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Novela, Novela: the story of how Nicaraguan feminists fused human rights with popular culture to create one of Nicaragua's most popular telenovelas.

Novela, Novela is a short documentary that chronicles the creation and impact of Sexto Sentido (Sixth Sense), a ground-breaking series in Nicaragua that grapples with controversial themes like domestic violence and homophobia in the face of a heavily conservative culture and media. By Elizabeth Miller, "Novela, Novela" was a winner of the Women's Rights Award.

Photo of Patrick Donohue
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Puntos de Encuentro (Meeting Points), a Nicaraguan-based non-profit, were the producers of a youth radio program and a wildly popular magazine called La Boletina. The organization has promoted women's and young people's rights for over ten years, and worked to influence public opinion and social norms through progressive media projects.

Recognizing the popularity of telenovelas in Nicaragua, Puntos de Encuentro seized the opportunity to create one of the first Nicaraguan-produced telenovelas and use it for social goals:  

"take radical, political and social ideas about human rights, about democracy, about respect for differences, about the right to live without violence, without discrimination, quite radical ideas, and put them out into the mainstream." - Amy Bank, Puntos de Encuentro

Elizabeth Miller's documentary "Novela, Novela" covers the origin and impact of the show, with a particular focus on the show's handling of domestic violence issues and gay rights issues.

The show attempts to raise awareness of social issues and solutions. For example, the story of Elena, a young girl dealing with domestic violence at home, is used to raise awareness of Law 230, a law against family violence. 
"By showing one girl's struggle with the violence of her father towards her mother and then her own relationship, as well as the support she receives from her friends in recognising the signs of violence, the video provides a forum for discussion on how young men and women can stop relationship-based gender violence." - Dating Without Violence, The Communication Initiative Network

There's also a great quote by Amy Bank on the importance of changing  mass media portrayals of men's and women's roles.
"If you want equal rights for men and women, you need to be able to change traditional stereotypes and gender roles of men and women.  And if every time a woman goes out of the traditional female role, or guy goes out of the traditional male role, they get called dyke or queer, and that is a bad thing, then people will not ever go out of the box, they'll just stay doing exactly what they're expected to do in order to not get called that."

Telenovelas are extremely popular all over the world, and could be a great avenue to popularizing new ideas regarding gender roles, violence and safety.

See also: "From the Sandinista revolution to telenovelas: the case of Puntos de Encuentro" and "Media Matters: More About Novela, Novela from Director Elizabeth Miller"



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Photo of Rafael Carabano

I am exploring as well the influence of soap operas or novelas in our society. Specially the responsibility that TV networks and producers have when they come up with these shows.
It's great to read your building upon this as well.
Here is the post I published couple of days ago.

Photo of Patrick Donohue

Hi Rafael,

Thanks for cross-posting, what great insights and questions in your post!

It looks like Sexto Sentido was created to try to face the issues you brought up, in this case the producers of the show are a non-profit driven by a social mission rather than just a profit-motivation. I think they benefitted a lot from the fact that while telenovelas were extremely popular in Nicaragua, there weren't really any locally produced ones.

Could a similar non-profit in a country already saturated with novellas (i.e. Brazil) do the same thing? Or do you have to rely on mainstream producers to be willing to tackle such issues as well?


Photo of Yennie Lee

Patrick, we are having a related conversation on utilizing the Bechdel Test in Bollywood films to increase positive female narratives in the media. Check it out, here:

Also, Meena has brought up some great work that the Population Media Center has done in Tanzania and Ethiopia to raise awareness of health issues through radio. The PMC cites the use of the Sabido methodology in the narrative forms and subsequent impact measurements for its radio shows:

Photo of Rafael Carabano

Patrick, I am not sure if there might be independent production companies that might be working on these kind of programs. Based on my experience, in Latin America most of the soap operas in every country, specially at prime time, address graphic violence, drugs, prostitution in urban and rural areas. Unfortunately, values won't bring ratings up. And this is what is upsetting about this, as a society, these soaps generally speaking hook people's attention, and become part of their daily routines. Even become export products to other geographies (Europa and Asia are very popular) I will keep my eyes open and see what might be happening in this area, and keep you posted if I find anything.

Photo of Meena Kadri

Here's a new post which has a great popular culture example from South Africa – which is now extending to elsewhere in Africa:

Photo of Patrick Donohue

Thanks Meena,

It's great to see another example of media being used to increase awareness and shifting norms and behaviors.

I've recently come across examples of radio programs, including radio novellas, being used to do the same thing. Will post about them when I get a chance.

Photo of Meena Kadri

Nice one, Patrick. We're looking forward to hearing more. And when you post, if you use our Build Upon feature to connect to these others posts, then everyone who posted them will get email notifications to come join the awesome new conversations you're starting. Bring it on!

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