Writing My Own Happy Ending
The Durham VOICE is a community newspaper in Durham, North Carolina. It is written by area college students and the teenagers featured in this film. The paper is written for a part of Durham known for its high crime rates and poverty. Writing My Own Happy Ending tells the story of the paper and its teenage writers during a trip the students took to Ocracoke Island in the Outer Banks. There, they visited an island newspaper and worked on stories in an environment that was a polar opposite from home. This cultural exchange between mostly African American kids from the city and white adults on a tiny island is more than a “fish out of water” story. Instead, it’s about how a group of teenagers uplifted their community through writing. But the moral of this story is more than that. The moral is a question these teens have for adults…
Joseph Cabosky is an Assistant Professor at the School of Media and Journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. After obtaining a BFA from Chapman University in Orange County, California, he worked in feature film Development at Eclectic Pictures. There, he sold his spec script, “The Correspondent,” to Millennium Films. He has since wrote and narrated the documentary, “A Hero’s Welcome.” At the School of Media and Journalism, he focuses on strategic communication and minority publics. “Writing My Own Happy Ending” is his feature documentary directorial debut. Joseph lives with his partner and his two dogs in Durham, North Carolina.
As an LGBTQ teenager and young adult, I would often watch the news and feel disconnected from its portrayal of people like me. I also remember how the media always seemed to portray African American parts of town as “bad neighborhoods” ridden with crime. And then there were the heartwarming stories of fortunate people helping the less fortunate. Taken together, it always seemed like there was a missing angle to these stories that was left untold.
A few years ago, I started working with this amazing paper, The Durham VOICE – a community newspaper featured in this film. The VOICE wasn’t just any media outlet. It was a paper written by low-income teens, as well as neighboring university students, and it served a part of the community that only found itself in the news when a murder or other crime occurred. But these teens were able to cover a different part of their community – one of hope; one of empowerment. And so, I began to document these kids, as I knew their story needed to be shared. Upon hearing that they were about to visit Ocracoke Island, a community that could not be more opposite than their own, I knew what the narrative would be.
The most important thing I wanted to do with the film was make sure that it was not just another “talking heads” documentary. Like most news coverage, most documentaries still tell their stories from the perspective of experts in their field or adults talking to a camera. Instead, this film takes an on-the-ground, ethnographic approach. It thus tells the story of these teens by watching these kids simply be kids. The goal is for audiences to be able to step into their shoes and experience the world through their eyes. And thus, while the film is uplifting and filled with humor, I hope it challenges adults at the same time. For the first third, the film might seem as though it’s nothing but a fish-out-of-water story of a bunch of teens on vacation. But this itself is meant to challenge the presumptions we as adults often make about youth. While the film is a subtle commentary on current media, the impacts of gentrification and the learning that happens through cultural exchange, the main point is much greater than that. The trip in the film is an analogy for how adults often view teenagers and those “less fortunate” than themselves. And in the last 60 seconds of the film, I think viewers will be surprised at the message these teens want to share. By capturing these small moments and challenging the traditional structure of documentaries, I hope audiences will walk away with a perspective that combats their previous presumptions.