Breaking the Narrative main content.

Breaking the Narrative

women sitting in driving seat of car wearing helmet.

Welcome to the Mead

Imagine you’re watching the news and you see the following headlines—what goes in the blanks? A group of Indigenous Australian _______a. An ultra-orthodox ________b in Israel. A young woman ________c in Saudi Arabia.

Whatever you’d typically see on that relentless 24-hour news cycle is not what these stories are about. Whether it’s breaking down stereotypes, breaking up norms, or just breaking out of the mold, this year, the Margaret Mead Film Festival celebrates all the ways that people around the world are breaking the narrative. 

This year’s theme speaks to the active disruption of stereotypical representations of cultures. It’s a recognition and rejection of the ways communities are portrayed as “other” or “exotic” on film. These stories defy our expectations and center new perspectives.

One exciting way we are bringing new voices to light and challenging traditional narratives is through the Collectively centerpiece, which highlights three unique film collectives that are empowering members of diverse communities within the United States to tell their own stories.

We are also breaking the narrative by presenting film in a diversity of styles, from immersive 360 video in our VR lounge to sweeping historical saga of American voting rights in Let the People Decide to personal diary about living with disability in When We Walk.

As the Museum celebrates its 150th anniversary, the institution is also examining the narratives represented in its cultural exhibitions—the Collaborations in Cultural Storytelling dialogue explores how the Museum is reconsidering and updating cultural representation in the Northwest Coast Hall. 

While you are here, we hope you also break up your own path through the Mead and engage in something new at the Museum—explore the special exhibition T. rex: The Ultimate Predator, check out the Hayden Planetarium Space Show, or visit the blue whale in the Milstein Hall of Ocean Life.

Whether it’s in the movie theater, over drinks at a Mead mixer, or in one of our dynamic dialogues, we look forward to breaking the narrative—together with you—at the Mead!

Thank you,

Bella Desai

adrag queens (Black Divaz)

bfeminist (Covered Up)

cracecar driver (Saudi Women’s Driving School)


In Their Own Words 

Filmmakers reflect on the Mead’s 2019 theme, Breaking the Narrative:

Freedom Fields is about smashing the narrative of victim, smashing the narrative of other, and smashing the narrative of voices from the region being told through the lens of sensationalist news and a predominantly western viewpoint. With Freedom Fields, we hope to provide an alternative that is punk, kickass, yet still tender and centrally human. In the age of travel bans, xenophobia and fear, I believe breaking the status quo and offering up nuance, tactility, community, and passion in its place is more important than ever.”

—Naziha Arebi, Freedom Fields

“Almost every documentary from Greenland starts off with a shot of an iceberg or some other dazzling scenery of nature. In Winter’s Yearning, the first scene you meet after the film’s title is a man drying his hair with a hairdryer. From the very beginning, it’s been our objective to come with alternative perspectives, different voices, and therefore new stories from Greenland.”

— Sturla Pilskog, Winter’s Yearning

“I remember realizing in grade school, the images I saw of Ethiopia were told by non-Ethiopians and often in connection to famine, poverty, and aid. My early childhood was spent in a rural village, and in a way, I am telling my own story. I understand the joy and hardships that come with being from such an isolated and rural part of the country, the complexities of climate change and how it really effects young girls.”

—Gelila Bekel, MAi: Life is Not Honey

“The narrative of Easter Island has always been one of collapse, destruction, and an ancient culture that has forever disappeared. By pulling the cameras away from our moai and aiming them at the Rapanui who are working on a sustainable future for our planet, we are actively changing the misconceptions of our culture.”

— Sergio M. Rapu, Eating Up Easter

“I think that ‘breaking the narrative’ is the only way to write history. My aesthetic approach—be it by chance, by stubbornness, or in order to disturb others—has been to look outside of traditional forms to find a new way of telling a story, of making documentaries. Guardian of Memory is a very personal search and an attempt to fight against massification, dehumanization, globalization.”

— Marcela Arteaga, The Guardian of Memory