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OPEN DOORS - Connecting Through Storytelling: How Producers Can Humanize A Crisis

Posted By Dan Halperin and Lisa Kors, Monday, June 10, 2019

The Guild’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee partnered for a second time with Amnesty International USA for an event that also included UCLA’s Anderson School of Management and the Promise Institute for Human Rights at UCLA School of Law. The presentation at UCLA’s Fowler Museum in April explored the power of storytellers to shape public opinion. Members of the PGA and WGAW, as well as UCLA students, faculty and alumni took part in the inspiring evening. The impactful discussion and panel focused on marginalized populations, such as contemporary refugees and asylum-seekers who are part of the largest migration crisis in human history.


Co-chair of the PGA’s Diversity and Inclusion Committee, Lisa Kors, spoke after opening remarks from Anderson’s Bhavna Sivanand and Promise Institute’s Kate Mackintosh, and a moving introduction by a former Lost Boy of South Sudan, Biar Atem.


Panelists included Nina Yang Bongiovi (EP, Fruitvale Station, Dope, Roxanne Roxanne), Nazanin Boniadi (Actress, Hotel Mumbai, Counterpart, Homeland), Brad Falchuk (EP, Pose, 9-1-1, American Horror Story, Glee), Mike Royce (EP, One Day at a Time, Everybody Loves Raymond, Enlisted, Men of a Certain Age), Sanjay Sharma (Founder and CEO of Marginal Mediaworks, an Imagine Entertainment company) and Randall Keenan-Winston (EP, Scrubs, Roseanne, Cougar Town, Grace and Frankie).


An important takeaway from the evening were the insights panelists shared about storytelling. Keenan-Winston reminded the group that “the best of us is in what we share, not what we shield.”


Sharma added, “The role of storytelling has always been about creating emotional connections. I believe we achieve this in the most impactful way through popular storytelling—stories through the lens of established genres. Our aim is to create agency for outsiders, or ‘the other,’ through culturally resonant, accessible, entertaining stories. Seeing others in normalized, cool, gripping, even fun, settings gives us the ability to have empathy, to relate. And once we are entertained and feel we can relate, we can dig deeper into underlying systems and subtext.”


Films set in World War II such as Casablanca and The Sound of Music helped audiences understand what it means to be under the constant threat of danger and to strive to provide a better life for one’s family. Many producers and writers agree with Amnesty that stories like these capture audiences and help contextualize a large or intimidating crisis by viewing people as individuals, each with their own compelling story.


Conversations sparked by the panel continued later when participants gathered on the museum’s rooftop. Hopefully these interactions will encourage the storytellers to address issues of refugees and asylum-seekers, both in their narrative and documentary work. Amnesty International, with its decades of research on this topic, is happy to offer assistance to filmmakers by providing information and resources to all PGA members. 

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