The Story of Scenarios USA
The history of the Scenarios project is a story of global partnership. Scenarios USA replicates and builds on the successes of Scenarios from the Sahel, a program developed by a coalition of West African organizations. Scenarios from the Sahel was inspired by and expands on a project created by a French organization working in AIDS prevention.
In 1993, in an effort to improve their understanding of what the youth knew about HIV/AIDS and where the system had failed them, a French AIDS prevention organization sponsored a film contest for young people, called “3000 Scenarios Against a Virus”. Prominent filmmakers, actors and production companies joined forces and produced 30 films, which reached a wide audience in France.
In 1997, news of the success of 3000 Scenarios Against A Virus inspired a team of AIDS activists based in Senegal to initiate a similar project in West Africa. Working in partnership with local organizations in Senegal, Mali and Burkina Faso, the team organized a competition for young people to write stories about HIV/AIDS – this project became Scenarios from the Sahel. In its first year, thousands of young people participated in the contest. The submissions came equally from urban and rural areas, including the bush, and were written by individuals and teams. In February 1998, the African Scenarios aired during television coverage of the World Cup and likely reached one hundred million people in Africa
In 1999, with support from Scenarios from the Sahel, Maura Minsky and Kristen Joiner started Scenarios USA in 2 high school classrooms, one in New York City and one in the Rio Grande Valley in South Texas. Students were asked to share their ideas and write stories about coming of age in the era of AIDS. Those stories would become Scenarios USA’s first films.
Scenarios USA grew from two classrooms of 50 students to engage over 100,000 students in our REAL DEAL program in our first decade. Students have responded with an outpouring of their stories – dramatic, comic, and sometimes tragic. Those stories have gone on to engage award-winning screenwriters and movie directors who have collaborated with the young writers to produce a growing library of films.
The REAL DEAL films get seen by an estimated 15 – 20 million a year in classrooms with lesson plans in all 50 states; they have aired on Showtime, BET, mun2, MTV, Oxygen, NYC Media’s Channel 25 and numerous cable access stations. Scenarios USA has been featured on ABC World News Tonight, The Today Show, NPR’s On the Media as well as in print and on-line outlets such as The New York Times, USAToday and about.com among other outlets. The REAL DEAL films have won numerous awards, including the Porter Novelli Award for Excellence and Innovation in Social Marketing, The Council on Foundation Henry Hampton Award for Excellence in Film & Digital Media, The Paul Robeson Award for Excellence in Independent Filmmaking twice, as well as two Emmys.
Our REAL DEAL program provides a unique and effective way for teenagers to utilize their voice and be heard by an audience they didn’t know they could have. We’ve been told that for teenagers to learn, you must talk to them. But at Scenarios USA, we do something just as important as talking. We listen. That’s the mandate we began with when we started the organization.