Challenging Narratives Through Film

By Keneth Gadian | Active Vista Center

Films have always been a powerful medium for storytelling. They can transport us to different worlds, make us feel a range of emotions, and provide us with new perspectives. But can films change the world?

As artists, filmmakers, and storytellers, we are no strangers to the concept of narratives. Narratives are the backbone of the stories we tell. They shape our understanding of the world, influence how we navigate it, and have the power to change our culture and consciousness. This is why it’s important to recognize that everyone contributes to narrative-making, from storytellers to social media managers to engaged audiences. Think about the narrative of Maria Clara, the prim and proper Filipina, or the narrative of the Overseas Filipino Workers Dream promising many of our kababayans that “going abroad is the best way to move up in life”, or most significantly, the narrative of “Activism is Terrorism” capitalizing on the beliefs on peace and order, that submissive equates to peaceful.

In talking about narratives, it is good to note that not all narratives are true. Harmful messages, stereotypes, and stories are told and repeated enough to build false narratives that, over time are questioned less and less and eventually accepted as truth. These narratives hold power, shape behavior, and they can be weaponized through laws and policies. For example, the narrative of beauty being equated with fair skin has been perpetuated in our culture for generations. This has led to a billion-dollar skin whitening industry that profits off of people’s insecurities about their skin color. It has also led to discrimination against people with darker skin tones, including in job opportunities.

This is where narrative change-making comes in. Narrative change-making is about dismantling dominant narratives and building our own desired narratives. It’s about intervening in narratives to challenge harmful messages and introduce new voices, perspectives, and information.

Films play a crucial role in narrative change-making. They create culture, and culture leads to change. While filmmakers don’t write policy recommendations, they introduce new narratives, voices, and information so that policy recommendations can be understood in a new light. They create cultural moments that open up opportunities for people to make new connections. Films tell the stories of people and show the humanity in their living conditions, which plays an important role in helping our audiences make the connection between broader issues, ideas, or people’s lives. Filmmakers bring new perspectives to an issue and see the story within an issue in a new way, providing much-needed focal points to help others see it too.

For example, when there were moves in 2016 at the House of Representatives to lower the minimum age of criminal responsibility (MACR) in the Philippines, the documentary “Bunso” by Ditsi Carolino was instrumental in urging people to sign a petition against this move. Its message was simple yet powerful: “Jail is no place for a child.”

But cultural change or narrative change is not done individually or in isolation, by chance, or at one time. It is a collective, intentional, consistent, and persistent sustained effort over time. Cultural change is collective work. Moreover, films are only one part of a bigger movement toward social transformation since social progress is about more than the direct outcomes of a campaign. It’s also about the process: how we convene, how people feel about their participation, and what we leave behind when a film or project moves on. In this way, the process of filmmaking itself can be emancipatory if the filmmaker’s practice is also emancipatory.

So, can film change the world?

We believe that a film may not change the world, but it can change the way we view the world. It can challenge dominant narratives, introduce new voices and perspectives, and create cultural moments that lead to change. Narrative change-making is about intervening in harmful narratives and building our own desired narratives, and films play a crucial role in that process.



Active Vista is an institution established by DAKILA to facilitate the learning process of empowering citizens to become agents of social change. Through the power of the creative form as a mode of education in shaping critical thought and fostering spaces of discourse toward transformative learning, it provides access to socially relevant films to raise awareness, spark reflections and conversations, and encourage meaningful actions.


Narrative Change Talk for  POV & Sinepiyu by Active Vista (May 2, 2023)
Climate Story Lab – Social Impact Filmmaking Lecture by Leni Velasco (November 27, 2023)

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COMMUNE also seeks to build a resilient force of human rights workers dedicated to advancing the Human Rights Sector as a whole.

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