“If one girl with an education can change the world, what can 130 million do?” said Malala Yousafzai, University of Oxford student and the youngest Nobel Prize laureate, while referring to the 130 million girls worldwide who are out of school during a speech at Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s ‘Goalkeepers’ event in September.
Malala has indeed changed the world, but she’s not the only one (albeit her testament still rings true – what could an army of Malalas manage?)
30-year-old filmmaker MJ Delaney also went to Oxford and has teamed up with Project Everyone in partnership with UNICEF and the Bill & Melinda Gates, to direct a new video to raise awareness of the #FreedomForGirls campaign which has been created to support today’s International Day of the Girl. The video has an aggressive and defiant tone. The young girls aged 5 – 11, move in colourful locations across the globe, with assurance and power, to Beyonce’s protest anthem for our time – ‘Freedom’. Forget Taylor Swift and her motley crew of Instagram influencers – these girls are real squad goals.
It follows on from Delaney’s remake of the Spice Girls’ Wannabee video last year for Project Everyone, a campaign devised by Richard Curtis to raise awareness of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals(also known as Global Goals) for 2030 agreed to by agreed to by all 193-world leaders and the UN in 2015.
The video also celebrated 20 years since the spread of The Spice Girl’s mantra “Girl Power” and went viral gaining 200 million views across the internet – well, Delaney certainly has a knack for it.
The Brit broke into the film-making industry with a unique parody of the classic Jay-Z song ‘Empire State of Mind’ back in 2010. But instead of aggrandizing New York, Delaney’s take was a heartfelt ode to the Welsh town of Newport. It went viral, gaining 2.5 million Youtube views in a month, before being taken down due to a copyright claim by EMI publishing – spoilsports. “There’s no formula for making something go viral. Last year when I came into it [The Global Goals campaign] the only reason we got 200 million views was people connected with it and shared it.”
My main objective for the film last year was to not just make a splash in North America and Europe and actually have some traction in the countries we’re supporting. We had a huge number of views in Brazil and West Africa. That would be my hope again this year – to see a global movement.”
Speaking about the new #FreedomForGirls project from her adopted home of New York (all the way from Newport, hey?) she acknowledged the need for a different, less optimistic video.
“Last year’s was very much a warm celebration of the strengths of female friendships and female solidarity,” says Delaney, “but a lot has changed since the spring of 2016. We made that film before Brexit and Trump. I think the atmosphere of last year’s film wouldn’t have cut the mustard this time round.”
“The decision to take that more angry tone,” reveals Delaney, “and give it to very young girls created a balance because they have an essential optimism to them because of their age.”
In charity and non-profit messaging, the vulnerability of young girls is very well covered but we rarely see anger – especially in young girls. It’s not the guise that little girls are presented to us in very often, but they certainly have a lot to be angry with.”
Indeed they do. In among the fierce dance moves and neon hashtags are shocking facts that make you double take.
“Every five minutes a girl dies as a result of violence.” “130 million girls are out of school.” “One in four girls gets married as a child.” “71 percent of human trafficking victims are female.” “63 million girls have undergone female genital mutilation.” You’re bombarded with them until you begin to feel as angry as the young girls in the video do.
Global Goals isn’t the only charitable organisation Delaney has worked with. In 2013, she made a haunting, yet uplifting video about the power of protest for WITNESS, Peter Gabriel’s human rights charity, as well as a short film for Plan International, recording 12 year old girls from Mali to the Taiwanese border to London to show the different lives they lead around the world.
So does Delaney, as a young female filmmaker, feel compelled to tackle the issues of gender inequality and sexism especially in light of the sexual harassment accusations against Hollywood studio executive Harvey Weinstein?
“I guess being a female director, your job is embroiled in questions of feminism and representation. My first feature film was almost entirely female cast and couldn’t have passed the Bechdel test [the requirement that a work of fiction features at least two women who talk to each other about something other than a man] with more flying colours.
“I think there are some incredibly strong female voices in the industry at the minute. I’m an optimist by nature and I hope the days of the Harvey Weinsteins are over and there are some incredible, passionate and talented women that are now stepping into his role at places like Fox, Tristar and Paramount.”
Delaney’s first two videos for Global Goals have concentrated on goal five – gender inequality – but the filmmaker is having thoughts about getting her hands on a different goal for next year. ” I’m thinking goal 13 – climate action. I think we need to emphasise the need for speed, but I also think it’s important to bring some optimism into the climate space. There’s a lot of misinformation, and despondency about climate change and a lot of people are under the impression that it’s too late for anything to be done. So, I think we might ricochet back to being optimistic next year.”
The ‘#FREEDOMFORGIRLS’ campaign aims to raise awareness and drive action to tackle the biggest challenges facing girls and ensure that the Global Goals for Sustainable Development are met.