Inclusion Lens

Below is a letter from our founder as well as values and practices that underscore our commitment to an inclusive lens, at every level.

The field of international documentary storytelling about human rights issues, often centering marginalized communities, has long been dominated by creators and funding mechanisms that perpetuate imbalanced power differentials, and uphold white supremacist systems and beliefs. Stories, a human being’s lived experience, can become yet another extraction of imperialism; discovered, extracted, appropriated and distributed for someone else’s profit.

When predominately white creators from dominant cultures maintain the narrative power of communities they are not from, those whose stories are being told do not have enough active agency, equality or self-efficacy in their own representation. Further, there continues to be a perpetuation of unequal hoarding of technical filmmaking skills and financial resources, unevenly distributed to talent and filmmaking professionals from the Global South. These normalized practices of inequality contribute to exploitation and oppression of the very communities social issue documentary stories are about. Without radical accountability and new storytelling and hiring practices, documentary storytelling at best will continue to bolster white supremacist systems and at worse, perpetuate them.

At NOVO, we are committed to something we call transformational storytelling, a practice and ethos that can contribute to new culture and eventually a different kind of world. As somatic abolitionist Resmaa Menakem writes, bodies telling stories creates culture and this culture shapes both how we live and how we treat one another across families, communities, nations, systems and the globe.

We believe in stories for all the reasons that have captured our human and moral imaginations for centuries; they point us to the possible, the liminal, the next most beautiful horizon. And so the work of storytelling now is to do the same, with an eye for what that horizon could be. Our planet is in peril and we need a massive reorientation of care – to one another and to our one planet home.

Therefore, we believe that an anti-racist, decolonized culture necessitates the creation, telling and passing on of new stories. We’ve got to see what’s possible to begin to imagine creating that world. But what matters is not just the content of the stories, but how they are made, who tells them, and who sees them. This is where we come in as culture creators, committed to this transformational storytelling, which if done with integrity, as Resmaa says, could contribute one small note to change the course of history.

As humans we all exist within a web of identities – we see our storytelling practice as a natural outflow expression of our core identity as social activists. This activism is expressed in a life-long integrated personal and professional life commitment to anti-racism and decolonization. To keep ourselves accountable to this vision, we have distilled a group of values that inform specific practices to which we are in a constant cycle of self-reflection, evaluation and critique.

We are uninterested in perpetuating the problems we are trying to shift, change and solve with our films, and welcome honest feedback and open dialogue every step of the way. We are still learning and will make mistakes, but hope to influence the documentary storytelling community to hold ourselves up to a clear mirror – and in that seeing to be willing to reconstitute the way we do our filmmaking entirely. Our dream, which we know is shared by many, is for true equality, agency and power for those who have long been denied. This world is possible.

With kindness,

Lindsay Branham, Founder, NOVO

The function of art is to do more than tell it like it is - it’s to imagine what is possible.

- Bell Hooks


Cultural Humility

Cultural humility (CH), a term coined by the field of social work, goes beyond cultural competency or cultural sensitivity. Although cultural competency is an important first step, which includes skills like cross-cultural language skills, awareness of diversity and providing care across lines of difference, cultural humility goes even further. CH offers a critique of the methods used to create stories in the first place, and holds an expectation for outcome, that of a transformative social justice agenda to challenge social inequalities. The CH framework argues that mere awareness does not go far enough; implicit and explicit bias must be uncovered, uprooted and dismantled at every step of the storytelling process as a way to address disparities in the contexts and communities these stories highlight.

CH is also a decisive shift away from telling stories about “other” cultures, places, people, which assumes the locus of normalcy is White and western, but rather demands an accounting of the cultural values and forces of the creator which inform the capacities and methods of the storytelling practice in general.

Further, CH also goes beyond the illusion that the value of stories is to help dominant groups simply “learn about” non-dominant groups. Cultural humility is built on the belief that social justice is actually necessary to eliminate oppression, and that awareness definitely does not guarantee the former.

Therefore, our stories do not seek to just highlight or uncover an injustice, but rather to contribute to correcting power imbalances and to develop partnerships with people and groups who can.


Scholar Ibram X. Kendi defines antiracism as a “powerful collection of antiracist policies that lead to racial equity and are substantiated by antiracist ideas.” Storytelling works in the realm of ideas, and therefore NOVO’s stories must never perpetuate the racist idea that racial difference is a product of something being inherently right or wrong with certain groups. Further, we support anti-racism by deconstructing racist ideas in ourselves, which is personal and lifelong work, as well as only working with clients who contribute to antiracist policies and ideas.


Decolonization can be understood as a process of deconstructing colonial ideologies of the superiority and privilege of Western thought and approaches. Both correcting power imbalances as well as revitalizing, deferring to and centering indigenous knowledge and approaches. This includes de-centering Western European-derived ways of knowing and doing that are implicitly or explicitly presented as the norm. Decolonization includes a respect and deference to Indigenous ways of being, like reciprocity. Reciprocity invites a holistic giving and receiving, which should inform everything from how to conduct an interview to how to relate to the earth. Decolonizing ourselves must lead us to examine and imagine how to return the gift, live with gratitude and reverence and be in connection to ancestral wisdom – as artists and people on this planet.

Ecological wisdom

We take climate change seriously and seek to live in deeper harmony and synchronicity with the earth. This value includes practices such as carbon offsetting, choosing teams that minimize long-haul flight patterns, conserving energy, engaging in storytelling that can enhance, deepen and enliven audiences relationship with the natural world instead of bifurcate, fragment and encourage addiction to technology, consumption, materialism, hoarding and excess.

Choosing the margins

Bell Hooks wrote about “choosing the margins” as a site of belonging as much as a site of struggle and resistance. We commit to redefining margins to acknowledge the richness and diversity of those spaces, instead of “empty spaces occupied by people whose lives don’t matter, or people who spend their lives on the margins trying to escape” 2. Critical race theory, oral history, community action and participatory action research are examples of methodologies created to work with marginalized communities. We utilize these in our stories to facilitate expression of marginalized voices and re-present the experience of marginalization in genuine and authentic ways (p. 205).


Individuals must be understood as complex, and social identities (race, gender, ethnicity, class, etc) do not operate in isolation. An intersectional orientation, coined by professor Kimberlé Crenshaw more than 30 years ago, is “a lens, a prism, for seeing the way in which various forms of inequality often operate together and exacerbate each other.” Therefore, this requires self-interrogation as creators as well as an intersectional lens in our storytelling and social justice work.

Transformative agenda

Instead of reinforcing the status quo, we want to pursue a transformative agenda that positions individuals within cultures and understands that to bring about change, systems need to be challenged. Using filmmaking as solely an awareness tool reinforces the illusion that the only step to change is learning about the “other.” This is not enough.

Story is magic

Our work rests on the belief and value that stories are powerful. As the oldest form of human learning, stories can stir, move, open, galvanize, surprise, inspire, and everything in between. A form of discourse made more accessible with today’s technological opportunities, we can take stories further than ever before. We value the role of narratives in contributing to culture and the opportunity for viewers to find themselves in characters, settings and plots different than their own lives. The close aesthetic distance, meaning a viewer’s conscious reality and the world of the story collapse into each other, creates avenues for identification, empathy, understanding and even shifts in perspective, beliefs and potentially, behavior. Stories can change the world, they do every day.

Social norms over personal beliefs

We value an integrated model of behavioral prejudice and conflict reduction that prioritizes the communication of social norms over changes in personal beliefs. Social psychological research indicates that shifts in social norms can translate into behavioral changes, regardless of the changes in personal beliefs. Since stories can be consumed at the communal level, there is an opportunity to introduce and reinforce new social norms that can influence more peaceful, just behaviors, again irregardless of individuals’ personal beliefs. Our research in Central African Republic testing virtual reality to reduce prejudice, underscored this framework, and builds on the work of social psychologists like Dr. Betsy Paluck at Princeton, and many others.


We straddle the worlds of storytelling and academia, and value this intersectional expertise. This educational foundation of the inner workings of mental, psychological, and communal health, informs each step of our storytelling approach and practice. We are committed not just to world-class storytelling, but to a process of transformational storytelling and to stories that invite and generate healing, with data, and peer-reviewed publications to prove it.

1 Tervalon & Murray-Garcia, (1998). Cultural humility versus cultural competence: a critical distinction in defining physician training outcomes in multicultural education, Journal of Health Care for the Poor and Underserved, vol 9 (issue 2), pp. 117-125.

2 Hooks, Bell (1990). Yearning, Race, Gender and Cultural Politics. Boston, MA. South End Press.

Smith, Linda Tuhiwai (1950). Decolonizing Methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples. Distributed in the USA exclusively by St Martin’s Press, 1999.

Teachers who sourced and originate these ideas:

Resmaa Menaken

Ibram X. Kendi

Robin Wall Kimmerer

Bell Hooks

James Baldwin

Kimberlé Crenshaw

Jean Paul Lederach

Without inner change there can be no outer change. Without collective change, no change matters.

- Reverend angel Kyodo williams



  • We hire creatives and build diverse international teams with collaborators local to each country we work with to reflect the communities we serve in an authentic way;
  • We hire creatives from countries/regions of focus in key creative roles not just technical roles;
  • We hire BIPOC collaborators and creatives from the United States to increase inclusion throughout the creative process and promote equity within the creative field.

Informed consent

  • With interviews and participation, we ensure informed consent, which includes explaining the project to potential participants in the language of their choice in detail, including how and where the project will be used, and most importantly, outlining any risks associate with their participation. This process of seeking informed consent, not just securing a media release, is a step towards deeper agency.

Accurate representation

  • Sensationalizing suffering is a perpetuation of colonial imagery and fantasy of the “other” as less valuable and so we do not create media that does so;
  • Journalism and truth-telling is rich with subjective interpretation and we acknowledge our influence and bias as creators. Instead of pretending that does not exist and that there is an objective truth to find, a positivist orientation we do not endorse, we commit to capturing what unfolds as close to possible as we experienced it, and to not manipulate in the edit for dramatic effect – this includes care and attention to integrity at every step of production;
  • We invite participants wherever possible to creatively sign off on their own representation before media is released to ensure the final product is true to their experience.

Story origination

  • We partner with members of communities as central in the storytelling process, which can include setting up story evaluation councils and local review boards with members of civil society, who are invited to contribute to the project at various stages of development and production.

Story utilization

  • Instead of aiming to just raise awareness about particular issues or communities, we seek for stories to impact individuals, communities and systems in a measurable way that supports a social justice agenda. This includes local distribution within countries the stories are from (we call this Mobile Cinema). We create in-depth workshops and screening kits that augment the content with an intervention that includes attention to pedagogy and outcome measures.

Story reception

  • Instead of stories made solely for western audiences to consume information about communities they are not part of, stories are considered as living parts of ecosystems that feed into culture at multiple levels and carry forward in a potent interlocking matrix.

Ethical interview protocols

  • We carry out interviews with informed consent and joint-control and guidance;
  • We utilize a trauma-informed lens when interviewing those who have survived trauma;
  • We privilege an individual’s language and explanation of their own experience first;
  • We do not push, prod, or force questions or participation in any way – being constantly aware of differentials in power dynamics and allowing ample opportunities for withdrawal at any reason without consequence.

Filmmaking industry capacity building

  • We transfer filmmaking and technical skills to talent from host countries, including adding training days into production schedules ;
  • We raise funds or bring donated filmmaking equipment to talent in host countries to add to their capacity to be hired independently.

Knowledge dissemination

  • We take up educational opportunities to shape the wider documentary film and scientific research communities. This includes putting forward peer-reviewed research, conducting interviews, speaking engagements, releasing articles and more.


  • To ensure we are living up to our social justice ethos, we are in a state of evaluation around what our media projects and interventions are accomplishing in host countries;
  • We commit to carbon neutrality as a company and purchase carbon offsets to compensate for travel;
  • We take a critical view of the necessity of long-haul flights and choose to hire local teams wherever possible both to diversify our team and to reduce excessive energy consumption.
Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.

- James Baldwin