Underneath all the glitz and glamour of Hollywood, a movement is growing. ‘Social Impact Entertainment’ (SIE) is about working to engage audiences with global issues and to emotionally influence them to help change the world. Mass entertainment is helping to spread deeper social messages about climate change, human trafficking, global health, social class, racism and much more.

Every type of entertainment

SIE has entered every stream of entertainment. From feature films like “Roma”, “Green Book” and “If Beale Street Could Talk” to digital short form, TV series, plays and virtual reality. The content is flexible, able to adapt to its audience and tell stories in ways that maximise engagement and spurs momentum. Vitally, to get the message across, SIE creators have a strong network of partnerships with leaders, organisations, communities and charities to build organic support. They also distribute content widely, on social media platforms and via word of mouth as well as traditional media channels.

Reality wanted

The success of movies like “Black Panther”, “Crazy Rich Asians”, “Vice” and “BlackKklansman” highlights that audiences are hungering for more reality. For actors and actresses who look like them and reflect their lives, for commentary on the world’s most pressing issues, to share their concerns and offer inspiration for solutions. In a world of fake news and alternative facts, SIE is cutting through the noise.

Take, for example, Vencer el Miedo, a teen-based telenovela that focuses on issues around gender equality, gender-based violence and teen pregnancy. The series has regularly broadcast in Mexico to over 3 million viewers every day.

High-profile support

SIE has some notable private backers too. Philanthropist Tej Kohli has spoken repeatedly about his mission to eliminate corneal blindness, and in 2019 sponsored two up-and-coming documentary filmmakers to produce an independent documentary short: SeeAgainFilm.com. The film charts the lives of two teenagers in India who are living with the genetic condition, Xeroderma pigmentosum. The disease causes skin damage and corneal blindness. The documentary follows their journey as they receive treatment at the Tej Kohli Cornea Institute. By backing the film and its makers, Tej Kohli, alongside his wife and fellow philanthropist Wendy Kohli, wished to highlight the neglect of young people in India who are living with Xeroderma pigmentosum. The film is currently being screened at numerous international film festivals to engage powerful and influential audiences with the little-known cause.

Actor and producer Leonardo DiCaprio is another champion of SIE, stating that the intention with the content, as he sees it, is to “make sure that your audience walks away with a clear understanding of the steps they can take in their own lives to be part of the change you are seeking to create.”

He recently produced “Before the Flood” – a documentary about climate change that was distributed for free on all streaming platforms, in 45 languages and 171 countries.

Doing good through movies

Fellow actor Don Cheadle also believes that Hollywood can do good through its movies. He mentions how starring in “Hotel Rwanda”, a movie about hotel manager Paul Rusesabagina who housed and protected over a thousand Tutsi refugees from the Hutu militia, changed his career. Cheadle states, “Studios need to recognize that there’s a big market out there for these kinds of stories. Movies can help audiences understand what an issue is, what it looks like, and in some instances move them to take action.”

The state of SIE

Indeed, The State of SIE Report explores how SIE is having an impact across all media types globally. Amongst its findings, it casts a spotlight on the “Vagina Monologues” which has raised over $100 million for feminist causes and “Will & Grace” for its work on gay rights.

The rise of SIE has been driven by several factors including an increased appetite for hard-hitting and real stories to be shown on-screen. Streaming services like Netflix and Amazon Prime Video have also contributed, as has social media – particularly the move towards video content on channels like Instagram, Tik Tok and Facebook. This has created more opportunities for SIE creators to target custom audiences. Facebook, in particular, is known for having a data-rich platform that enables hyper-personalised, relevant content distribution.

Filmmakers now have unparalleled access to global audiences, helping them increase awareness, social activism and changing public perception on specific issues. Tackling fake news head-on through storytelling.

Making SIE a success

As for successful SIE, there are some common characteristics that unite the sector’s frontrunners. A strong focus and understanding of the story is vital, alongside a deep knowledge of the issues being discussed. Strategic alliances with key partners will help distribution, as will having a clearly defined distribution plan that targets specific viewers. These are areas that have become a lot easier to achieve in recent years as SIE evolves into a mainstream proposition and shakes off its ‘do-gooder’ niche.

Take, for instance, the success of Netflix doc-series “When they see us” which focused on issues around black rights and police brutality. The series was viewed by over 23 million people in the month after it launched on Netflix. Leading the series’ creator, Ava DuVernay, to emotionally take to Twitter and say, “Imagine believing the world doesn’t care about real stories of black people. It always made me sad. I cried. Our stories matter and can move across the globe. A new truth for a new day.”

As well as improving global awareness through the series, “When they see us” also inspired a number of articles and thought-pieces in the press, discussions on talk shows and a follow-up interview with the Central Park Five that was led by Oprah Winfrey. A high-profile supporter of the series.

More than a trend

In changing the world, the current crop of SIE films, shorts and series are showing the industry that SIE is more than a passing trend. It taps into a core part of what makes us human, by telling the stories that matter and motivating people to achieve more – to tackle the issues that affect everyone. Impacting the world in a positive way as well as the bottom-line. As production houses realise the potential in this, expect to see more SIE content coming to a screen near you.

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