Over the past few months, CalArts (California Institute of the Arts in Santa Clarita) teachers Pia Borg and Soyeon Kim and the students in their Animated United Nations Women class have been working hard to make a positive impact by creating shorts that promote gender equality. Launched in conjunction with the UN’s HeForShe initiative, the program awarded $500 scholarships to the students who were accepted in this class. The UN initiative calls on men and women around the world to stand together in solidarity with each other and with women, to end sexual harassment and promote gender equity.
“It’s a critical time to engage the students in the issues surrounding gender equality and to involve them in making positive change,” says Borg, a CalArts faculty member of the school’s Experimental Animation Program. “Animation is ideal for promoting gender equality because the medium makes it possible to visualize a world beyond our current reality and to communicate ideas on screens large or small. While animation has traditionally been a male-dominated industry, our program has a strong representation of animation students from all genders and this is a subject they are passionate about.”
Elizabeth Nyamayaro, Global Head of UN Women HeForShe Movement, says she was looking for a partner to convey the program’s message of equality in a powerful and inspired way. “We wanted to use the visual power of animation to help spread this message. CalArts is such an incredible institution, so we reached out to them and told them about our need and to provide ways to provide the right levels of information. They created this gender class as part of this collaboration. We went back and forth and met with the professors and the students who are making these 13 shorts.”
Borg points out that while the UN provided the students with a set of stories about the HeForShe initiative for inspiration, most students conducted independent research, choosing subjects that were resonant with their own lives. “We felt it was important that the work extended the student’s own individual voice while still aligning with the vision of the HeForShe campaign,” she adds. “There is a very collegiate atmosphere in the classroom, the students have been helping each other to shape the works, with the guidance of fellow faculty Soyeon Kim and UN’s Elizabeth Nyamayaro.”
Viral, Powerful and Diverse
These animated projects, which are 30 to 60 seconds long, are produced to be viral and shareable in nature. “They are very powerful,” says Nyamayaro. “What we wanted to achieve was to distill this complex content and make the message quite visceral. Thanks to the creativity of the students, they are able to convey this message in a powerful and emotional way, even without words.”
She adds, “We are witnessing such a huge appetite for gender equality all over the world. With the rise of the #MeToo and Times Up movements, there has been a 700 percent spike on Google searches for women’s rights issues.”
One of the big challenges for the students was finishing the work in 12 weeks. However, Borg says they were able to create powerful pieces in a short time tackling the subjects of gender biases, violence against women, media representation of women, child marriage and gender inequality, among others. “The short works are using a diverse mix of techniques including digital, interactive motion capture, hand drawn and stop motion,” she adds.
The CalArts films will be highlighted on stage during the HeForShe IMPACT Summit in September 2018 at the United Nations General Assembly in New York., followed by distribution through HeForShe’s social media channels. The videos will also be translated into the UN’s six official languages (Arabic, Chinese, Russian, Spanish, French and English) for its 194 member states.
“I can’t say the animations will change the world,” says Borg. “But it has been an incredibly positive experience for the students, and that’s a good place to start.”