Documentary photography and filmmaking have always held a tremendous amount of power and have played a large role in shaping our society and how we view each other. Coming into popularity at the same time as colonialism was widespread globally, photography and film were used as tools of discovery and exploration as well as oppression. Publications like National Geographic and popular films like Nanook of the North (the first feature-length documentary to reach the masses in the U.S.) depicted people of color as uncivilized and primitive, and used the camera as a way to show white audiences the exotic other. These narratives created by white filmmakers and photographers introduced and perpetuated racial stereotypes and reinforced ideals of white people being the norm, the conquerors, and/or white saviors — narratives that we still cling to today.
Many of the harmful stereotypes and problematic practices of the past are alive and well within ourselves and our institutions, and like much of the racism inherent in our society, they are often more insidious and harder to see. But in some cases, they are right before our eyes. White filmmakers continue to dominate Hollywood, documentary film festival circuits, and journalism and media newsrooms. And much of the storytelling we see is created and manipulated for a white audience.
Similarly, the nonprofit/NGO sector is also rooted in a colonialist approach: people in positions of power (within a white-dominated field) make decisions about where money and resources should be spent. These unequal power dynamics have been used to control and manipulate vulnerable populations and have perpetuated the long-standing white savior narrative.
As storytellers within the nonprofit and philanthropic world, we sit at the nexus of these two fields. And as two white women, we understand that we have benefited from these unequal and harmful systems. We are committed to examining ourselves and our practices to confront and acknowledge the harmful practices we’ve engaged in or allowed to happen. And, more importantly, to disrupt the larger systemic racism in these fields wherever we can.
This is a long, bumpy, and imperfect road for us, but we’re not doing it alone. As storytellers, we are following the guidance and teaching of many BIPOC leaders and colleagues in the documentary and journalism fields, and are committed to holding ourselves accountable, facing our mistakes, and moving forward with humility. We are also working in community with other white filmmakers to encourage and support each other in this critical work of reflection and disruption.
As business owners we are committed to implementing anti-racist practices in the way we run StoryMine. One step we’ve taken on our journey is to sign the Anti-racist Small Business Pledge and put its guidance into daily practice.