The story goes: the perfect recipe for a viral charity video in Africa is barren ground, unidentified shoeless Black children, conflicted mothers gazing off into the distance, a fly gliding over still puddles of gravel water, a white voice as an overlay, and a link to donate at the very end.
Charity and philanthropic pursuits have been part of human existence for centuries, from both a genuine human perspective and as a social and political tool to retain power and influence. As the ages pass, it might be high time to recentre the conversation about what our philanthropy looks like. When we’ve gone past the actual act of giving, what happens in and around that? For popular YouTubers, what was the process of producing the video?
For a rising politician, is there a conversation about using images of poverty-stricken communities to, yes, help, but also further an agenda?
Over the years, we have seen countless initiatives from large corporate organizations, small businesses, successful entrepreneurs, celebrities, and more recently influencers and content creators. The goal? To help people around the world. The vehicle? A photo album as evidence, a YouTube video, an Instagram reel, or some sort of visual documentation that goes beyond just the act of charity.
The common argument is that these assets could never be self-aggrandizing but are there to inspire others to either join in or make their own change. Whilst this is generally true, there is something to be said about the quality of messaging that self-proclaimed philanthropists create and maintain. What of the women, men, and children who are part and parcel of why these messages tug on the heartstrings of first-world viewers?
The following three videos are good examples of how a noble pursuit can easily devolve into something unrecognizable. Trying to help the less fortunate can often be co-opted into commercial videos, images, and product-driven messages, rather than about the dignity of the people being assisted in the first place.
Mr. Beast purchases 20,000 shoes for vulnerable South African school children
Giving 20,000 Shoes To Kids In Africayoutu.be
If you have the slightest interest in outrageous and dopamine-inducing YouTube videos, you’ve probably come across a Mr. Beast (Jimmy Donaldson) video. His titles are provocative and inviting enough for anyone to deep dive into the world of video content creation. “1000 Blind People See For The First Time,” “We Saved An Orphanage,” “We Built Wells In Africa” and “Giving 20, 000 Shoes To Kids In Africa.” If you’re interested in the well-being of humanity, these titles might drag you right to these videos. Whilst noble in pursuit, it might be time to continue asking questions.
In the “Giving 20, 000 Shoes To Kids In Africa” video, Beast Philanthropy heads to the Western Cape Province in South Africa to deliver school shoes to disadvantaged children. In partnership with the Barefoot No More organization based in South Africa, Beast Philanthropy was able to organize elaborate shoe handovers for nine different schools in the Western Cape. It can’t be argued that the children who received the school shoes were better for it, but the video itself as a mode of communication is marred with drips of hyperbole and mistruths that fracture the overall picture.
The voice-over remarks that children in South Africa often find themselves entirely shoeless and the day the Mr. Beast foundation arrived was the day many of the children received their “first pair of shoes ever.” The shots of barren land and dilapidated infrastructures harken back to the ‘right’ concoction of footage to garner sympathy from Western audiences.
The multiple close-up shots of shoeless school children leave the viewer to wonder what the process of consent from their parents and guardians was for their participation. If charity, specifically that which is directed towards African children, is the goal, then how they are represented in these videos should always be just as much of a concern.
The video has faced criticism online, with many expressing sentiments about the sensationalism of the video. To which Mr. Beast remarked on Twitter that “our charity owns this channel, I thought it’d be fun to use my fame to create a loop of helping. Film good deed, inspire millions of kids to do good, use revenue from good deed to do next good deed.” It must also be noted that Mr. Beast isn’t the first and won’t be the last to engage in this version of philanthropy.
How To Build A School In Africa With Jerry Rig Everything
How to Build a School in Africa?! - Thank YOU!!www.youtube.com
The video details the process from fundraising all the way to the construction of a school in Kenya. Zack and his wife Cambry are welcomed into the community with a warmth that isn’t uncommon in many close-knit African cities, villages, and urban areas. There’s a level of reverence, however, that the community seems to attach to the couple on their immediate arrival that elevates them to somewhat of a stately position.
The couple is gentle, thoughtful, and intentional in their interaction with the community and the documentation of school building provides an interesting perspective that not many see. Whilst the actions are commendable, what sticks out again in this video is the presence of Kenyan children in their numbers, teachers, and workers.
With the focus squarely on the couple, one almost forgets that the children and adults in the background are people and not props that go along with the sandy roads and lush terrain.
The content that comes along with this type of charity work often, whether intentionally or not, plays into the narratives of powerlessness and lack of agency in these communities that are often referred to by country or continent.
About Serving Orphans Worldwide
About Serving Orphans Worldwidewww.youtube.com
About one minute into this video the line — “the church is the solution to the orphan crisis” appears in the middle of the screen. The viewer sees elegant montages of children from different countries interacting with each other. A representative of Serving Orphans Worldwide remarks that in addition to assistance from their organization, they offer an opportunity for children to grow in their relationship with Christ.
Again we see a promotional video that’s extremely intentional with the messaging in the voice-over narration, choice of camera shots, and overall tone. The agenda is clear — to assist vulnerable children without families from across the globe, but also to promote a Christian message. Whilst it might be noble in intent, what does it mean to offer refuge that comes with subtle conditions?
Countless people around the world benefit from the charity of organizations, people, and leaders. At the same time, in a continent with hundreds of indigenous faiths, why are African children being pointed to faith as their way out of poverty? In a country like South Africa, why are townships being referred to as rural areas? How does an umbrella remark like, “these are their first pair of shoes ever,” make it into the final cut of the video?
Do we forego asking questions about the presence of a well-meaning white man in the building of a school just because he was part of financing it? To say there are only problems and that there’s nothing to be done might be the easy way out. It is possible for content creators and organizations who use video as their method of promotion for charity and philanthropy, to do it better.
When creating content for charity, the Devil is in the details
When you travel to countries in Africa, say their names in your video. If your beneficiaries struggle to speak English, get a translator, subtitle your video, and tell viewers what language they’re speaking. If you feel like you need dozens of children in your video, get consent from each and every one of their guardians — and if that doesn’t strike you as important, ask yourself why.
If you’re going to use a voice-over for narration, make sure that it’s accurate. When you’re filming shots and b-roll to support your video, think about whether you might be sensationalizing the content to pander to your audience at the cost of the people you’re trying to help. I’d like to think that poverty and displacement can never be a reason for anyone’s personal autonomy, dignity, and choice to be ignored.
In a world where content creation and philanthropy continue to intersect, the devil will always be in the details.