United Nations ad plays on unboxing videos to end transphobia in India

The United Nations Program on HIV and AIDS (UNAIDS) has launched a campaign with creative agency FCB India. He hopes to use the power of creative storytelling to educate wider communities about the rights of transgender children.

It is a harsh truth that the issue of marginalization of transgender children, which is universal, in most cases remains hidden for a long time. To address this issue and bring their story to a wider audience, UNAIDS launched the ‘Unbox Me’ campaign.

Speaking to The Drum, Mahesh Mahalingam, Director, Global Communications and Advocacy, UNAIDS, said: “The initiative, both the film and the ‘Unbox me’ project, is a first of its kind, showcasing a problem with sensitivity and with impact, which most are afraid to point out.

Swati Bhattacharya, Creative Chairperson of FCB India, said: “In the case of trans children, they have to hide their treasure box because some of their most prized possessions do not fit the gender norm that society expects them to be. them that they comply. ”

The film was released ahead of International Transgender Day of Visibility which falls on March 31.

The data tells a sad story

According to a study by the Indian Journal for Psychology, 31% of transgender people in India end their lives by suicide and 50% of them have attempted suicide at least once before their 20th birthday.

Research shows that transgender children feel uncomfortable about their gender from an early age – as young as two years old – when they begin to lock up their true gender identity and can it away as a secret. The lack of societal inclusiveness adds to their misery and ultimately leads to an unloved childhood.

To bring this issue to the mainstream, UNAIDS and creative agency FCB India worked on the “Unbox Me” campaign as a creative exploration of the theme of secrecy and concealment, which most of these children experience. , but that transgender children go through. in a psychologically debilitating way.

According to Swati Bhattacharya, Creative Chairman of FCB India, who conceptualized both this campaign and the ‘mirror’ film, “Many prominent people in the community unboxed the boxes on their social media feeds, sharing their feelings and thoughts. as the reality of countless children suppressing their minds became a tangible reality that could be experienced.

The solution lies in all stakeholders – parents, teachers, family members and community leaders – beginning to accept all children as they are.

The “unbox” story

The campaign is based on a very simple but powerful idea: children love to create hidden places where they can safely hide their valuables. But for trans children, this act of hiding treasures becomes a way of hiding their identity from disapproving eyes.

In 2021, UNAIDS had launched the “see me as I am” campaign to raise awareness of gender identity issues among children.

Mahalingam, says, “The ‘mirror’ short film was so successful that many members of the community approached us with their stories of what it was like to grow up as a child. They shared their memories and the objects they identified with their childhood.

“This led to the idea of ​​taking their memory boxes and presenting them to the community, influencers and opinion makers so they can step into the shoes of transgender children and spread the message of inclusion. “, he adds.

The creative treatment was kept simple, with Bhattacharya interviewing people, and through the interviews the unboxing stories were told, she shares.

Interestingly, the videos are a play on popular unboxing videos, in which people unbox gadgets and toys – but this time the unboxings have a much deeper meaning.

Movie “Unpack Me” (2022)

The Movie ‘Mirror’ (2021)

Harnessing the power of storytelling to amplify social issues

Mahesh Mahalingam began his career in advertising before devoting the past 30 years to AIDS response programs. He believes that over the past three decades advertising and public service communication have become an integral part of development communication and when done well, storytelling is the best form of change.

To amplify the stories of transgender children to a wide audience, the creative rollout was done with a plan – the staging film, followed by first-person stories, then getting influencers to immerse themselves in the stories at the first person, was the order followed.

Bhattacharya adds, “With this simple and powerful campaign, we want the viewer to be the activist and use the box as a tool to help change the narrative of this social issue to one of acceptance and inclusion.”