It’s 2019 and international Women’s Day is still a thing - and it needs to be until balance is achieved.

 

“A balanced world is a better world.” This year’s International Women’s Day theme is about balance (#BalanceforBetter) and working together, year round, to help create a more equal world.

At Lyfta, we promote days like International Women’s Day with mixed feelings. We do not wish to encourage tokenism by endorsing events like IWD, International Day of Older Persons, or Black History Month. But we also recognise the need to raise awareness and draw attention to some very important issues - because, even in the most diverse, well-educated and affluent countries in our world, there is ample room for more balance, better representation, and equity.

I came across an infographic which was doing the rounds in the lead up to the Oscars, titled Men speak most in best picture winning films. It is true. To a preposterous level.

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Men speak significantly more, not only in Best Picture winning films, but in mainstream English-language films in general. Hannah Anderson and Matt Daniels went to a great deal of effort to help us see this (very clearly) for ourselves by building this useful interactive data visualisation, where they looked at 2,000 movies and categorised them according to the age and gender of the people who delivered dialogue.

Whether they are on screen or in books, heroes play a significant role in the tapestry of a child’s life. As a teacher, I taught at schools in highly diverse urban settings, like Wood Green in London (where I blended in, as somebody who was born and raised in the city) and, in more rural settings, like Amersham, Bucks (where I was the first “foreigner” some of my students had met). I consciously put a lot of time and effort into considering and planning which heroes I presented to my students. Heroes that they could relate to, at times, and, often, heroes that would challenge their perceptions.

This is a topic that I touched on during my workshop at the Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic Educators Network (BAMEed) conference earlier this year. In the lead up to the workshop, I started making a collage of the faces of the lead actors from each of the top 10 UK box office hits over the last decade (2009-2018). I wanted to illustrate what our heroes look like in one image (100 headshots).

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79 men. 21 women. 6 people of colour among the whole group. 0 women of colour. Our on-screen heroes do not reflect the societies we live in.

But is the onus on us, as educators, to project a more representative and relevant view of society and the world? A growing movement of teachers in America believe it is. Tens of thousands of US teachers have engaged in CPD to become better at Culturally Responsive Education (aka Culturally Relevant Education), which I recommend checking out. The idea is to support students, whatever their background or identity, so they “more fully understand and feel affirmed in their identities and experiences and, that they are equipped and empowered to identify and dismantle structural inequities—positioning them to transform society.”

Paulina Tervo, my partner in life and work, and I, have always tried to be conscious about representation in our work as filmmakers. We have worked hard to find and tell powerful human stories from a diverse range of backgrounds. Now at Lyfta, we are hugely excited about the array of filmmakers we are working with, from all over the world, as we continue to grow and offer more and more diversity in our stories.

Lyfta is an online platform that is home to numerous immersive stories from around the world, which we call storyworlds. A storyworld is a real, physical space (e.g. somebody’s home or workplace) that students can look around in 360-degrees, on computers or tablets. In each space, users can click on various objects to reveal informative multimedia elements (such as photos, infographics and videos). There is at least one human being in every Lyfta storyworld and, when clicked, this person comes to life and shares their personal story with us through a powerful short documentary film.

Our vision is to give children the opportunity to visit every country in the world, and in each, to meet at least one inspiring human being with a powerful story. Our dream is that by the time a child has completed their education, they’d have seen hundreds of different perspectives and slices of life from all over the globe - to the extent that diversity would be normality - an unremarkable fact of life. We believe that, armed with Lyfta, teachers will have an easier job to nurture empathy and understanding and build a generation of human-centred global citizens.

I will leave you with a collage of our progress so far - the faces of the people in Lyfta’s stories at the moment. We work hard to maintain a healthy gender balance and our aim is to represent as many cultures and identities as we can. There are at least 25 more stories coming this year, from countries such as Germany, Turkey, Mongolia, South Africa, Pakistan, Russia, Burkina Faso, the Philippines, and many others. Please get in touch if you’d like to find out more.

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by Serdar Ferit

Serdar is Co-CEO and creative director of Lyfta, where he draws from his experiences as an award-winning filmmaker, digital experience designer and teacher. Lyfta's mission is to support teachers with the best and most exciting tools to nurture the next generation of global citizens with critical skills and values to thrive in our changing world.

Footnotes:

  1. “A balanced world is a better world.” (https://www.internationalwomensday.com)

  2. The Hollywood collage: I used Box Office Mojo, IMDB and Wikipedia for information and images. Some actors appear more than once because they starred in more than one box office success over the 10 year period. I didn’t include animated films.

  3. “…more fully understand and feel affirmed in their identities and experiences and, that they are equipped and empowered to identify and dismantle structural inequities—positioning them to transform society.” (https://www.teachforamerica.org/stories/how-to-engage-culturally-relevant-pedagogy)

 
Lyfta Admin