For post-millennial activists, the participatory media age has empowered new creative ways of doing cultural representation business and new Hollywood relationships to get the job done. A formalized job title has emerged for this work: narrative or cultural strategist, often used interchangeably. As a concept, narrative strategy is a cultural and communication practice by which social justice practitioners collaborate with entertainment industry executives, writers, and producers to shape positive portrayals of marginalized communities and social issues in scripted and non-scripted entertaining narratives, critique negative portrayals, and produce and disseminate their own entertainment storytelling content. The core belief holds that entertainment storytelling is meaningful to social change in its ability to shift public opinion and perceptions—and foster cultural conversation and public participation—all of which is necessary, ultimately, for supportive policy that expands equity and justice. Entertainment narratives are seen as stories that can reinforce or disrupt troubling social norms or portrayals—and thus, narrative strategists work to create enlightening and diverse portrayals, and to dismantle damaging ones.

How are they carving their own path as creative strategists, storytellers, and activists? The most effective social justice activism organizations collaborate directly within the entertainment industry—including comedy—instead of primarily acting as mechanisms of pressure from the outside (even though public critique is never off the table). They have figured out, through understanding the informal norms and protocols of the entertainment business, how to position themselves directly within Hollywood’s social capital networks. Social justice organizations that practice narrative strategy carry out one or more—sometimes all—of a series of activities: working to change the pipeline of decision-making culture creators, influencing existing storylines in big entertainment programming, developing and pitching new entertainment for mainstream entertainment industry distribution, creating self-produced content for distribution on digital platforms, mobilizing and pressuring Hollywood to change damaging portrayals of people and social problems, and participating as visible thought-leaders in entertainment industry spaces. They are seen by entertainment decision-makers as full creative partners and collaborators.

Color of Change, for instance, centers “Culture Change and Media Justice” as a guiding premise that shapes its work as a Hollywood collaborator and critic, but also by showcasing and inspiring “Black joy” through entertainment, landing the group on the Fast Company list of “50 Most Innovative Companies.”1 As part of its efforts, the group produces its own entertainment programming through its filmed podcast, #TellBlackStories, also distributed on YouTube and Instagram,2 pitches original storytelling content for mainstream media distribution, and partners with Hollywood producers to create and direct social-change campaigns around entertainment, such as Ava DuVernay’s award-winning Netflix series, When They See Us. Comedy is a part of it. In the 2020 year of uprising, when media giant ViacomCBS looked around ways to entertain and engage the public around Juneteenth, executives turned to a creative partnership with Color of Change. On June 19, 2020, comedian Mamoudou N’Diaye took over the company’s social media channels with comedy material developed through the Color of Change original comedy production, By Us For Us, produced in collaboration with my organization, the Center for Media & Social Impact.

Read the full article about The Revolution Will Be Hilarious by Caty Borum at Stanford Social Innovation Review.