Undefeated charts a day in the life of Blessing, a fictional character onscreen, but one whose experiences throughout the film, from what’s said about her in fear and ignorance, right down to the abuse that’s hurled at her on the bus, are all real-life stories. The character of Blessing is a jigsaw, put together with pieces of life experience from young people living with and affected by HIV attending Body & Soul’s Teen Spirit youth group. That’s what makes Undefeated so heart-breaking, but also so effective.
The natural empathy that we feel towards Blessing and by extension towards those hundreds of young people who we as the audience are told have fed into the story, is exactly what Life in my Shoes is all about. The campaign, the films and the classroom education resource that also launched online last week all rely on appealing to our empathic natures, on asking us to put ourselves in the shoes of someone who is like us, only different. It could be someone who is HIV positive, someone who is bullied, or someone who is ostracised from their own communities.
Empathy is in our nature. It just needs a little nurture. Life in my Shoes does just that.
What we’re so proud of with Life in my Shoes is that the film, the resource and their messages go far beyond HIV. Yes, HIV is the campaign’s vehicle to challenging stigmatising behaviours and yes, we are committed to challenging the ignorance and misinformation that complicates and so negatively impacts the public perception of HIV, but we know that our resources, films, lesson plans and speakers inspire far more than a thorough grounding of HIV basics.
In 2011 the Sex Education Forum carried out a survey which revealed 1 in 4 young people did not learn about HIV at school. When HIV is being taught, lessons tend to focus only on the science and transmission, but rarely does it extend to the social side of HIV, which we know is what young people want to know more about. As one young person recalls:
“We went into depth in an AS biology lesson but nothing has been mentioned about the stigma attached or any of the more important emotional side of it.”
There is an appetite for more information from young people and that’s where we hope Undefeated can play a part. The film is shot and produced in a way that we believe hits home; it provides a narrative that they can relate to, and that’s the key here; a resource which young people feel they can connect to in some way.
We have been overwhelmed with the positive feedback that we have received over the past few years about the film – from the thousands of young people who have seen it in their classrooms, conferences and cinemas, to the teachers, sex education professionals and clinicians who know the importance of speaking to young people in a language, tone and medium that they understand. As Life in my Shoes becomes a resource that can be delivered nationwide and beyond, we are excited to see how the messages are taken up and incorporated into the attitudes and behaviour of young people.
Emily Kerr-Muir, Campaign Director, Life in my Shoes
Body and Soul is a core member of the Sex Education Forum.