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Who were my heroes when I was growing up? Indiana Jones and Han Solo. Hey, Harrison Ford has a lot of swagger, and supposedly, he’s also a Jackson Hole resident. Can you blame me?
Now, both of those characters are iconic roles in film. But one thing I had never considered was that for many, these movies would have felt exclusionary. No offense to Short Round, but you’re a little complicated. And the original Star Wars films were so white and male that some Internet nerds freaked out that the cast of the sequel trilogy dared to resemble the franchise’s diverse, global fanbase.
With the death of Chadwick Boseman, I’ve been thinking a lot about our relationship with our big-screen heroes. About how much his performance in Black Panther meant to Black people, particularly Black boys, who had been denied the pleasure of seeing a superhero who looked like them for so long. I can understand what inspired them to jump up and dance when they found out they were going to see Black Panther. And I can understand what inspires them to hold funerals for Black Panther now in the wake of Boseman’s death.
Ryan Coogler is one of my generation’s great filmmakers, and he, Chadwick, and the rest of their collaborators clearly understood the power they were wielding. And I’d be remiss if I did not mention how Ryan has been using his influence for gender equality behind the camera as well.
But that’s the power of story. It shapes the way we see the world — and ourselves.
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Whose Story Are You Telling?
Kelsey Raymond is cofounder and CEO of Influence and Co, a content marketing agency based in Columbia, Missouri. Like many of us in content marketing, she’s had to grapple with the challenges of telling her clients’ stories while also balancing the long-overdue renewed attention on racial inequities in the United States.
It’s a challenge exacerbated by the simple fact that most of Kelsey’s team is white. But to create relevant stories that truly reflect our nation’s demographics, Kelsey’s team hasn’t stood still. Instead, they’ve worked to confront their own biases through honest discussions and reading. “We need to really be able to understand the experiences of others,” Kelsey explains.
Kelsey and her team have shared anti-racist books and resources with each other, but they’re also taking action with their clients — by working to identify and cultivate thought leaders and subject matter experts outside the usual realm of “older white men.” Sometimes this is a matter of explicitly asking for more diverse voices, and other times it’s simply a matter of finding people in different roles in an organization. “We’ve seen that creates better content as well,” says Kelsey.
“The content has to come from personal experience.”
How to Find Heart
Xero Skidmore is a slam poet, musician and the executive director of Forward Arts. He collaborated with Tommy Talley, chief storyteller at Echo Tango and Bullpen Creative, on an advertisement for Adidas titled “Heart” that featured baseball pitcher Marcus Stroman. The advertisement recently won an American Advertising Award, and the two joined the podcast to discuss their collaboration.
One of the biggest challenges in narrative storytelling is channeling someone else’s mind. For Tommy and Xero, their job was simple: Tell the story of Marcus Stroman. Originally, the two thought they would be creating an ad about Marcus being traded to the Yankees. When that trade fell through — and Marcus was traded to the Mets instead — the two set about trying to figure out a new angle.
The two landed on Marcus’s personality itself. Marcus is 5’8”, the shortest pitcher in Major League Baseball. He carries himself with an edge, and for good reason — as Tommy points out during the episode, sometimes Marcus is facing batters who are still taller than Marcus stands on a pitching mound. “I want to say there’s not even another starter in Major League Baseball that’s under six feet,” Tommy notes.
Xero is not a baseball fan, but he found commonalities between his own life and Marcus’s. To get into Marcus’s mind for the poem, Xero imagined a moment in his life similar to taking the mound: competing in poetry slam competitions. It turns out baseball and poetry aren’t that different. There’s quite a bit of pressure, and numerous people are watching you attempt to perform at the highest level. “To step out onto a platform or a pitcher's mound and be watched by millions of people at a time, with thousands of people in the stance — that requires a huge amount of confidence,” Xero says. “ “You’ve gotta tell yourself that you’re Superman or Superwoman.”
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