“Shine a Little Light”

Celebrities, Humanitarian Documentary, and Half the Sky

Authored by: Heather McIntosh

The Routledge Companion To Media and Humanitarian Action

Print publication date:  September  2017
Online publication date:  September  2017

Print ISBN: 9781138688575
eBook ISBN: 9781315538129
Adobe ISBN:


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Half the Sky is an ambitious humanitarian documentary about the global crises in gender discrimination. Based on Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s book, the nearly four-hour documentary visits six countries to explore six issues: gender-based violence in Sierra Leone, sex trafficking in Cambodia, education in Vietnam, female genital mutilation in Somaliland, intergenerational prostitution in India, and economic empowerment in Kenya. The documentary employs six American actresses, each of whom visits a country, meets local activists and survivors, and learns about the situation there. Celebrities often draw criticism for appearing in humanitarian campaigns for their misrepresentation of information, their simplifications of complex issues, and their overshadowing of survivors’ voices. Half the Sky attempts to challenge these assumptions by casting the celebrities as moral agents who can “shine a little light” on these issues. Drawing on scholarship about documentary representation, celebrity authenticity, and celebrity authority, this chapter analyzes the celebrities’ participation motivations, their attempted emotional connections, and their observations about the issues and the people involved. It concludes that while Half the Sky works around some of the criticisms celebrities draw in humanitarian campaigns, it ultimately flattens the complex issues, emphasizes Western voices over local ones, and glosses over Western privilege.

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