Hunter Johnson (MHR ‘20) is producing a documentary on the role of the press in combating enforced disappearances and impunity in Mexico. “Since 2006, over 40,000 people have disappeared in Mexico. This film illustrates how exceptional reporters work with victims' families to demand state accountability in the search for their loved ones, helping to put an end to this ongoing human rights crisis.” Hunter received the Dunn Peace Research Scholarship to investigate and film this project in Mexico.
Where are you from? What brings you to the U?
I was born and raised in southeast Minneapolis and lived there through high school. For my undergrad, I moved to Philadelphia to study film and Spanish at Temple University. After graduating I worked both in the US and internationally as a filmmaker and photographer. My experiences in visual storytelling sparked an interest in the human rights field and ultimately led me back to Minneapolis to pursue a master of human rights at the U.
I chose my program because I want to have an academic foundation in human rights to be a better advocate in my film work. This desire stemmed from the people I met and their stories I helped bring to life through video. For two years I lived in Honduras at a home for vulnerable children, working on-site as a videographer. Returning to the States I became a core filmmaker and producer with a traveling documentary team focusing on the human stories behind sustainable food producers. Between these two experiences, I found that the stories I felt most passionate about telling focused on human rights.
What are you working on now, and why is it important?
For the last year, I’ve been working as a lead researcher with the Observatory on Disappearances and Impunity in Mexico under Professor Barb Frey. This research has led me to begin shooting a documentary about two journalists who cover the crisis of disappearances in Mexico, and their quest to help families find their loved ones. This project matters because it strives to put human faces and voices to this horrific issue in an attempt to help families of victims in their quest of truth, and accountability, and closure.
What motivates you? What difference do you hope to make in the world?
I am driven by the power of storytelling. When you sit down and really listen to someone’s story, be that in-person or through media, it’s hard not to empathize with them. Their culture and lived experience might be very different from yours, but good, honest storytelling has a powerful way of showing us the shared humanity and values in everyone.
We all have a role to play in our efforts to make our communities and world a better place that is unique to our skills and strengths as individuals. I hope to use interpersonal connections both in my professional work, as well as in my day-to-day relationships and encounters, to help bring about greater compassion and equality for the world’s most vulnerable people.
How has your liberal arts education uniquely prepared you for your career and for living and working in a connected, global community?
After completing my degree I intend to continue my career in documentary film. My liberal arts education in human rights is expanding my knowledge in the field and honing my skills and capabilities as an advocate. It is not only making me a better filmmaker, but it will also make me a more competitive candidate for human rights grants and projects.
Human rights is inherently universal; all my classes have had a tremendously global focus in their teachings and real-world applications. My classmates also come from diverse global communities. Their insights, knowledge and, most importantly, friendships are an invaluable part of our experience in the program.
You have received support from donors during your time at the U. What does that support mean to you?
I have been very fortunate to receive financial support during my time at the U. These funds have allowed me to make school my number-one priority during my two-year master program. They have also given me the opportunity to pursue international projects, such as the documentary in Mexico, as part of my academic research. I am extremely grateful for this.