sommers and Salome Chasnoff on WBEZ's Worldview


WBEZ - September 19, 2012 | link

Chicago, Illinois – Malawi is a nation of 15 million with just eight practicing pediatricians. Dr. Martha Sommers has been practicing medicine in rural Malawi since 1997, and spent years as the sole doctor in a region of 120,000. She is the subject of a new documentary called Brink of Survival and joins Worldview to discuss her work. We’re also joined by the film’s director, Salome Chasnoff.


Salome Chasnoff Named Purpose Prize Fellow


Civic Ventures - November 3, 2011 | link

Chicago, Illinois – Civic Ventures today announced that Salome Chasnoff, founder of Beyondmedia Education, is a 2011 Purpose Prize fellow. Chasnoff was recognized as a social entrepreneur over 60 who is using her experience and passion to make an extraordinary impact on society’s biggest challenges. Now in its sixth year, the $17 million Purpose Prize program is the nation’s only large-scale investment in social innovators in the second half of life.


Chicago’s Chasnoff wins leader honor


by Micki Leventhal
Windy City Times - February 10, 2010 | link

Salome Chasnoff, founder and executive director of Beyondmedia Education, has been named a Leader for the 21st Century by Women’s eNews in the category of “Seven Who Invent a Better Future.”


Salome Chasnoff Named a Leader for the 21st Century and Ida B. Wells Bravery in Journalism Awardee by Women’s eNews


by Womens eNews
Womens eNews - January 10, 2010 | link

Beyondmedia Education is thrilled to announce that Women’s eNews has named Executive Director Salome Chasnoff as one of the 21 Leaders for the 21st Century and the winner of the Ida B. Wells Award for Bravery in Journalism. These prestigious awards are bestowed upon visionaries who are committed to improving the lives of women and girls.


Multiculturalism is an action, it’s a way of promoting understanding

Andrea Garcí­a González. Pandora, Género y Comunicación

Aula Intercultural - June 24, 2009. english link | spanish/espanol link

In this interview, Executive Director Salome Chasnoff and Program Director Tara Malik discuss the importance of using media tools in their projects as well as their reflections about multicultural education. In addition, they talk about their most recent project focusing on HIV education, how this issue is treated in the United States and how this affects youth.


Youth Media against Violence


by Salome Chasnoff & Jesse Wheeler

Youth Media Reporter - June 12, 2009. link

Chicagoans and many people throughout the country have seen news reports that either open or close with a body count – at the time of this writing, for example, 36 Chicago Public School students have been killed since the beginning of the academic year.

But much is missing from this macabre recitation of numbers. The focus on murder blurs our perception of the range, depth, and pervasiveness of violence. Perhaps most troubling, youth voices are systemically excluded from coverage – not only in the mainstream media, but in almost all media – and young girls are increasingly perpetuating violence. One consequence is that the media misrepresent youth involvement in violence, routinely characterizing them as either victims or perpetrators.




By: Ingrid Hu Dahl, Youth Media Reporter - February 14, 2008. link

Beyondmedia Education is a Chicago-based 501c3 nonprofit organization whose mission is to collaborate with under-served and under-represented women, youth and communities to tell their stories, connect their stories to the world around us, and organize for social justice through the creation and distribution of media arts.


Salome Chasnoff: Going Beyondmedia

February 2007 by Celina De Leon

Salome Chasnoff is executive director of the alternative media nonprofit, Beyondmedia. Salome is a video and installation artist, media activist and educator, whose work is dedicated to expanding media access for marginalized communities. She has been an arts educator for the past 20 years in university and community settings, and an artist-activist in the prison moratorium movement for 8 years.

Beyondmedia, for the most part, works with young women between the ages of 13 and 25. They also partner with many women’s and queer youth groups.

Here’s Salome…

According to Beyondmedia’s mission statement, if underserved communities can document and communicate their stories and serve as educators to others, they can generate social transformation. Can you talk more about this, and give some examples from Beyondmedia’s work?

I think when other people tell our stories, they are necessarily doing so through the veil of their own biases, experiences and agendas. This can’t be helped. Marginalized communities are by definition invisible to or misrepresented by the corporate media. So, taking your own representation into your own hands gives you tremendous power. Sharing your story with those who are uninformed can open their eyes to your humanity.

It’s particularly true for people who are at the bottom of the social hierarchy. For example, women who work in the sex trade industry. We did a documentary with women in the sex trade industry recently, “Turning a Corner.” We trained them to tell their stories and they lobbied legislators in Springfield [Illinois] around specific bills that were pending. Several of the legislators said that it was through hearing the women’s voices—hearing the women’s stories through their own voices—that their minds were changed, and their votes. The women ended up winning some major policy victories in Illinois because of that.

Also, people who are incarcerated are often out of sight and out of mind. We don’t know what goes on [in prison], so it’s very easy for us to carry all kinds of stereotypes about them. We have a website, Women in Prison: A Site for Resistance, and it has stories and interviews with women inside. They send us tales of their experiences which are first-person, detailed, and filled with truths that we don’t get exposed to, so they inform us differently.

We do workshops. We specialize in media production workshops which take people who have no previous experience with media making through the whole process from developing and learning basic media literacy and production skills, to learning how to focus on the issues that affect them and their communities from a politicized perspective, to developing a project and creating it as a team and taking it out to the world. The media that we produce at Beyondmedia emerges from authentic collaborations with women and girls. The stories that we represent are not a media expert’s interpretation of people’s experiences. They’re told in the voices of the people themselves. [The people] have control over how they’re being represented. The media speaks in a profound way to viewers. It can also be a life changing experience for the makers themselves because many have not had their stories heard, their realities recognized and valued. In this way, the making of media becomes the medium for community building, for healing, for social transformation.

From your work with young women, what issues do they often choose to work on or explore?

Sometimes they’re already exploring them. Sometimes they haven’t given it a thought. We have all kinds of collaborations and everyone is different. But pretty consistently, the issue of violence is often an issue; sexuality permeates all of the issues; and media representation, and how these are all connected and feed on each other. We become so used to living in a misogynistic society that the violence against women has become normalized. So, when the young women have the experience of taking the media into their own hands, it’s a way of talking back.

What are some projects Beyondmedia is working on now?

We’ve been working for the past four years with a group called The Empowered Fe Fes. It is a group of young women, primarily young women of color, who are disabled in a variety of ways. We’re showing one of the pieces that we made in a double feature. The main feature is called “Doin’ It: Sex, Disability, and Videotape.” It’s about letting the world know that young women with disabilities are sexual beings with sexual needs and sexual desires, and have a need for sex ed. They have the same dreams and hopes and ambitions that everybody does, and the same medical and educational needs.

The short tape is by young girls. It’s on bullying and how it has become a new topic, but somehow young people with disabilities, how they’re treated, is not seen as bullying. It’s a pretty virulent form of discrimination and has a big impact on their educational experience with long-range implications.

We have a women in prison program and two really powerful projects happening. One is Women and Prison: A Site for Resistance—it’s a website—which I mentioned earlier. It’s a collection of first-person oral histories of women in prison and formerly incarcerated women—articles, reports, journals, poetry, art, scholars and activists’ contributions, video, and audio. It’s a really unique place to hear the voices of women and girls affected by the prison system. We also recently got a grant to hire formerly incarcerated women to manage the site. We’re doing outreach to people in prison, and formerly incarcerated, to submit their stories. We’re providing workshops to show them how to use the site and how to contribute their stories. It’s a really powerful project. I’m really excited about it.

And then “Turning a Corner,” which I also mentioned earlier, which was made by women who were in street-level prostitution, that is in distribution in a lot of festivals. We’re doing screenings all over the country. Actually distribution of all our works is a major project that we’re strategically and intentionally expanding because it’s a great opportunity for universities to bring the voices of people [many students] are not ordinarily exposed to, into the classroom. Film festivals, cable, public television, we’re really trying to get the work out there.

One project that we’ve been working on for the past couple of years with LGBTQ youth is called “Can LGBTQ + School=Safe?” It’s a set of media organizing tools for queer youth in school settings. We’ve got the video and we’re working on the website. We are creating one guide for the students and another guide for teachers and adult facilitators. A lot of our projects have different components to make them complex tools.

For another project, we’re collaborating with two local organizations. One is Broadway Youth Center, which serves queer, transgender, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and questioning youth, many of whom are homeless; and About Face Youth Theater. We’re doing a project, HIV: History in Voices, which is a cultural history of HIV. It’s a long project; a documentary and a theater piece are going to come out of it.

What are your views on mainstream television? Do you recommend any shows to watch?

For me, mainstream TV, I use it for entertainment only. I think it’s really dumbed down, and interviewers don’t challenge their interviewees, even when they know they’re lying. For me, it’s a place to—when I’m tired—to crash, and do what everybody else does. I watch “The Daily Show,” “The Colbert Report,” “Grey’s Anatomy.” I love “Roseanne” reruns. Sometimes, when I’ve been working really hard, I’ll stay up late and watch garbage. I watch “The L word” when I can get it in.

Do you have any Oscar picks?

I haven’t seen them all. One film that I saw that I loved is “Volver.” I love Pedro Almodovar’s work, especially the later stuff. Penelope Cruz is up for an award. “Volver” is up for best foreign. I’m not really sure why they’re separated; why it has its own category. I think maybe that needs to be looked at a little more. I would vote for that.

I loved Eddie Murphy’s performance in “Dream Girls.” I just thought it was a stand-out performance.

What is the first step to becoming a media activist?

Learn to see and read mass media against the grain, critique it. Even if you enjoy it, be aware of how it might degrade or misrepresent people. Don’t take the news on TV or in the newspapers at face value. Be suspicious. Educate yourself. Read widely and track down other sides of the story so your opinion can be better informed.

Then, find a way to take media into your own hands. Media literacy, which is about learning the concepts that allow you to critique media, also needs to involve learning the tools that will allow you to make your own.

Also, look at alternative media. Even stuff, by so-called professional standards, that is considered good. Professional says who?

I used to be on the board of the women’s film festival here in Chicago that is now defunct. I learned more from films by emerging artists—films that defy mass media standards. They were so wonderful, so memorable. Little pieces that I saw 10 years ago, I still remember. They were so moving. There was something so true to them. Just having something polished and slick that’s not—just look at the Oscars, actually—they fulfill all the standards of excellence and yet you walk away and say, “So what?” You don’t feel changed by it. And then next week you’ve forgotten it. To me that’s not great work.

Some people think alternative media is too biased to the left, and for some reason mainstream media is objective. What do you say to people who hold these beliefs?

[Laughs] First of all, alternative media is made by the right also. It’s just not generated by the corporate media machine, which is what makes it alternative. Media isn’t just movies, it’s also magazines, internet, music videos—there’s such a broad range of information. There are many forms to media.

I think a lot of alternative media is progressive because we’re smart and creative. [Laughs] Does anybody still believe mainstream is objective? Does anybody still believe that objectivity is possible? Everything that’s been going on in the media and around the Iraq war, you’d have to be living in a cave to believe that mainstream media is objective. The purpose of mainstream media is to earn money for its stockholders. Not to inform us. So, whatever serves that end is what is going to be published. For example, in order for Exxon Mobil to make record profits every year, they have to suppress the truth about global warming. Exxon Mobil funds a lot of media. Now it’s just been reported that they’re paying scientists to debunk global warming.

Another movie I would like to win [an Oscar] is the Al Gore movie, “An Inconvenient Truth.” That’s up for best documentary. It’s not just about its value as a viewing experience, but the impact it’s had, it’s awesome in terms of widespread education. I think taking that lecture he’s been doing for years—and we’re not talking about just some insignificant guy, this is Al Gore, he has a lot of power in the world—he has been doing this lecture all over the world. But once it became a film, it just escalated its effect, its impact, its reach, and the power surrounding it. The power of the message became amplified. It’s a wonderful example of the power of media—its ability to focus our attention and reframe it. I see it all the time in the work that we do. Bringing that power to the experience, to the realities of marginalized people—it has the same effect on a smaller scale at Beyondmedia.


Sex sells. But who pays?

Prostitutes tell their stories in a riveting local documentary

Fall 2006
Time Out Chicago
By Margaret Lyons

It’s more than just an inside story, though. It’s the most thought-provoking documentary we’ve seen in ages. What it lacks in technical finesse it makes up for in potency. Lucretia Clay tells the camera the story of how she was 14 when her mother sold her to a pimp. Brenda Myers talks of being dragged by a car. Many of the women talk about being sexually abused as children; of being addicted to drugs; about being kidnapped, raped and beaten. “All of them have experienced horrific violence on the job and in their lives,” Chasnoff says. “But if they present themselves in an emergency room, or call the police, they’re handcuffed and booked because they’re criminals… None of these crimes against their bodies, against their person, have ever been prosecuted.” Making the film was “as much about healing as it was about media making and advocacy. It was a very intense experience.”

Turning a Corner is an intense film to watch, too, and not just because its subjects describe terrible violence and exploitation: It’s because it’s local. As part of the workshop, the women revisited places where they had transformative experiences. One woman shows us the abandoned three-flat where she used to live, where she would get high and bring her johns. One shows us a park where she was raped. One shows us a lot where her friend’s maimed body was discovered. One shows us the stretch of Racine between 47th and 49th Streets where she used to work. Some cry, some remain calm; the unifying thread is one of pain, but each woman tells her own story in her own way.

Sex work is inextricably linked to poverty, homelessness, drug abuse, racism in the criminal-justice system and violence against women. “Street prostitution was the lens,” Chasnoff says, “the nexus through which these different issues emerged.” The lens focuses most sharply on incarceration. More than 5,000 people are arrested each year in Cook County on prostitution-related charges, and about 75 percent are prostitutes, 25 percent johns and less than 1 percent are pimps. This statistic is mentioned more than a few times. According to the film, around 40 percent of street prostitutes are women of color, 55 percent of people arrested for street prostitution are women of color, as are a staggering 85 percent of those sentenced to jail. In Illinois, prostitution can be prosecuted as a felony; pimping and solicitation are misdemeanors.

Chasnoff says she’s in favor of decriminalizing sex work, but the opinions expressed in the film vary from the idea that pimping and solicitation should be felonies to all prostitution should be legal. Wherever you fall within that spectrum, the film makes a solid case that laws are inconsistently applied and skew unfairly to prosecuting women, and that police routinely harass sex workers. Chasnoff says that over the course of making the film, she became “more sensitive to how race, class, age, ability and education construct sex workers’ identities.” Watching the film has a similar effect.


Through Their Eyes

Summer 2006
The Chicago Reporter: New Voices
By Erica Schlaikjer

Photo by Audrey Cho as it appeared in The Chicago Reporter.

While editing her latest film, “Turning a Corner,” an hour-long documentary about prostitution in Chicago, Salome Chasnoff couldn’t help but cry. The scene showed Lucretia Clay, a former prostitute, returning to the Sportsman’s Inn motel on the city’s Southwest Side, where she had spent 26 years of her life “turning dates” on street corners.

Clay “thought she had all this under control, that it was behind her,” Chasnoff says. “Yet, when she was standing there, it was like she went right back to when she was 14 years old and she was sold to a pimp by her mother. I saw her battling with herself.”

Clay’s story is one of many that Chasnoff captured in the film, which premiered in February. The project was produced by Beyondmedia Education, a media activism group that Chasnoff created in 1996 in response to the exclusion of some women from the “information revolution” of the 1990s.

Since its inception, Beyondmedia has created almost 20 projects with marginalized groups of women and youth. Previous projects include a video about girls with disabilities and a multimedia art exhibit that recreated a prison cell through the eyes of female prisoners.

Chasnoff’s documentary on prostitution gives voice to a group of 13 African American women, many of whom were beaten, raped or arrested during their involvement in the sex trade. The women were participants of the Prostitution Alternatives Round Table, a program of the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless that addresses issues of homelessness and prostitution. Their stories were collected through a series of workshops facilitated by Beyondmedia, with support from the Chicago Legal Advocacy for Incarcerated Mothers.

For Chasnoff, the appeal of these stories is more than their raw emotions. “I don’t want this work to be framed as though I’m some sort of tragedy junkie,” she says. Instead, she insists there’s a transformative power in storytelling, especially for the women in her documentary. “I witness time and time again É how [storytelling] helps you to see your experience differently, and how it promotes a healing process,” she says. “Yes, the pain is always going to be there, but our relationship to it changes. The more we understand it and the more comfortable we feel with it, we can move beyond it.”

Chasnoff recently sat down with The Chicago Reporter to talk about her project.

Now that you’ve made this film, what does prostitution mean to you?
My knowledge of the impact of criminalization has deepened. And so has my appreciation for the pain that so many of these women have experienced. And I think I have a much better understanding of how so many different issues intersect through prostitution: all the health issues, like HIV and AIDS; the bodily effects of violence and physical abuse, mental abuse, sexual abuse, domestic violence …

And homelessness, drug use …?
Exactly. And drug use has a lot to do with the economy—how people make money to survive. Prostitution is a work issue. And it’s not just a work issue for the people involved in prostitution, but there are a lot of work roles that intersect with theirs. There are the pimps, the drug dealers, and then there are the police.

How do audiences react to your film?
When we do screenings, one of the major responses we get from people is, ‘They chose to do that—so what are they complaining about?’ In this society, problems and solutions are very individualized. People are reticent to see individual situations within larger systems of oppression. And ‘choice’ is a red flag because choice, for all of us, is limited. Free will, free choice, is a fantasy.

In the film, you said women in prostitution are both invisible and visible at the same time. What do you mean by that?
Women in prostitution are the most visible of the transaction. The pimp is always behind the scenes. And the John—if you don’t catch him in the act, you don’t know where to find him.

As an issue, it’s very visible, especially in gentrifying areas, like Bucktown, where people want to eradicate prostitution from their neighborhoods because of the way it’s affecting their property values and their experience of their million-dollar homes.

But women as individuals are invisible. Who’s taking care of their kids when they’re in prison? Who’s paying for their funeral? Who’s paying for their health care when they were beaten up? As individuals, they’re invisible, and their voices are silenced.

Why are women in prostitution criminalized?
There are a lot of answers; I don’t want to be held to one of them. But, in this society, we want to blame somebody, so you pick the person who’s easiest to target. The kind of prostitution that happens on the streets is somewhere between 11 and 17 percent, and yet most of the arrests are there. And 75 percent of arrests are women in prostitution, and 25 percent are Johns—but that’s a misdemeanor; it’s not a felony. Now, in Chicago, women in prostitution can get a felony. It’s a permanent mark. With a felony charge, it’s not going to open any doors for them, for certain.

You would think that, in a logical, rational world, the people that make the money would be the ones to pay the higher price. But that’s not how it works. The people who are making the money are getting off scot-free. Women working in clubs are paying between 40 and 60 percent to the club owner, and women on the street or that have pimps often turn over their entire take to the pimp and just get a little allowance to live off of. These are not the people that are benefiting from this system, and yet they’re the ones getting criminalized.

Do you think there’s something the city can do to prevent people from entering prostitution in the first place?
I don’t believe in social controls in that way. But I think that offering people options—education, work options, treatment options—is the best form of prevention. Some people choose prostitution because that’s what they want to do, and some people don’t. They choose it because that’s what’s available to them.

Why do people get stuck in prostitution?
I think that varies a lot, according to each person. Some people are dealing with drug addiction, and there’s not a lot you can do when you’re in the grips of addiction. Other people’s self-esteem is so low. You know how hard it is to get a job? When you have 10, 20 years of nothing on your resume, you’re not just going to walk into some receptionist position—you know what I mean? There aren’t very many choices for women who have been through that.

Did your workshops contribute to the healing process for these women?
People learned how to use cameras, how to interview, how to tell their story, but they also really healed, and I don’t want to say from zero to 100, and everybody’s fine now—that’s not what I’m saying at all. What I’m saying is healing is a lifelong journey for all of us. And people moved along in that journey. Part of it was just being together with all the people that they shared this experience with, and having the opportunity to talk about it openly with people that didn’t judge them. For almost all of the women, this was the first time in their lives being in this kind of a setting.

What’s one thing you want audiences to come away with?

I want people to put a human face on prostitution, to see that they’re people that want the same things that everybody else wants. And that they deserve it.


HIV: Hey It's Viral! Won Official Selection Award 

Cinema Mostra Aids 2013 granted HIV: Hey It's Viral an official selection award after screening in Sao Paulo, Brazil.