Updated: Sep 17, 2020
originally published July 2nd 2019
A Story That Inspires
“No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance."- Title IX 1972
The Hunting Ground was a 2015 documentary about sexual assault on US college campuses. It bear witness to the Title IX survivor rights movement and documented survivor-activists fighting for an education free of sexual violence.
The documentary explores the stories of survivors, and uses 1st person narratives to put the viewer in the survivor’s shoes. These are stories of unfathomable pain and betrayal, but also of unprecedented determination and advocacy. For me, it was more than just a movie. It was my story. As a survivor activist, I was included in The Hunting Ground and watched as my story and that of hundreds of others motivated audiences around the globe to speak out and demand change.
This begs the question then:
How did a story about sexual violence break through the barriers of taboo, shame and judgement to cultivate a community of change makers?
The Hunting Ground was a documentary that inspired. It shared stories that allowed the audience to recognize themselves in the survivors on screen. It was able to generate recognition and compassion between the audience and the documentary subjects, inspiring them to go beyond passive consumption of the film and do more.
Recognizing The Other
A great story inspires us to recognize ourselves in others. To be able to relate to the emotional content of other people that we would never consider worth our attention. As the famed Swedish film-maker Ingmar Berman puts it “"No form of art goes beyond ordinary consciousness as film does, straight to our emotions, deep into the twilight room of the soul."
An inspirational story humanizes ourselves and others. It reaches into our core existence as emotional creatures and unites us behind the shared emotions that we all experience: joy and sorrow, love and hate, delight and pain; the full lexicon of emotions we experience as human beings.
Inspiration Leads To Fans
An inspirational story is the very first stage of cultivating a community. It’s the first step in fostering fans of a cause, character, or world.
For The Hunting Ground, we were able to take the principles of entertainment fandoms and reconfigure them to amplify the message of survivor activists. We activated the agency in audience members to be a part of the solution, rather than perpetuating the problem.
But we were only able to do so by examining these stories and reframing them into a context that was empowering. We had to equip viewers with opportunities to become involved. We needed the audience to be a part of the story. We needed them to become fans.
To cultivate fans, you need a story that inspires. But beyond that, the story needs to turn intent into action and action into co-creation. Only then will the community of fans be able to achieve what the story has inspired them to do in the first place.