The best session I attended at World Future Society was called “Conscious Evolution”. The overall theme was leveraging the arts and broadcast media to create positive change in society. Who knew? One of the panelists was Sandra de Castro Buffington, Director of Hollywood Health & Society program at the USC Annenberg Norman Lear Center. A scientist by training, she has devoted her life to working on projects [many award winning] that educate and bring about new behaviors to improve health in underdeveloped regions. Surprised when first recruited to be director of this organization that involved working with Hollywood producers and script writers, Sandra realized the power of the position to make change.
Working in conjunction with CDC and other medical resources, she and her small staff provide script-writers and producers with stories about physical, mental, and emotional traumas that they can weave into their storylines if they so choose. Two shows HH&S often partner with are House and Grey’s Anatomy [confession; I’m a big fan of both]. When story lines play out, the show’s website provides information to viewers who want to learn more about the disease or injury- where to go for help and what to do in the meantime. Maybe you’d expect that for these medical shows. But it goes beyond them. She talked about one of their biggest successes: a subplot in Bold & the Beautiful where one of the main characters finds out he is HIV positive and eventually tells his fiance. When the story appeared on TV, the CDC HIV hotline received record-setting number of calls.
Wanting to raise awarenesss about the plight of people in 3rd world countries, Sandra arranged for a field trip for a small group of writers and producers to some of the poorest areas of South Africa and India. As she told me, she had spent years living in communities without running water in remote regions but these conditions were worse. People lived in the garbage dumps, rummaging for food. The group met girls who had been caged and forced to work as prostitutes. The impact was profound- probably life-altering for this Hollywood group. Don’t be surprised if you find these stories appearing in one form or another woven into TV or movie plots.
I want to share more about Sandra- but in her own words. I’ll be posting a video with part of my interview with Sandra within the next couple of weeks.