The Power of Storytelling

The Power of Storytelling

An interesting thing happened last weekend at Sundance. New Yorker critic Emily Nussbaum moderated the Power of Story discussion panel. The panel featured four women in film and television who are changing the landscape of storytelling in Hollywood. Mindy Kaling, Lena Dunham, Jenji Kohan, and Kristen Wiig discussed their experiences of writing female characters in a male dominated industry. Whether or not you are a fan, there is no denying these women are redefining comedy for leading ladies in their own unique ways. While there is a lack of diversity in Hollywood, especially regarding women, watching this panel struck a nerve with me.

Lately I have been thinking a lot about the power of storytelling. Visual storytelling remains one of the most powerful mediums to tell a story. Visual social sharing sites such as YouTube and Instagram are living proof. However, television and film possess a much more significant reach in both audience and cultural impact. What we see on the small and big screens help shape how we view ourselves, each other, and ultimately the world. Storytelling is about one thing: Capturing the human experience.

Great storytelling explores the depth of human emotion by captivating, entertaining, and challenging its audience. Authentic storytelling has the power to transform into something beyond words on paper or people on a screen. When executed properly, storytelling possesses the ability to inspire, enlighten, and transform. So why are the vast majority of stories being told today represent a singular perspective, the 18–24 male demographic? Storytelling’s greatest impact is best achieved when diverse perspectives are equally represented. This is after all reflective of the world we live in today. Diversity is often the exception and not the rule in Hollywood. The obvious question is how do we change this trend? The answer: Audiences must become catalysts for change.

50 Shades of Perspective

Each audience member’s viewing experience is uniquely different. Contrary to what Sony’s Amy Pascal believes, not all African-Americans enjoy Kevin Hart movies. No group is truly monolithic. Storytellers must strive to tell a story which connects and resonates with them first. This is what makes a story truly authentic. The goal is not to tell a story to find an audience. Allow the audience to find the story. Cable and streaming services are proving this on a daily basis. A story’s ability to relate matters more than its likeability when connecting to an audience. We as audience members must become beacons for change. Start by recognizing the pioneers who are redefining what is normal. As an audience member, communicate your approval, share your opinion, and show your support. Social media gives you the power to transform from a casual viewer into an engaged and influential fan. Prove to Hollywood audiences do exist for alternative storytelling.

Adopt an Orphan Black Mindset

Telling your story your way is always the real victory. A great story is unique, diverse, compelling, enlightening, exciting, and evolving all at the same time. Storytelling is about narrating a journey and journeys are personal by nature. The show Orphan Black is a great example of what happens when you remain true to the story. The show is about a woman who discovers she is part of a cloning experiment. In an effort to maintain authenticity, the same actress successfully portrays up to seven different clones. Each one more complex and different from the next. Talk about a commitment to storytelling. Audiences desire and deserve unique and different stories. Nowhere else is this evident than in television and women are leading the way. Orange Is the New Black, How to Get Away with Murder, and The Mindy Project are game changers. While not all are ratings success, their sheer existence is opening doors and breaking through ceilings. Mindy Kaling, Jenji Kohan, and Shonda Rhimes are true trailblazers. Women are pioneering the way by telling stories about strong, complex, and diverse female lead characters. These shows prove stories for and about women matter and possess the ability to attract a diverse audience.

Transformation Nation

Stories have the power to transform. Stories connect on an emotional level, spark debate, and at times are polarizing. Yes, more perspectives are needed. Yes, better paths are required for stories that fall outside the “blockbuster model.” The good news is more non-traditional paths for storytelling exist today than ever before. Streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon are disrupting the status quo. Serial has breathed new life into Podcasts. YouTube and social media have removed barriers of entry. LinkedIn has made self-publishing a reality. Stories have a much better chance of finding an audience today than ever before. Now is an exciting time to be in the storytelling business.

While I agree with the recent criticism against the Academy and Hollywood in general, I also recognize the real power lies within audiences. Hollywood and traditional media are no longer the only storytelling games in town. Diverse audiences do exist and are hungry for creative and different perspectives in storytelling. The Sundance Power of Story panel serves as a great reminder. Stop waiting for the story you want to see or read. Technology provides the tools and resources for anyone to tell their story. Your story has the ability to influence, inspire, and educate. Tell your story and become part of the solution. An audience will find you. Share your gift with the world and become the change you want to see.

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