Where Does Change Start?

Entertainment as a powerful social impact tool.

by Julia Profeta Johansson, November 21, 2019

What was your favorite story growing up? Did you have a favorite heroine/hero? I won’t ask if, but how did “Once upon a time…” shape who you are today, what you believe in, what you value and respect?

How many stories a year do you experience, in books, film, theatre, social media?

Stories surround us and they shape who we are more than we can actually imagine. Stories help us give structure to a complex world, with complex relationships and dynamics. They help us connect to our most raw and primitive emotions. And when we experience these emotions, something in us changes — for better or for worse. (See some data based on research at the end)

That’s why the marketing and advertising industry has appropriated storytelling as a main tool and everyone wants to leverage the “hero’s journey” to sell their products & services, to raise money, engage volunteers & employees etc. (Note for a different article: we all relate to the hero’s journey, but let me tell you that the heroine’s journey is a bit different and more connected to what we need right now in the world)

Unfortunately, so much of it hasn’t been used for good. Our instincts have been manipulated for useless and unsustainable consumption of goods, services and content. Talking about entertainment, how much of the content out there is actually bringing positive influence to our lives? How many influencers are using their voices for relevant, meaningful and fun matters, instead of just trying to drive followers towards unnecessary consumption? So many filmmakers (and producers, who in the end are the ones getting the content out) are so cynical, in both Hollywood and the indie industry, that most of what we see is that there’s no hope for how human beings behave. Not only that there is no hope, but celebrating and incentivizing violence. As an example, we could mention a recent success on the big screen, The Joker. Joaquin Phoenix's performance is brilliant, but the film tries to give a “sympathetic portrait of a mass murderer”, as Michelle Ruiz writes and “ends up inspiring exactly the kind of people it’s about, with potentially tragic results”.  This phrase actually made the actor walk out of an interview with the Telegraph, as per Robbie Collin.

Luckily, there is an ongoing movement to try and change the prevailing attitudes in Hollywood. The 69th Berlinale this year, as an example, featured a positive and inspiring film for its opening screening, called The Kindness of Strangers by Danish Director Lone Sherfig. It’s a tale about hope, forgiveness and love.

The Kindess of Others opens the 69th Berlinale in 2019

On the gender topic, TimesUp and #metoo are shaking the behind the scenes. The audience is approving and supporting main characters that most of the mainstream executives of the film industry were apparently quite skeptical about (as we haven’t seen much diversity represented on the big screen in the past decades). The Worldwide box office results speak for themselves: Black Panther ($1,3b), Captain Marvel (over $1,1 billion),Wonder Woman ($800m), Coco ($800m).


This shows that audiences are EAGER for new role models. Stories that resonate with who they are. That believe in the good that is in people. If we don’t see, we have a much harder time believing it can be done. So it’s time we change the equation.

The Academy Awards (Oscars) are also recognising more films that give voice to underrepresented groups and themes, like Green Book, Roma,The Shape of Water, Moonlight, and Spotlight. But still not enough.

The Academy Awards recognising underrepresented voices

If we want to positively impact our world, we have to start by changing how people think. We have to give them stories that make them see that we can be better, that gender balance matters, that environmental issues are serious and we can do something about it, that poverty can and has to be fought, that the numbers we hear on TV and read on the news are actually individuals with the same struggles, passions and needs that we have. That businesses, technology, and money are not evil per se, but that they can be tools for good, like within the impact investing world, if driven by the right people. That ambition can be positively funneled to change the world.

Stories, and especially fiction, have the power to shape in our minds possible futures. Creatives have a huge responsibility to produce the references towards which so much of science will run after. That’s why diversity in the entertainment industry is so important, not only in front of the cameras but also behind them. The ones who come up with stories, visually represent them, market them, sell them, and buy them. The whole value chain needs a shift. And I won’t talk about minorities here. I’ll talk about underrepresented groups, as we women are actually the majority in the world for instance.

For instance, between 2007 and 2018, of all sci-fi, superhero and animation films only 3% were directed by women. Among the 250 top-grossing filmsof 2018, women producers were 26%, followed by executive producers (21%), editors (21%), writers (16%), directors (8%), and cinematographers (4%). 25% of films employed 0 or 1 woman in these roles!

We women have to know each other, support each other, promote each other, grow with each other, principles which are the pillars of Ella Impact. We have to develop a stronger impact mindset and promote the impact principles in all areas of our life and work.

That’s why I deeply believe that along with all the movement of impact investments and businesses, we need to develop the social impact entertainment field even faster. Each startup developing a new technology and solution to positively change the world is super relevant. But if their potential consumers/partners and the mainstream are not aware of it and are also not thinking about global issues, the pace of change won’t be fast enough considering the challenges we face.

We need scale.

We need millions of people moving in the same direction at the same time. In all spheres of society.

And there’s one tool that’s able to kick off this movement, and that is good, fun and positively motivated entertainment.

This article was first published on Julia's Medium Page. Check it out here.