From the Sofa to the Streets: Strategies to Ignite Social Action through Documentary Media

Producers of the EPIX series America Divided conducted an innovative engagement campaign to spur action against social injustice and invited the Lear Center’s Media Impact Project to determine if their documentary series inspired real social change. Spoiler alert: It did! This report outlines key strategies to success and areas of improvement that could be applied to other documentary media projects.


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“Code of Silence”: Evaluation Highlights

Key Findings from Research in Nigeria:
A Report to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation
June 2016

An effort by Hollywood, Health & Society, Nollywood Workshops, and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation led to the development of Code of Silence (CoS), a mainstream Nollywood film tackling issues of rape and gender equality, which premiered in Nigeria in August 2015. This report outlines preliminary evaluation findings from research investigating the impact of the film on attitudes toward rape and gender equality.

Going Viral: Measuring the Impact of “Contagion”

Contagion is a feature film directed by Academy Award winner Steven Soderbergh and released in 2011. The film follows the rapid progression of a highly contagious virus that kills within days. As the epidemic grows, medical researchers and public health officials work to contain the disease, introduce a vaccine to halt its spread and calm the panic that spreads as fast as the virus itself. The film highlights the factors that shape the occurrence of a pandemic, the limits and consequences of public health responses and how interpersonal connections can play a role in the spread of disease.

It was especially exciting to measure the social impact of Contagion because it is a fictional film. While most audience members recognize that documentary films are often carefully engineered to deliver actionable data to viewers, moviegoers do not immediately assume that a fictional film might teach them something or encourage them to change their attitudes about a particular issue, or take action after the film is over. Whether the topic is history or science, experts are often wary about fictional films that try to grapple with real-life issues and events. Contagion, which provides a gripping illustration of what could happen if a global pandemic occurred, caused a flurry of news coverage about its accuracy. Director Steven Soderbergh attracted a bevy of A-list talent — Matt Damon, Gwyneth Paltrow, Kate Winslet, Marion Cotillard, Jude Law and Laurence Fishburne — which increased the odds that this film would be seen by a very broad range of moviegoers, most of whom know very little about global pandemics.