Compelling Videos About a Complex Subject

We the Economy is a series of 20 web videos on the economy covering everything from globalism to navigating supply and demand curves. The series is a pastiche of approaches transforming dry information into something at once witty, informative and fun – some pieces are excellent examples of how a video can wrangle its subject matter to both entertain and educate.

In a series of five posts, TheVisionThing will critique the most successful programs to show how filmmakers fashion work that is a once provocative, informative and stimulating. The first post explores using actors, the second animation, the third using a host, the fourth documentaries and this one looks at advocacy.

Jehane Noujaim and Supply Chain Reaction

Supply Chain Reaction explores the social costs of the global supply chain. Take a look:

Ep. 18: SUPPLY CHAIN REACTION | Jehane Noujaim from We The Economy on Vimeo.


Jehane Noujaim, from her website

A highly acclaimed documentary filmmaker, Jehane Noujaim  also directed and helped shoot Control Room, about Al Jazeera and press coverage during the Gulf War and The Square, about the Egyptian revolution, as well as other award-winning documentaries.

Supply Chain Reaction is well constructed, using simple, easy to follow examples to make its point. The experts are appealing, eloquent and well-chosen – they present their ideas simply and clearly.


image from

The video takes an important turn when one of the experts, Amar Bhide, reminds us that all developing nations go through a period of sacrifice to grow their economies and the significant human cost provides an enormous benefit to future generations.


Image from Supply Chain Reaction

Amar Bhide: “…and it’s through a very large number of these small steps that people eventually transform backward countries into modern developed economies.”  This is not what you expect to hear, but it strongly suggests another way of understanding the issue.

Jehane Noujaim argues we should be able to have both the electronics, clothes and food we want and ensure they’re produced under acceptable conditions. We shouldn’t have to exploit workers and forego decent working conditions in the process.

The Art of Advocacy

Advocacy is trickier than it may seem. It’s difficult to move people who are on the fence or who don’t agree with you. To reach them, you have to understand how they think about the issues you’re advocating and respond in a way that honors their values. Advocacy must speak to the heart and the mind – and do it in a way that doesn’t feel manipulative.

Jehane Noujaim from the We The Economy site:


Jehane Noujaim, LA Times photo

The story is personal for us— Geeta Ghandbir, my co-director, comes from India, and I come from Egypt — where we see what appear to be human rights abuses surrounding the work force all around us. I mean very personal — my cousin has a factory for making t-shirts in Egypt… My cousin employs 15-year-old girls who are just out of school to make these t-shirts…. Isn’t that child labor?  But speak with the girls themselves, and they say they would be taking another job at that age anyway, that their family cannot afford to put them through continuing school, that they are contributing to the household, and ultimately are helping the family out of poverty. They say they get several years of training they would not get otherwise. So where do we draw the lines?

The truth usually lies in shades of grey, and to advocate for her point of view, Jehane Noujaim presents a more nuanced analysis of the benefit and cost to the people working under such difficult conditions. By not taking a more hardline approach, she invites us to explore the issue more deeply.

What Works and Why

I like the graphics, they’re colorful, easy to follow and work well with the story. If anything, they move on and off screen perhaps a beat too fast, but they effectively provide an overview to the story. I especially like how she structures her inquiry around the cell phone, tin and the people who mine it. There’s such a great contrast between holding a sophisticated piece of technology in your hand and digging in the muck to acquire the basic metal that makes it possible. The cell phone motif is used to great advantage, even framing the visuals – like the last image of the piece, presented as if viewed on a cell phone screen.

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Closing image from Supply Chain Reaction

The mix of visuals works well to suggest this is a universal story. The bits of stock footage showing corporate overreach and consumer protests are short and to the point. The information and ideas are well-presented and everything just flows along.

The pacing and storytelling work well, too. In all, the video is upbeat and surprisingly positive. I like that – it makes me feel I could do something to help make a difference. My only complaint is the animations with all those miserable workers is a little too obvious.

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Image from Supply Chain Reaction

The Core of the Argument

An advocacy video is ultimately about making a persuasive argument. If done well, it makes its points in a way that builds logically and emotionally, and makes you want to do something to right a wrong.

Let’s take a moment to look at how the closing arguments are structured:

Amar Bhide: “Inhumane working conditions, people have discovered over and over again, are bad for business.” – This is a great way to start – it’s a practical rather than moral argument – and aligns itself with a more pro-business point of view.

Jeffery Sachs: We need to build a market that rewards ethical behavior… I want to see worldwide standards in place and accountability, and reporting and transparency. –Sachs states the ideal and offers a path towards addressing the larger issue.

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Image from Supply Chain Reaction

Amar Bhide: It is the insatiable thirst of American consumers that has lifted billions of people outside the United States out of poverty. – Amar Bhide gives us an ironic pat on the back and sets up the graphic question that comes on screen.

Graphic: But is there something more we can all do?  – The question sets up Christine Bader’s description of the challenge and Cam Simpson’s path to action.

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Image from Supply Chain Reaction

Christine Bader: A consumer has a big role to play. I’ve seen studies that show that fair working conditions for a pair of jeans might add five cents on to the retail price. – Christine Bader provides a key piece of information and a strong argument for taking action.

Christine Bader continues: In working with companies a lot of what I hear is “well, we would love to do this but the consumer has made it very clear that they’re not going to pay for better practices. Why do we accept that? – She states the problem and sets up the challenge which is then addressed in the next comment.

Cam Simpson: Consumer companies worry about their image and they have a huge incentive to try to make things better. Especially in these days of social media using the very device that we’re talking about. Things can go viral, pressure can be brought very quickly. – With social media we’ve all seen examples of how one person can make a difference, and here’s a roadmap for action.

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Image from Supply Chain Reaction

Jeffery Sachs: People have the right to live in dignity and they have the right to not be exploited. And they have labor rights and they have environmental rights… We shouldn’t have to choose. All of them are needed for the quality of life on the planet. – The moral argument is voiced as the video ends.

There’s a quiet, positive and hopeful quality to the video that reinforces the final comments and leads us to feel it’s the only viewpoint that makes sense. Kudos to Jehane Noujaim for her thoughtful approach to a very complex subject.

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Image from Supply Chain Reaction

When an advocacy piece explores an issue with a clear, low key presentation and invites you to come to draw your own conclusion, it’s no longer their message, it’s yours, and having embraced it you’re more likely to take action.

This is the fifth of five posts on how to use video to inform or educate. You can explore earlier posts here –  on using actors, on using animation, on using a host, and on documentaries.

Share your insights and thoughts in the comments section below.