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Turning a Camera on Controversy

Jordan Coleman

Photo courtesy of Jordan Coleman

It hasn’t happened yet. Nobody has overheard Jordan Coleman in a cluster of conversations on the AU campus and spun around to say, “You know, you sound just like Tyrone the Moose!”      

Nor has anybody taken a good, close look at Jordan Coleman’s face and asked him, “Aren’t you the guy on the Doritos bag?”    

It may be just a matter of time.   

Most incoming freshman, at AU or anywhere else, are hoping to make their first mark on the world. Jordan’s been there, done that—as a cast member of the popular Nickelodeon show “The Backyardigans,” then as one of six young people finding snack-bag fame (he was on some 40 million bags of Spicy Nachos) for his early cinematic efforts. Not that he’s satisfied. The Hackensack, N.J., native has come to the School of Communication to get the training he needs to do even more, and to do it better—as a filmmaker, scriptwriter, and tackler of tough—and often disturbing—social issues.

“I thought it would be better if I have a degree,” says the 18-year-old. “In college, I can learn the proper way to make a film. Filmmaking is about creativity and imagination, but there are also things you learn in college—process shots, the vocabulary of filmmaking…”
        
He’s continuing to meet the challenge his mother, a retired journalist for the New York Daily News, set before him years ago when the checks started coming in for voicing Tyrone.
        
“Mom said, ‘You should use the money to help your community.’”
        
And why did he decide that filmmaking was the way to go?

“My friends and I, we always loved movies.” Besides, he feels, a good movie “can capture a 17-year-old viewer, a 27-year-old viewer, a 37-year old viewer…” He had things he wanted to say.
        
His parents had told him about AU when he was a high-school sophomore. Then, as the time grew nearer to apply to college, he started doing his own research on SOC. And he found?
        
“How great of a school it is. A new school in a way, with lots of different ideas.”
        
He also sat in on courses at SOC, and remembers receiving particular encouragement from Associate Professor Scott Talan:
        
“He said the professors here really help you out when you need it. I knew I wanted to be able to get one-on-one time with professors.”
        
His first film, “Say It Loud,” employed both celebrities (Kobe Bryant, Cory Booker, Ludacris et al.) and “regular” people to make the case for African American boys staying in school. His next film, “Payin’ the Price,” explored the mostly whispered-about world of teen dating violence. Inspired by the much-debated conflicts between rapper Chris Brown and his girlfriend, the singer Rihanna; Jordan and his friends were part of that conversation, arguing over whether she should leave, whether she should come back.
        
A movie idea took root.
        
Jordan began to read up on violent relationships among teens. He was surprised, he says, to learn that one in three teen relationships—cutting across racial, ethnic and economic lines—had elements of violence in them. He was even more surprised to find that males were victims of real or threatened dating violence, too—most often harassment or stalking.
        
He and his mother “came up with a script that made sense,” one with “plenty of twists and turns.” When it was ready, they hired a film crew, held auditions, and hit the ground running.
        
“We shot the film in 11 days,” Jordan explains.
        
“Payin’ the Price” won the 2011 HBO Best Feature Film competition at the Martha’s Vineyard African-American Film Festival. More important, it sparked debate—often uncomfortable debate—in high-school hallways.
        
“I really make people choose a side.”
        
And he’s got two more films already in the works: “Justin Case,” about choices that high-schoolers face, and “I Am Trayvon,” on the controversial shooting death of Trayvon Martin. Expect plenty of agitated conversation in college hallways, too.
        
Just days into his first semester, with a schedule that includes Understanding Media, Visual Literacy, Appreciating Cinema, and Finite Math, Jordan’s biggest surprise, he says, is “how friendly everybody is, how welcoming.”
        
“AU’s a school on the rise,” says Jordan Coleman. “I think I’m on the rise as well.”