The narratives that we consume in all forms of media—from movies to the news—have a direct impact on our political, economic, and social realities. They can perpetuate damaging stereotypes and influence how policy decisions at all levels of power are made.
At its core, our narrative change work is about shifting power. It’s about challenging the stereotypes that hold society back and supporting underrepresented groups to own the narratives about themselves and the conditions that shape their lives. It’s also about allowing alternative worldviews to emerge and helping deliver a more just and fair future for all of us.
We believe that narrative change and storytelling can be powerful tools in creating just, inclusive societies. These approaches are critical to challenging injustice, securing rights, dispelling stereotypes and harmful depictions, and ensuring all sections of society show up in the meaningful narratives that shape our reality.
At Luminate, our work focuses on ensuring that everyone – especially those who are underrepresented – has the information, rights, and power to influence the decisions that affect us all.
Narrative change through funding high-impact films
In pursuit of these aims, we have supported films like A Thousand Cuts, Softie, A Cop Movie, and The Territory helping to bring important stories and impact campaigns to wider global audiences. We’ve worked with groups seeking to create and disseminate narratives to challenge polarisation and authoritarianism and collaborated with Hollywood and content creators around the world to ensure that storylines and characters related to underrepresented groups are accurate and reflect reality.
This year we are hosting a discussion at the Sundance Film Festival to explore how narratives can help or hurt democracy. The panel will explore the ways in which many storytellers, including filmmakers, actors, and activists share stories to create a positive future and what needs to be done to rein in the unchecked power of the Big Tech companies and social media platforms to disseminate toxic narratives.
The role of creatives in narrative change
At the Sundance discussion, we will hear the views and experiences of Yalitza Aparicio, the first Latin-American Indigenous woman to be nominated for Best Actress at the Oscars for her role in Alfonso Cuaron’s film “Roma”; Txai Surui, the founder of the Rondonia Indigenous Youth Movement in Brazil who has become a prominent climate justice activist; Petra Costa, an Oscar-nominated documentary filmmaker whose work focuses on democratic issues in Brazil; and Twitter whistleblower Anika Collier Navaroli, who has done courageous work to further evidence the role that Big Tech platforms can play in elevating narratives that incite violence.
We hope this panel will call-in content directors, producers, and actors to join us and use their skills, access, and power in support of democracy. Content creators have a critical role to play in showing audiences what anti-democratic behaviours look like, and how and why they need to be challenged. They can also create the spaces and opportunities to model underrepresented voices in positions of power, helping to inspire truly representative, multiracial, and inclusive societies.
Moving forward, we will continue to focus on projects such as the ones mentioned above. We’ll also pay greater attention to the narratives that inform public discourse and how to unlock the power of the entertainment sector to help create shifts in culture.
Luminate’s strategy on narrative change
Our narrative change work focuses on three pillars:
By shifting the prevailing narratives of public discourse, it’s possible to challenge those who hold power and bring about important reforms to rights, policies, and politics. Advocacy efforts and movements are more effective when they clearly articulate compelling and engaging narratives about “the problem” and “the solution”. Many of our partners see communications as an essential component of their work—they try to influence the media, produce videos, podcasts, graphics for social media, interactive websites, and more. In this line of work, we will undertake and support research on these important topics and provide our grantees access to tools so that they can be more effective in their communications strategies, such as access to software to measure public sentiment on issues or to track the impact of their content products.
There’s increasing attention to how narrative change can impact culture, as in the mindsets, social norms, and behaviours of a particular society. We have to consider culture in narrative change work because our pre-existing mindsets, identities, and social norms impact how we make sense of the world and each other.
Culture change isn’t just about creating better conditions to advance and sustain policy or political victories, it’s a goal in and of itself. It comes through in how people are treated in their daily lives—the level of attention a doctor gives a patient, who gets encouragement from their teacher, or who gets promoted at work. However small these actions seem, when informed by stereotypes, they can compound and have an impact on people’s life outcomes. To create these shifts, we will engage with the entertainment industry in our priority countries to support content creators in the development of more nuanced, representative and inclusive storylines and characters.
Some in the field see narrative change as the practice of using storytelling products such as film, TV, and books, to achieve specific goals. Though the words “narrative” and “story” are often used interchangeably, stories are best understood as components of larger narratives or narrative systems. Stories bring narratives to life in ways that are relatable, accessible, and personal. They often have the power to cut through policy debates and political or social issues to reach emotions and deeper identities. In this line of work, Luminate supports underrepresented stories and voices in our countries and regions of focus and in centres of cultural power.
We can’t create a world we can’t imagine. TV, film, and other forms of storytelling are essential in modelling a better future for all of us.