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Images & Voices of Hope | December 2, 2020

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Three documentaries that courageously challenge cultural perceptions

Three documentaries that courageously challenge cultural perceptions

Screengrab from the Fuocoammare” trailer.


At ivoh we like to share the stories of unreported communities, of people who are voiceless due to factors of their environment or socio-cultural history.

Journalists and media makers who go the extra mile to report on these communities and challenge stereotypes inspire us and reinforce the mission that media can be a force for good.

These three noteworthy documentaries prioritize voices that are often unheard.



Shadeism: Digging Deeper

Shadeism confronts the issue of colorism and discrimination that exists between lighter and darker-skinned people within the same community. Specifically, this documentary short examines how women in South Asia, Africa and the Caribbean are perceived and judged by their skin color.



PRI recently published “’Unfair and lovely’: South Asian women dare to be dark.” The article written by Chryselle D’Silva Dias includes an audio interview with writer and director Nayani Thiyagarajah. The article also focuses on the trending #Unfairandlovely movement, which stemmed from a project started by three University of Texas students in response to the colorism.

Women and men who have experienced discrimination because of their skin tone are sharing their photos and stories with #Unfairandlovely.





A Thousand Midnights

Filmmaker Carlos Javier Ortiz explores how the Great Migration affected the lives of African Americans and created modern American cities. Ortiz’s film was supported by the Economic Hardship Reporting Project. Named an Editor’s Pick by the Atlantic, the film begins with a quote by writer Richard Wright who was born and raised in the south and migrated to Chicago as an adult.

“I was leaving the South
to fling myself into the unknown . . .
I was taking a part of the South
to transplant in alien soil,
to see if it could grow differently,
if it could drink of new and cool rains,
bend in strange winds,
respond to the warmth of other suns
and, perhaps, to bloom”

During the Great Migration six million African Americans relocated from the rural South to the North, Midwest, and West. The film is split into two sections. In the first part, “The South,” there is an ominous tone to the music and landscape of the film one that carries the burden of racism in the south. “This was a sad place,” recounts a narrator who describes the haunting presence of the South’s history. A transformative lightness takes over in the second part, “The North.”

The black and white footage is overlapped with narrations from individuals who, despite difficult circumstances, learned to make their lives in a new place. Their stories are definitive portraits of resilience.






“Fuocoammare,” or “Fire at Sea,” shows the harrowing journey of refugees who risk their lives at sea to reach Europe. To prepare for the documentary Italian director and writer Gianfranco Rosi spent months living on the mediterranean island, Lampedusa. According to this New York Times review, Rosi also participated in two, three-week tours on an Italian military ship that patrols the waters for immigrants in need of help and rescue.

The documentary recently won the Golden Bear for best film at the Berlin International Film Festival.



Aljazeera recently quoted Meryl Streep who led the jury that selected Rosi’s film for the award.

[In] “a year of thrillingly diverse films, the jury was swept away by the compassionate outrage of one in particular,” Streep said. “It’s a daring hybrid of captured footage and deliberate storytelling that allows us to consider what documentary can do.”