Photo of Jadyn Newman

“Because I Care:” Art, Change, and Self-Belief

When speaking with Jadyn Newman, SOC-SPA/BA ’23, one can immediately sense her dynamism. She embraces plurality in her passions and has carved a unique path by pursuing a BA in both Film and Media Arts and Justice, Law, and Criminology. She describes social impact thoughtfully as a living, breathing aspect of her work. Care, for Newman, is at once noun and verb.

Honing this perspective has been part of Newman’s journey at American University. Her driving force is her love of research.

“What attracted me most about AU was the fact that it's so renowned as a research institution. I’m someone who has always loved to research, regardless of what the medium of presentation was,” says Newman.

She views Film and Media Arts and Justice, Law, and Criminology as academic complements, linked by the art of diving deep into the human experience. “With the intersection of my two majors,” Newman explains, “the research has been the throughline for both of them, which has been pretty fulfilling.”

AU is an optimal institution for Newman’s pursuits. Being in DC places her in the heart of the advocacy sector, and the city is home to a vibrant film scene. Similarly, AU’s unique course offerings allow Newman to cross-cultivate her research. A recent class titled Law and Pop Culture, for example, focused on depictions of law in film. And Newman has found freedom in the chance to “design her own schedule” via independent study and Honors credits, while also taking advantage of the School of Communication’s robust video equipment collection.

Outside of the classroom, internships and board positions have been formative for Newman. She has extensive nonprofit experience, initially getting involved after “seeing a need in quite a few nonprofits for just something as simple as having someone who knows how to edit videos.”

Now several years on, her portfolio of work reveals a creator attuned to art’s ability to prompt change, celebrate identities, and insert nuance into public messaging.

Working for The Common Ground Project Florida during the COVID pandemic, Newman redesigned the organization’s website and launched a new video series about vaccines. The informational videos countered misconceptions about vaccine hesitancy among communities of color and examined legacies of medical oppression.

Newman says the project marked an important moment for her and underscored video’s reach across a wide range of audiences.

“The video project was the first time I really got to see the social justice side of what I do and bring it into my film work because a lot of it was research, and it was finding laws and explaining policy in a way that folks can understand, even if they don't know the jargon. Public policies should be accessible, and video is a great way to do that.”

Another facet of Newman’s work has focused on amplifying diversity in literature. With public library experience and a personal love of reading, Newman produced content for The Little Black Library, which provides books by Black authors to libraries and facilitates discussions about antiracism. She has also developed story time and activism videos for Multicultural Children’s Book Day (MCBD)—a partnership that began after the organization’s CEO discovered MCBD-inspired videos Newman made for her public library in Chicago.

Newman values her involvement with The Little Black Library and MCBD and currently serves on the boards of both organizations. She finds building community around books deeply meaningful and believes it’s crucial to “celebrate kids’ books that are about all these different identities—children with disabilities, different kinds of families, LGBTQ+ representation, different racial minorities.”

Celebrating representation is a layered idea for Newman. Describing her experience as a filmmaker, she says: “As a Black woman in film—and a Black, Queer woman at that—I have found there are a lot of things that are not created for me, and I’m moving through spaces that are not necessarily created for me.”

Newman points to the importance of mentorship in helping her navigate these spaces. Last summer, she was among a group of aspiring BIPOC and LGBTQIA+ filmmakers invited to take part in Beyond the Screen—a prestigious mentorship program co-sponsored by Made in Her Image and film studio A24. Throughout the program, participants met with industry professionals and attended sessions on topics ranging from scriptwriting to on-set ethics.

The sense of community made Beyond the Screen one of Newman’s “most affirming experiences” as a young filmmaker. She built a network with mentors who emphasized the importance of her voice. It was “this idea that your stories matter, and you don't have to fit to the mold of other filmmakers,” she says.

Newman continues, “They were boosting this drive that we had and saying: ‘All these people are telling you can't do it, but you can. And here are five people to prove it, because they did.’”

These takeaways are part of Newman’s own service as a mentor at AU. With encouragement from her professors, Newman served as a Teaching Assistant (TA) for a social justice and gentrification course and mentored first-year students in a Living Learning Community. She’s also a board member for a new group for students of color within AU Honors, as well as an active member of the AU Improv troupe.

“My goal at AU has always been to make things even better for the folks who share my identity, who will be here down the line,” says Newman. “Any leadership position I've had, whether that be on improv or in Honors or as a TA—it’s just been to improve the experience of those who come after me. Because I think that's truly what builds a community that works and that protects each other.”

With graduation around the corner, Newman is eager to launch her full-time career in filmmaking. Although financial circumstances originally threatened her final year at AU, the Michael Forman and Bonnie Brae Forman Endowed Scholarship has enabled her to reach this moment and plan for the path ahead. Newman’s first step will take her back home to Chicago for a video fellowship with Illinois’ Office of the Governor. Her ultimate goal down the road is to be a professional screenwriter for fiction projects.  

Throughout it all, Newman’s guiding ethos is to show care by being true to herself and the stories she wants to tell.

“For me, my point of view as a filmmaker is recognizing my potential,” says Newman. “I trust that the art that I make is art that I’m proud of and that could go somewhere. And if five people see it—that's great. And if a million peoples see it—that's great, too. But I make it for me. And I make it because I care and I feel it’s important.”

AU is committed to ensuring that financial challenges don’t prevent students from pursuing their paths to purpose. With a $25 million goal and university match, the Elevate Scholarship Initiative—a vital component of the Change Can’t Wait Campaign—helps students remain at AU and achieve their goals. To learn more and support, visit the Elevate Scholarship Initiative webpage.