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Apr 4, 2024

Empathy Across Social Boundaries: The Other Side of the Other (video)

The empathy that arises when we imagine ourselves “in the clothes or skin” of someone from a different walk of life is a virtue associated with human flourishing.

By Templeton Staff with Usina da Imaginação

The empathy that arises when we imagine ourselves “in the clothes or skin” of someone from a different walk of life is a virtue associated with human flourishing.

In the videos below, see how fictional films serve as a vehicle for children and teens to put themselves in the place of a young person from a socio-economic background other than their own.

n 2016, Kurt Shaw, Rita de Cácia Oenning da Silva, and their team at Usina da Imaginação conducted a small-scale social experiment involving groups of children from different socioeconomic backgrounds in Brazil. Children residing in a favela participated in creating a short fictional video of how they imagined rich kids live, while children from an upper-middle-class condominium created a short video depicting how they imagine life in the favela. Each group then screened their respective movies to the other, followed by bringing the children together for two days of spontaneous play, first in the favela and then in the apartment complex. Footage from the entire experiment was transformed into a 52-minute documentary.

“We had expected the project to challenge prejudice and overcome segregation, but we had not expected how it would stimulate under-cultivated virtues: compassion, empathy, hope, solidarity, friendship, and joy,” says da Silva.

“We had expected the project to challenge prejudice and overcome segregation, but we had not expected how it would stimulate under-cultivated virtues: compassion, empathy, hope, solidarity, friendship, and joy.” - Rita da Silva

An expanded version of this social experiment was planned to take place in 2020 with four groups of kids. But as the restrictions of the pandemic became apparent, the Usina team realized they could continue the project online. 

This stage of the project used fictional films as a way for children and teens to put themselves in the place of the other. There are two fictional movies of about 20 minutes each and a dozen interviews with the kids who participated.

Shaw explains a little about the process the team used to get the kids thinking about the movies. “First, we ask kids to imagine the other. That way, they put their expectations and prejudices out there and understand them as imaginary, as possibly wrong. Then, we ask them to play the role of that imaginary other through fictional film. They bring their imagination of the other into their own body — or as indigenous people in Brazil say, they ‘try on the clothes or the skin’ of the other. Experiencing the skin of the other — even in the imagination — is a first step toward empathy.”

We’re pleased to share two “behind the scenes” interviews with the young filmmakers.

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Above: Valentina, a participant in the project who worked on "Renata e os Monstros," explains when you use your imagination, "you see the world in a better way." She says, "Nature is made of magic. The fact that this planet exists is magic. That humans and animals are made up of little cells — that's magic too!" (5 minutes; The cc button on the bottom right of the video player reveals English subtitles.)

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Above: Arthur, a participant in the project who worked on O mistério da Floresta shares how this collaboration, fueled by imagination and comedy, inspired him to keep learning and creating with the future in mind, despite scary monsters that may appear. "Like my mom always said, 'Take on your fears!'" (5 minutes; The cc button on the bottom right of the video player reveals English subtitles.)

Below, please find and enjoy the two fictional films.

O mistério da Floresta (The Mystery of the Forest)

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Above: O mistério da Floresta (The Mystery of the Forest), 20 minutes. Summary: When two girls try to understand why the water has dried up in the waterfall where they love to bathe, they reveal a mysterious prospector and the way he manipulates a forest monster and a teenager addicted to video games. The cc button on the bottom right of the video player reveals English subtitles.

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Above: Renata e os Monstros (Renata and the Monsters), 17 minutes. Summary: In a small village that is quickly being paved, Renata's mother mysteriously disappears into a swamp. Renata, dissatisfied, searches for her mother and discovers a wonderful new world, full of mutant creatures, confined in the swamp. With them she uncovers her mother's disappearance but also the mayor's scheme to pave the entire city, destroying nature. The cc button on the bottom right of the video player reveals English subtitles.

A few other phases make up the project supported by a TWCF grant. One involved asking the children to imagine their dream city, and propose these visions to the city council. The results of the entire project include paintings and songs, and more than 40 films in the form of multiple short interviews with children about empathy and social change, music videos, and the 2 pieces of filmed fiction featured above.