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Championing diversity on a global scale.

April 2016

The success of 5 short films on LGBT issues shows how international campaigns using film and social media can promote values of diversity and human rights.

In recent decades Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual, and Transgender (LGBT) rights in the UK and many other countries have been transformed. The UK was recently placed second in Europe for the strength of its LGBT rights. Yet this progress has been far from universal. In many countries, millions of people still face discrimination and persecution.  In Russia for example, in 2013 a law was passed banning ‘the propaganda of non-traditional sexual relations among minors’, and gay pride parades are regularly being broken up by protestors and police. Further afield, even in countries like South Africa that have adopted same-sex marriage and protection against discrimination, the reality is often one of violent persecution. Across the world, LGBT campaigners and influencers are struggling for greater protection of their rights.

The UK was recently placed second in Europe for the strength of its LGBT rights

Cultural programmes, and in particular the combination of film and social media, can offer a powerful means of influencing discussion on such topics globally.

‘fiveFilms4freedom’ - the first initiative of its kind anywhere in the world - is an example of how film and social media can be combined to promote values. Now in its second year, fiveFilms4freedom is a social media campaign and partnership between the British Film Institute and the British Council to promote equality and diversity, by encouraging people around the world to watch five short films from BFI Flare: London LGBT Film Festival. 

The films tell a range of stories about contemporary LGBT experience in countries including Brazil, Ireland, Spain, the Philippines, and the UK. In Petersen Vargas’ ‘Swirl’, for example, two young girls in love move backwards through a Philippino cityscape. In Ferran Navarro-Beltrán’s ‘The Orchid’, a man tries to tell his son something important, but can only get through to his voicemail. The films are polished, rough, funny, sad, and inspiring and each has a different voice. They were made globally available and free to watch via social media platforms – Facebook, YouTube – as well as the British Council website and BFI player from 16-27 March (this year’s BFI Flare’s festival dates). 

This year there were 1.57 million views of the films on Facebook and YouTube, with the films being viewed across 179 countries. Significantly, among the top countries in that list - with thousands of views recorded each - were countries in which LGBT rights are entirely lacking or seriously curtailed, including Russia, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and UAE (which alone has recorded almost 28,000 views). With a hashtag reach of 85.6 million and total web impressions of 54.9 million worldwide, the films have contributed to a growing global conversation that extends discussion about LGBT rights.

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The love that dares to speak.


The campaign illustrates how film can help to secure global influence. As an art form it can be used to educate, engage, inform, debate, illustrate, and challenge. Everyone ‘does’ film – people consume it and have opinions on it even if they don’t necessarily see themselves as consumers of art or education. Recent surveys conducted by Morris Hargreaves McIntyre for the British Council found that film is one of the most popular and accessible art forms around the world. 99% of audiences surveyed in Brazil, China, India, Indonesia and Korea have seen a film in the last year. Above many other art forms, therefore, film can also offer an easy way to reach people who might not ordinarily engage with other kinds of culture, presenting an accessible way for audiences to become a member of a community and talk with others about what they have seen. Film also has the ability to create distinct identities for our nations and regions, articulate the voices of various minority communities, and generally impact both the way we see ourselves and the way others see us. 

The impact of fiveFilms4freedom shows how, paired together, social media and film can be used as powerful promoters of the UK’s values.

This applies to films watched on television, in a cinema, on a computer screen, or on a mobile phone. Yet it can be particularly powerful when combined with internet technology, allowing instant, cheap, mass global communication and often the ability to by-pass traditional hierarchical distribution structures. The UK is already a source of significant influence on social media . Social media can be used to share messages in challenging environments between communities and networks. It can connect minorities, including those unable or unwilling to appear in public where they live, and can celebrate and champion equality and diversity on a global scale. 

The impact of fiveFilms4freedom shows how, paired together, social media and film can be used as powerful promoters of the UK’s values.

Natalie Melton, British Council

See also