Reporting on politically-motivated homophobic violence in the small Central Asian nation of Kyrgyzstan was a challenge. It required both sensitivity and innovation. Sensitivity because of the harrowing personal experiences of the interviewees and their very real security concerns. They did not want to be filmed. Innovation, because we felt a distinctive way of telling this important story would help maximize its impact as Kyrgyzstan gets less international media attention than its Russian neighbor.
To enable us to tell these powerful stories, we realized we would need to look beyond established ways of storytelling. We decided to sketch the people involved and produced a powerful multi-media which tell the harrowing story of a man from Kyrgyzstan who was kidnapped and raped – simply because he was gay. Illustrator Andrew North sketched the scenes from the victim’s story which were then animated and mixed with the man’s own voice. Animated drawings combined with video is still a relatively new digital storytelling technique and serve to bring the story to life in a way which would not have been possible through text alone. The final result is an immensely powerful piece of storytelling that is also beautiful in its simplicity.
The video achieved what we had hoped. It went viral and reached almost 300,000 people in Facebook alone. It was republished by the Guardian, EurasiaNet, USA Today and the Global Post and has been selected for screening at the Shropshire Rainbow Film Festival in the UK. Public Radio International interviewed the video’s author, Andrew North, and carried the video and further drawings on its website. The video was also republished and shared by a number of LGBT organisations and activists throughout the Former Soviet Union.
Andrew, the reporter and artist, received hundreds of interactions and likes on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Many prominent websites, organisations and individuals re-tweeted, liked or commented. Some were publications and writers who focus on the former Soviet Union, engaging with the political implications of the story. Many were people who said they were engaging with the story because of its multi-media treatment, using animated video and drawings alongside text.
The video was part of a two-part dispatch from the Kyrgyz capital by Andrew North. The same week the video was published, Coda ran a long form article accompanied with illustrations entitled ‘A Violent Tug-of-War Over National Identity’. The article placed the Kyrgyz proposed law on ‘gay propaganda’ in its national and regional context, and explored the impact that it has had on the Kyrgyz LGBTQ community. In tandem, the two pieces provide a rich, multi-media understanding of the LGBTQ crisis in Kyrgyzstan, its origins and its painful human cost.