Explosive Film Condemns Violence Against Transgender People

White Ribbon presents a powerful mix of triumph and tragedy

Something terrible's going to happen. We get that vibe early on in White Ribbon's video about violence against transgender folks.

Yes, there's a content warning, but that's not the only clue. Though the spot's first 90 seconds feature scenes of joy and acceptance, the muted hues and certain shots—like the main character's cold reception at home—feel ominous.

On the soundtrack, Hannah Grace's achingly intense take on Fatboy Slim's "Praise You" speaks of triumph: "We've come a long, long way together, through the hard times and the good. I have to celebrate you, baby..."

Yet, to these ears, the anthemic chords and moody keys hint at tragedy. And director Angie Bird delivers just that, as the slow burn resolves in flames of anger and despair. 

It's sad and predictable, both in the film and real life.

White Ribbon | Short Life Stories

That message around the two-minute mark hits like a lightning bolt:

"Vivian Azmi: Aug. 26 2021 - Sept. 3, 2023"

Two years struggling to find her true self, overcoming taunts, snickers, censure and abuse. To have it all snuffed out in an act of senseless fury. On what began as the happiest night of her life.

What was the journey for? Was it worth the pain and tribulation?

Of course it was. Because all human beings deserve the chance to discover themselves in their own time and exist as they see fit.

Here, ignorance won. But it won't always. Each brave soul helps bring about change. This film, "Short Life Stories," reminds us that perils persist, but through vigilance and courage, hope never dies.

The three transgender leads give riveting performances. They're instantly relatable, conveying a gamut of emotions.

"What I hope viewers will get out of this is a sense of celebration for trans people, for the whole, rich, multifaceted and vibrant community that it is," says Kiara-Kumail, who plays Vivian (an amalgam of real people who met similar fates). "I imagine a world where we are not mourning the deaths of trans people, but celebrating their lives while they dance through the streets with all their unbridled and unapologetic joy."

Toronto-based Bensimon Byrne and Narrative developed the campaign.

Timed to Transgender Awareness Week, the initiative continues a streak of notable work from White Ribbon, a nonprofit promoting gender equality. Earlier efforts include jabs at toxic masculinity and violence against women.

This PSA follows a new study from White Ribbon and Angus Reid that found 80 percent of Canadians don't fully comprehend the barriers and threats their transgender loved ones face. That makes the PSA's launch especially crucial.

Below, Joseph Bonnici, CCO of Bensimon parent Tadiem, and director Bird discuss the project.

MUSE: Your film builds to a stunning reveal. But will folks hang in all the way?

Bonnici: People want to understand the transgender community. So, we needed to give them a glimpse of their journey. The bravery of it. The obstacles they overcome. The nuances of their lives. But mostly, we wanted to show the joy that's possible. And how it is so often taken away from them. That takes time to show and build empathy.

Bird: There is a 30-second cut that is very visually striking and emotive that will capture people's attention. It invites them to watch the full film. The full film aims to tell the complete story and the complexities of that journey for better or worse. The hope with the longer film is that the audience has enough time to really connect with Vivian on a deeper emotional level. So, when the ending comes, they feel the heavy weight of the message.

How realistic is the narrative? You based it on actual events?

Bonnici: This idea came from a multitude of stories pulled from news around the world. It wasn't one or two stories. It was hundreds of stories. The stats around the hate and violence that the transgender community faces is mind boggling. We also had access to individuals from the community who could validate the nuances. These include, for example, the process of getting new identification, like a passport, and how meaningful that is. Or the interpersonal relationships with family members. All of the scenes are pulled from one story or another—and, unfortunately, the ending is as well.

Can you talk about putting the project together?

Bird: The casting was incredibly important. We held callbacks in Toronto, Vancouver and New York, searching for our three hero performers. We wanted to find amazing people that have real-life experiences they could draw on. It was also important that our heroes had diverse backgrounds and gender diversity, so that we could show a wide range of the trans and non-binary community. We created opportunities for our three actors to bond before the shoot, so they could develop a natural chemistry.

How will the film be used? Is there any paid media?

Bonnici: The film will be posted on YouTube and supported in numerous ways. We already have several national news stories and interviews lined up. Activists and allies from fields such as entertainment and politics will be sharing it en masse. We have 30-second cut-downs and donated media on national networks.

If the campaign could achieve just one thing, what would that be?

Bird: I hope this film can introduce the audience to transgender and non-binary characters and help them understand that all they want is to live rich and fulfilling lives like any CIS-gendered person. Choosing violence is never the right answer, and we need mindsets to change in order to create a safer world.

Bonnici: Empathy, acceptance, allyship, education. We have so much to achieve when it comes to the world's treatment of the transgender community that achieving one thing isn’t even close to what we need to do.


Campaign Title: "Short Life Stories"
Client: White Ribbon
Executive Director: Humberto Carolo
Senior Program Manager: Louise Moyer
Director of Marketing and Communications: David Garzon

Agency: Bensimon Byrne/Narrative
Chief Creative Officer: Joseph Bonnici
Executive Creative Director: Debbie Chan
Creative Director: David Mueller
Associate Creative Director: Ana Segurajauregui Sanchez
Art Director: Nina Hang
Writers: Ana Segurajauregui Sanchez, Nina Hang, David Mueller
Producer: Katie Link
Business Lead: Pat Martini
Program Director: Oliver Glover
Account Director: Cole Douglas
Senior Account Manager: Olutunu Oyelola
Account Managers: Kayla Metcalfe, Rachel Romu, Samantha Sartor, Sreeja Sasidharan
Media Planner: Karin Julman
Digital Media Planner: Athena Bantis
Associate Director of Social Content: Rebecca Milner
Production Company: Westside Studio
Director: Angie Bird
Executive Producer: Amanda Morrison
Producer: Michelle Woodward
Director of Photography: Daniel Grant

Editorial: School Editing
Editor: Izzy Ehrlich
Assistant: Zhenya Dolzikov
Post Production Producer: Yumi Suyama

Transfer: AlterEgo
Colorist: Eric Whipp
Producer: Spencer Butt

Post Production: Fort York
Online Artist: Melissa Vasiliev
Online Producer: Valerie Moss

Sound Design: Oso Audio
Music Licensing: Oso Audio
Track: "Praise You" by Hannah Grace
Creative Directors: Daenen Bramberger, Harry Knazanå
Producer: Lauren Dobbie, Jane Heath

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