Us and Them: Jennifer Cooney uses the medium of film to close the gap

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Dare I say, “From the beginning of time,” we’ve told, been told, and spun stories of “us and them.” For the most part, even at their most innocuous, those stories imply “versus.” These are the stories of good and evil, light and dark, angels and demons. And at the nucleus of all of these stories is one, very human, dichotomy: right and wrong. These stories simply cannot be told without the backbone of “what is right,” and “what is wrong.” It is the puppeteer holding the strings, weaving the tales, and therefore, writing our programming.

I’m not going to sit here and say that this is an intrinsically destructive thing. From the vantage point of our current collective consciousness, there is no doubt that some things are obviously bad, and some inarguably good. But what about that grey area in between? That area that varies among cultures, races, belief systems, cities, towns, families, peers, couples?

Would it not stand to reason that each of these groups, large and small, have their own definitions of black and white? And if that’s true, would they not each have their own shades of grey? What of these stories? What of these proclamations of right and wrong? Where does the division end? And, division of what, specifically? Essentially, it all boils down to where the divisions begin; they begin between you and me.

I’ve said it before that film is the grandest storytelling machine of them all. And as filmmaking becomes an increasingly accessible medium for artists all over the world, I think what will come most naturally are stories born, nursed, and raised through these divisions: “My True Story: Me Against Them in My Fight to Be Me.”

Wonderful. This is an extremely important phase of our awakening: the part where we each take center stage in the play of life. And the natural byproduct of this is our awakening to how diverse this planet and our human experience truly is. The part where we each individually realize that we are not the centre of the universe.


This first step, this unmuting of voices, manifests as diversity in storytelling. I’m not speaking of the manufactured diversity initiative that says every social group on screen must have a representative from all cultures, gender-expressions, and sexualities.

This, in reality, presents merely a superficial representation of diversity, which in fact mirrors virtually no one’s lived experience. This actually compounds the disconnect between our storytellers and our audiences—I digress. What we need is the true unmuting of voices; and we accomplish this through the championing of stories TOLD BY diverse groups.

That doesn’t mean casting a POC in the role of a character largely representative of the majority (which is what usually happens). It means we support people…wait for it…telling their OWN stories. Direct the manifestation. Guide the telling. Sign off on the stories before they enter the world. This kind of authentic diversity is the true unmuting of voices.

What happens when these authentically diverse stories are broadcast and consumed by the masses? Something very magical occurs. Something that manufactured diversity could never accomplish. As our individual stories are told with Truth, through the prism of singular “mes” from every walk of life, something undeniably emerges: the Human Story.


Suddenly you’re recognizing your self or your struggle or your journey through a stranger who lives in no man’s land halfway across the planet. Or you see your grief reflected back to you in a family who speaks a language you never knew existed. Or you recognize your lifelong challenge of not feeling good enough in a minority’s struggle as they’re being persecuted by their government in a country you’ve never heard of.

Through authentic filmmaking—telling the Truth in story and character—we learn that the embodiment doesn’t change the humanness. We see the human journey. We see the human as we see ourselves. What is born of this is one simply thing: compassion. The programming of “what is right” and “what is wrong” implodes.

And we are left at the simple Truth: We all simply are. Together, each and everyone of us is. And in that common reflection, we understand our Oneness. We transcend right and wrong and we see from the higher vantage point of Being. We are. You are. I am.

This is the power of storytelling, of filmmaking, when done with pure intention to share our stories…to understand our humanness through our shared journeys. The diversities expand to such a degree that they confirm our sameness. The individuated facets of One. To see that in the end, we’re all of one Source, and that, rather peacefully, closes the gap between you and me, us and them.


This of course doesn’t happen overnight. Interestingly enough, as our eyes are opened, some willingly and some pried, to the diversity of human experience, I believe a natural occurrence is a fork in the road. Some see diversity and contract in fear.

“This is different and therefore wrong. I see you as other, and therefore you must comply or be destroyed.” This is the widening of the gap. Conversely, the wide range of differences sparks curiosity, intrigue, the desire to learn. Read: expansion in love. “I never saw life through this perspective. I feel expanded and enlivened and connected.”

This is the closing of the gap. And I believe that is where we are at right now. Humanity is at a crossroads. Will we close our hearts to the billions of stories that don’t immediately resemble our own superficial experience? Or will we open our hearts to the possibility of growing collectively and symbiotically through a deeper, shared experience?

I am a filmmaker because I cannot not make films. It is a natural extension of my being. And me, I look at that fork in the road and follow my heart down the only path I could possibly take because I’ve touched the edge of Oneness, time and time again, and I’ve labored and danced and expanded in its direction ever since—like a flower leaning towards the sun.

So for me, the journey is transcending my own shades of grey, my own definitions of black and white, imploding my own stances of right and wrong, until ultimately the gap between you and me becomes a relic, a remnant, or perhaps better: a treasured keepsake of the journey—a beautiful reminder of who we are not, but we enjoyed the ride nonetheless.


Jennifer Cooney is an east coast writer/director/producer, and the CEO of her Production Company, HalfJack Generation. She and her company are dedicated to creating films that elevate consciousness, transcend fear, and expand love. Her directorial debut, Wild Fire, is now playing both in-person and virtually at film festivals in the US and Europe and will have its North American release in February 2024.


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