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Participation, Not Marginalization: Using People's Stories for Social Good

Filmmakers capitalize on the stories of the underprivileged, but the subjects make no profit. A solution: help them to tell their own stories.

If we filmmakers capitalize on the stories of the underprivileged in the name of social good, shouldn’t they be reimbursed in some way?
When I was interviewing a woman in Dharavi slum, Mumbai, she told us how she witnessed her mother being gang raped and later found her dangling from a tree where she’d hung herself. She told us about life on the streets and being married off to an abusive alcoholic.
Are these stories important to tell? Yes. If done right, storytelling is public education that has the power to change societies.
But what about the woman who cried through sharing those stories? Public education takes a long time and she might not see the benefits for her community in her lifetime.
Every day the women in Dharavi offered us food and tea. They shared whatever they had including their stories, which they gave away freely to those who are better equipped to capitalize on them.
I wasn’t paid to be out there documenting, but what if I was? Should I share my salary with them?
Maybe the burgeoning storytelling movement needs some innovation of its own.
One day another woman turned the camera around and interviewed me. I was startled. Then impressed. Good for her for reversing the gaze.
She asked: Who is going to see my stories? Are you going to commercialize them? There are many things to do in your own country, why did you come to Dharavi?
Maybe sometimes we should be story facilitators and help others tell their own stories instead of doing it for them.
Enter participatory storytelling, whereby participants learn about narrative and use technology to produce their own media.
By giving them control, we get a genuine storyteller’s perspective, plus they’re empowered through participation, not representation—which is the only solution to marginalization anyway.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons\n

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