Category Archives: Human Rights

Producer Melina Tupa talks upcoming documentary ‘Slaves Among Us’

Melina Tupa always has always had two passions: film and journalism. Growing up, it never really occurred to her that there was a way to combine both of these things. Then, one fateful day, she had an epiphany that changed her life. She could be a documentary filmmaker. Being a journalist, she believes, gives her an extra responsibility as a film producer to pursue stories that are of public interest and that will help the communities she lives in. Since coming to that realization, Tupa has been committed to making impactful documentary films, and that is why she is so sought-after around the world for what she does.

Over the past few years, Tupa has delivered hard-hitting documentaries that share truths many are unaware of or afraid to talk about. When producing the PBS Frontline film Rape on the Night Shift, audiences everywhere became aware of the horrifying stories of many janitorial workers who have dealt with sexual assault. With her film The Search, she told the story of a grandmother’s search for her long-lost grandchild, which dives into the Argentinean “Dirty War.” All who work alongside Tupa are not only impressed, but also inspired by her commitment to her work.

“I had the honor of being a Consulting Producer with Melina on her documentary The Search. It was a pleasure working with Melina: she’s smart, driven, tenacious, creative, and yet is open to different perspectives and ideas that are not her own, which means that she is also confident. What makes Melina good, but great is a better word, is that she always has a big vision for her work,” said Director and Producer Spencer Nakasako.

Soon, audiences will once again have the chance to see Tupa’s formidable producing abilities in the upcoming Investigative Reporting Program (IRP) film Slaves Among Us. The documentary will expose the many layers of human trafficking, from the recruiter in the home country to the smuggler, trafficker and subcontractor that make it possible for major corporations to profit from forced labor in the United States. The documentary will tell the story of a group of teens from Guatemala who, with the inadvertent aid of the American government, fall into the hands of a criminal enterprise. This investigation will show who makes money off such victims and how the American consumer benefits from their mistreatment.

“I wanted to work on this project because I believed this was a very important story that needed to be widely known by the audience. The fact that in 2017 we still have forced labor is outrageous,” said Tupa.

Tupa was approached to work on Slaves Among Us after her success with the Investigative Reporting Program on the documentary Rape on the Night Shift. The producers of the documentary knew she had a very good reputation and she had an asset that was key to work on the field: she is bilingual in Spanish and most of the characters on this story are Spanish-speaking individuals. As a field producer, this was vital.

“I liked that I had direct contact with the sources of the story. I did old school reporting: just knocking on people’s doors and asking what they have seen or heard about the case. I was able to get to know the community I was reporting on thoroughly. And I was also able to gain the character’s trust. A lot of them are undocumented immigrants and many times they are afraid of telling wrongdoings because they are afraid of the retaliation they might get,” Tupa described.

Working in Ohio, Tupa reported on the trailer park where Guatemalans (adults and minors) trafficked to the United States were living. She was able to conduct interviews with more than thirty individuals there. She was able to secure three interviews (one in shadow, two full face) where the sources confirmed the story about the trafficking scheme she was after. She was also able to establish a connection with a very important source who had worked with the main characters of the story. This led to finding and securing and exclusive interview with one of the victims of labor trafficking.

Back at Investigative Reporting Program office, she worked as a Researcher. She found archival videos, photos and newspapers on the DeCoster Egg Farm violations, unaccompanied children entering the United States across the border, egg industry facilities, and the case of immigrant minors working on an egg farm. This information was pivotal to illustrate the story.

“I believe it is important to tell this story because nobody should be living in slave conditions in 2017. It’s important to let people know this is happening so this could result in a change of policy, for example, in unaccompanied minors entering the United States or for the poultry industry to have highest safety standards for its employees,” said Tupa.

Slaves Among Us is expected to be released in 2019. Based on Tupa’s track record, audiences can expect an outstanding film once again.

 

Photo by Vanessa Arango Garcia

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Ishita Srivastava Uses Humour to Help Audiences Connect on Polarizing Topics

 

As a population we are bombarded with an influx of content and information on a daily basis, so much so that it becomes challenging to sift through the over saturated media and find stories that really matter. Regardless of whether someone wants to spread a message about an upcoming event, groundbreaking discovery, or just wants to make a YouTube video with the possibility of going viral, knowing how to produce the message in a way that will reach the most diverse audience and actually have an impact is the most fundamental building block; and, digital content producer Ishita Srivastava knows exactly how to do that.

Some of the projects she has spearheaded and produced digital content for include the “Deport the Statue” campaign that reached over 20 million people in 2013, and the “Be That Guy” campaign, which aired on the Jumbotron at the NASCAR Miami Speedway Championship in 2013 as well as every other NASCAR race across the nation over the course of 2013 and 2014.

What is even more impressive than the reach and effectiveness of the digital content Srivastava has produced to date is the fact that she uses her brilliant skill to create work that spreads awareness and mobilizes people to take a stand against injustice. The issues she focuses on in her work, such as immigration reform, violence against women and racial injustice, notoriously elicit a wide spectrum of opinions. Naturally, you are probably wondering how Srivastava has managed to create content that diverse audiences with clashing beliefs can connect with when it comes to polarizing human rights issues; and the answer is– humour!

As the Producer and Deputy Director of the U.S. branch of Breakthrough, a global human rights organization that she has worked with for the last six years, Srivastava has continually used humour and storytelling as a tool to magically transform issues like gender equality, immigration and race into topics we can come together and see as “human” issues that affect us all.

For the first video of the “Be That Guy” campaign, Srivastava was charged with the hefty task of creating content that would inspire audiences at NASCAR races across the U.S. (an event that notoriously draws a large group of beer drinking race fans, most of whom are men) to stand up against sexual harassment and violence towards women when they see it happening.

Instead of creating a PSA that vilified men (which would immediately turn off a vast majority of the audience), Srivastava created an animated short film that portrayed the sexual harasser in the video as someone we all probably know or have met in our personal lives. The video in no way tried to make us hate him, instead it made us feel a bit sorry for his ignorance, and called on audiences step up and intervene, letting him know “hands are for beer and high fives, to imply, “hey man, that’s not right.”

 

 

Over the years, Srivastava, who has directed and produced countless films including the powerful documentaries “Desigirls,” “Inside- Out: Expressions of Gender and Sexuality,” “Checkpoint Nation” and “Mansimran,” has proven herself to be a master storyteller. So, it’s not surprising that when she was asked to transform the initial NASCAR-fan targeted “Be That Guy” video into a video that would effectively spread the message to audiences at a Green Bay Packers’ tailgate party, she was up to the challenge. Set in an animated version of the Packers’ beloved Lambeau field, the video portrays a crude fan in the stands shaking a hot dog as he makes lewd sexual innuendos at the stadium waitress.

The overall message of these videos is that if an action promotes violence or sexual harassment against women, regardless of how small an act it is, then it is up to us to take a stand and let others know that it’s unacceptable.

About creating the “Be That Guy” campaign and producing videos that would make an impression on these audiences, Srivastava explains, “they were great challenge because they were totally outside of my comfort zone in every possible way.”

While using humour appears to be a seemingly simple approach that helps those with opposing views see eye to eye over issues that under normal circumstances are known to cause arguments, there are few other digital content producers, and even fewer human rights activists, who have been as effective as Srivastava in transforming the way we see many of these polarizing topics.

One of Ishita Srivastava’s most recent projects for Breakthrough is THE G WORD, a global storytelling platform that is transforming our perception of gender norms by inviting people to submit their personal stories and experiences with the subject. After launching in December, the platform has received hundreds of powerful story submissions from people of all ages all over the world, many of them are available on The G Word website: http://us.breakthrough.tv/thegword/

 

G Word homepage

 

In an interview with Sue Ding for Docubase, Srivastava explained, “We invited people, not just women but everybody, to share their story with the invitation that we all have a gender story. They range from everyday experiences of norms to really dramatic stories of discrimination and violence.”

THE G WORD brings together a collection of stories that span a wide range of subtopics such as consent, masculinity, dating violence, the women’s movement, greek life and many others, all of which are connected through the issue of gender. Besides giving people all over the world a platform to share their stories, THE G WORD has made it apparent that many issues that we might not think of as being gender related, actually are. The Chore Challenge, one of the many story categories Srivastava created for The G Word, asks audiences to contemplate what household chores they have taken on and whether they are rooted in gender roles. Simple examples such as young girls being taught to do the laundry, whereas their brothers are tasked with such things as fixing things around the house or mowing the lawn show how gender norms have been woven into the fabric of each and every one of our lives; and that these issues connects us all, whether we realize it or not.

“THE G WORD has been a dream project for me—it is characterized by all the things that I love, the things that get me to work in the morning, Some of the stories we get can be hard to read, but they’re honest and nuanced, and work so well to inspire empathy and make complex and intersectional issues relatable.”

THE G WORD  platform and the impressive collection of ‘videos for change’ that Srivastava has produced to date have not only been astonishingly effective in spreading messages about globally relevant issues, but her unique and thoughtful approach to digital content has made it possible for her work to break through the cultural and perceptual barriers that separate us, in turn providing us with a common ground where we can stand together.