Friday, January 2, 2015

V-Day and the Power to Transform

The title of this piece is inspired by the first of four core beliefs of a beautifully focused, globally engaged non-profit known as V-Day.

Founded by Eve Ensler, the celebrated author of a truly great piece of performance art known as The Vagina Monologues,  the focus of V-Day is the empowerment of women around the world, with a particular emphasis on ending violence aimed at women.

Four Core Beliefs of V-Day
  • Art has the power to transform thinking and inspire people to act
  • Lasting social and an cultural change is spread by ordinary people doing extraordinary things.
  • Local women best know what their communities need and can become unstoppable leaders
  • One must look at the intersection of race, class, and gender to understand violence against women
As we move further into the 21st century, the number of civilization scale challenges we face is unprecedented.  Seven billion plus humans are competing for a share of our earth's rapidly diminishing resources.  Economic and social inequality remain rampant. Outright discrimination is a huge factor in the lives of well over half the world's population.  The culturally ingrained oppression of women continues to be a particularly corrosive fact of life. 
My life experience has led me to a firm conclusion: the path to a sustainable, dignified future for humanity requires that, to the extent possible, all forms of discrimination must be eliminated.  Equal opportunity and fair treatment must become more than just a platitude. The empowerment of women in the economic and political arenas is  critical to achieving this goal.
V-Day is a global beacon for the rights and dignity of women.  In February, 2014,   V-Day's One Billion Rising campaign was launched as a worldwide awakening on discrimination and violence against women.  V-Day doesn't take the easy road. One of their principle focuses is the ongoing genocide and violence against women in the African Congo.  Violence and cruelty are an everyday part of life, particularly in the mostly lawless eastern region of the Congo.  On a daily basis, the women of that region are a primary target for roaming bands of armed thugs, who use rape as a weapon of terror.
For V-Day,  there are certainly easier places where they could make a difference. I can't say enough about their commitment to stand with the women of  the Congo.
The fact is the entire African continent has been used and abused for two centuries by Europeans, and later Americans,  who colonized and exploited its human, biological, and mineral resources. Perhaps the most egregious example happened late in the 19th century, when Leopold, the King of Belgium, had the audacity to claim the Congo, an area nearly as large as all of Europe combined, not for his country, but for himself.  Starting in the mid-20th century, the European nations abandoned their African colonies.  The whole continent has, for the most part, been a politically dysfunctional quagmire ever since.
A few years ago,  I was inspired to assert myself and try to make a difference for the people of Africa and particularly the Congo. I am deeply concerned not just about the people, but also about the other living wild animal species in that nation, many of which can be found almost no where else in the world.  The Congo wildlife legacy is severely threatened by human population growth. Despite the ongoing genocide, the population in the Congo is expanding at a rate of nearly 3% annually.  As of 2013, the population was about 75 million,  up 350% from where it was 50 years ago. Moreover, a very substantial share of the Congo population depends on bushmeat (wild animals killed for food) for survival.  As a consequence, in many parts of the Congo, wild animal numbers are plummeting.  This includes gorillas, chimpanzees, and other primates; the closest living relatives to humans.
Despite the severe nature of the challenges, the Congo is a place worth saving. V-Day is committed to that goal.  I share their desire to make a difference.
My approach to making a difference for the Congo has been to develop a theatrical movie project, designed to entertain and to inform.  I have some skills. I've been a successful writer/producer.  I have an Emmy and some other awards for my work.  I started with some assumptions. The first was that I could not do a story that actually takes place in the Congo.  Movies set in Africa generally have not done well at the American boxoffice.  Another assumption was that the future of Africa, and the world in general, requires that women become fully equal on all playing fields with men.    As for genera, dramatic comedy felt like the best way to go. The movie studios covet the 18-25 year old audience.   I was determined that the movie carry a strong message about the Congo and about the championing of women.  I chose to embed those ideas in a fun, highly entertaining package that will appeal to  young adult movie goers.
The story I came up with is about a successful Hollywood writer who, while struggling to get his new script about the Congo made into a movie, becomes a champion for the dignity and empowerment of women.  As I was laying out the structure for this story,  I had the benefit of some very useful critical feedback from designer/photographer, Chad Kirkpatrick. He and I share a similar worldview. Both of us believe that a sustainable future will be achievable only when women have an equal place at the table with men.
With Chad providing valuable feedback, I wrote the script for this project,  which is now titled,  Something Big.    
Here is what Tracey Becker, Producer of the Sony Pictures theatrical feature, Hysteria, said about Something Big. 
The Something Big movie is 'a rarity': a well-crafted ensemble drama that entertains highly, while also almost accidentally enlightening the audience..... With a deft combination of political messages, and outrageous yet embraceable characters,  it has a twisty plot that would make the religious right weak in the knees.  Something Big is a fascinating mash-up of  'pick-your-wing' politics',  professional wrestling,  Hollywood insiders, reality television disgraces, the sex worker  trade, and modern romance.... From a marketing perspective,  there is so much to recommend about this script.... The characterizations will likely attract a high caliber cast.... The fascinating world the author has created should speak to audiences on many levels. A t first glance, Something Big is pure entertainment,  but on closer inspection, the themes of greed, self-aggrandizement  and the co-opting of global causes to benefit enterprises that might not have started off so high-mindedly, all contribute to the richer tapestry of this script.

We know we have a good project. Our intention is to assign a substantial share of any income that comes from Something Big, the movie, to the causes featured in the story. That brings us right to V-Day.  We want them to be a friend to the project. We want them to be one of the primary non-profit stakeholders in Something Big.   With V-Day standing with us,  we will be well positioned to protect the intellectual integrity of the project and to maximize the revenue we are able to direct to them and to other groups and individuals that share our passion for elevating the status of women worldwide, for defending our Constitutionally mandated citizen rights, and for protecting the biosphere we all depend on.
'Art has the power to transform thinking and inspire people to act.'  That is a core principle for V-Day, and that is exactly the sentiment that motivated me in the development of the Something Big project.
 Stay tuned.

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