Impact with Gal Gadot: National Geographic docu-series aims to make stories of real-life Wonder Women accessible
Even as the reality is hard to cope with, it brings back that one commodity that seems to be rapidly depleting from our lives – hope. And for that alone, may there be an encore.
Having witnessed unprecedented success with Wonder Woman, Hollywood superstar Gal Gadot was looking to use her freshly acquired superpowers of reach to create something that’s far from the world of showbiz. The result of that dream is a short documentary series on National Geographic, titled Impact with Gal Gadot. As host and executive producer, the actress along with her team, helmed by Oscar-winning director Vanessa Roth, brings six stories of women fighting grief, corruption, racism, climate change, and possibly every adversary known to mankind to make an impact in the communities they belong to. From a black figure skating instructor in Detroit to a ballet teacher in Brazil to a native American climate activist in Louisiana, these stories were pulled out from the crevices of social media, photos on Instagram, GoFundMe campaigns and local news reports over a period of three years. No capes or metal bustiers for these women; some of them are as young as 19, but each of them feisty and determined to turn around their reality, or at least some part of it.
The episodes, at 12-minute-runtime, are what one would call bite-sized – the aim of the creators being to make them more accessible and retain the potential to go viral. Hence the release on YouTube as well, and not paid streaming platforms. The only episode slightly longer than the rest is the last one, titled Na Ponta dos Pes (On Pointe), about a ballet teacher, Tuany, in Rio de Janerio, whose story led to the conceptualising of the series. Ryan Pallotta, the executive producer of the show, had previously done a piece on Tuany’s story which eventually led to the idea of Impact coming together. Tuany, who is only 23 years old, runs a ballet school for women of colour in one of the most violent neighbourhoods in Brazil. We see footage of girls practising as the loud bangs of bullets fill the air right outside their open-air dance space. This kind of danger and vulnerability has become part and parcel of lives in a locality that is torn apart by the violence of drug trafficking and corruption. There is no one here who is a stranger to death – be it their parents, siblings or friends. And yet, in this bleak scenario Tuany dreams of literally building a ballet school from scratch to give these girls hope for a future that’s free of violence, and she does it. The battle rages on everyday, but giving up is not an option.
Home as a theme appears to tie a few stories in this docu-series. In the episode titled Coming Home, we see a black trans woman Keyla who has been raising funds on GoFundMe to build tiny houses to shelter trans women of Memphis, Tennessee. It’s a region where the rate of homeless trans people is three times higher than that of the rest of the US. And, acts of violence against this community rarely see an end that’s not fatal. Most of these trans women are African American, ousted from their homes and families, taking shelter in abandoned houses, which exposes them to hate crimes. Through her project My Sistah’s House, Keyla aims at providing housing and a semblance of safety to this community. As someone says in the episode, “Being trans is a race of its own.” So these women, being of colour, have to fight against two stigmas. Keyla started the campaign last June and has since been providing housing, empowerment and urgent resources including survival and self-protection kits to these trans women.
As the lens shifts to coastal Louisiana, we meet a community that is facing the possibility of becoming the first “climate refugees” of the US. This tribe of native Americans are on the receiving end of land erosion caused by oil and timber extraction and storms. The land they live on has been literally chipping off over the years, and soon they will have no place to go. Chief Shirell pushed through the odds to become the first female chief of this community and has been leading policy changes to protect their land and their identity before it disappears. She is now a member of the Louisiana Climate Initiative task force, to ensure that those that are affected the most by administrative decisions, are not left unheard. She is even part of a formal complaint made to the United Nations against the United States on how the country failed to protect the human rights of five native American tribes in Louisiana and Alaska.
Another inspiring tale is of 19-year-old Arriana, a student of the University of Puerto Rico who built a filtration system to provide clean water to citizens facing the worst water crisis after the devastating Hurricane Maria in 2017. Over the past four years, this system has provided clean water to more than 12,500 people and filtered over 44 millions of gallons of water. This is a girl who grew up on a popular Puerto Rican phrase told to girls, that roughly translates as "the quieter you are, the prettier you look". Arriana was clearly not one to stay quiet – she not only beat the odds of a crippling patriarchy, but also found a way out of the bureaucracy and corruption that dictates the politics of water allocation.
Then there’s Kelsey, a surfboard grief therapist, who founded Surf Sisters, after losing her own twin sister to the pandemic. The surf therapy program runs a grief support group for the women in Half Moon Bay, California, who are dealing with various stages of trauma. Under Kelsey’s care, they learn to literally wade over the waves of grief. As Kelsey observes, that unlike grief, which sometimes people choose not to address or face, a real wave in the ocean cannot be put off for later – one has to ride over it to stay afloat. And based on this philosophy she is helping hundreds of women in their journey of dealing with grief.
All these pioneer women come from modest means, very hard lives and troubled communities. The only thing they are rich in is the zeal to help and improve the lives around them. And being featured in a high-profile space such as National Geographic, in a show hosted and produced by a Hollywood actress, gives their efforts a massive shot in the arm. The series is sensitively directed by Vanessa Roth, and manages to tell these evocative tales in the short time span. The camera work is astounding and the editing, sharp. One does wish that the stories dug deeper; some of these women could well warrant a full-length documentary on their own. But for this project, the creators had a clear purpose of making the stories accessible on social media, wherein short attention spans rule. While initially, the plan was to spread out on a global scale and pull out untold stories from forgotten corners of the world, the outbreak of Covid 19 confined the geography to the United States and Latin America. Impact is just the kind of content a confused, conflicted and grief-struck pandemic world needs. Even as the reality is hard to cope with, it brings back that one commodity that seems to be rapidly depleting from our lives – hope. And for that alone, may there be an encore.
All episodes of Impact with Gal Gadot are currently available on YouTube
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