ICYMI: The Evolution of Impact: The Future of Social Change and Nonfiction Storytelling

From Filmmaker Magazine: "The conversation about documentary impact has undergone a number of shifts since impact producing began to emerge as a practice within the documentary field around 20 years ago. Today it is almost expected that a social issue documentary film will be accompanied by an impact campaign to help ensure its story will reach audiences and motivate them towards social change, deeper engagement with a story’s themes and further learning."

"The documentary impact enterprise has always focused on the power of particular films to build understanding and shift audience perspectives as the foundational starting point for action, whether that involves changing peoples’ behaviors, the choices they make, the steps they take to change institutions or policies, or inspiring them to build community. Successful impact campaigns can be discrete and focused, like the one accompanying Chelsea Hernandez’s Building the American Dream that aimed to educate audiences and key decision makers about the exploitation of construction workers in Texas and the need for rest breaks, and which contributed to the groundswell of coverage about the need for worker rights and protections. Among other shifts linked to increased presence and pressure, Texas Congressman Sylvia Garcia filed a federal bill to require rest breaks for all construction workers in July 2022."

"In this environment, filmmakers of color can experience pressure to internalize the white gaze and spend precious time and energy providing context in their films for white audiences, shape storytelling to trigger an emotional response that aligns with impact goals centered around white audiences, or avoid images that might reinforce negative stereotypes about our communities. Storytelling like this waters down the depth and nuance of work made by people of color for people of color. The near-constant pressure to center the white gaze speaks to the perniciousness of white supremacy in our field."

"Such pressures also rob filmmakers of color of the opportunity to speak directly to our own communities, unmediated by the white gaze or comprehension. People of color lose out on opportunities to prioritize our own concerns in conversations, examine our own biases, explore the nuances of our own experiences with each other rather than capitalize on essentialist identity politics."

"Social change will be fueled by nonfiction storytelling that challenges and does not tolerate white supremacy, that adds nuance and strength to those ideas and eventually saturates public discourse. True social transformation for a society steeped in white supremacy will come from exposure to an abundance of storytelling by, for, and about people of color on our own terms, through our own lenses, whether white audiences can relate to those stories or not, whether white audiences can fully comprehend different experiences or not."

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