UW News

June 24, 2010

Advocacy through the lens

In 2007 Michaela Leslie-Rule stepped into the UW Master of Public Health and Master of Public Administration degree programs with an extensive background as a performance artist. She now graduates with more to add to her list of artistic accomplishments. Her film Wanawake 8/8 Women, completed as part of her thesis research in Tanzania, will make its way to a world premiere at the Zanzibar International Film Festival July 16. She will present her research at the XVIII International AIDS Conference in Vienna July 21.

Her 10-minute film narrates stories from eight Tanzanian women who discuss their perspectives on intimate-partner violence and views on how to achieve gender equality. The women range from ages 18 to 39 with various religious, educational and childbearing backgrounds. Her primary goal was to create an opportunity for people in “study” or “targeted” populations to deliver their personal experiences to donors, non-governmental organizations and Tanzanian policymakers.

“You begin to ask yourself who is defining problems in a community,” she said. “If being forced to have sex is not considered a violent act by the community in which it occurs, then interventions which aim to respond or prevent this type of violence in that community may not be effective. People who need assistance may not self-identify as being at risk.”

Leslie-Rule grew up in Seattle, where she worked as a television actor. She went to New York University to receive her bachelor’s of fine arts in drama. She spent her early 20s working as a dancer and performing artist in various countries.

Her interest in pursuing public health concerns stemmed from examining social justice issues around the politics of HIV. Her work with prisoners in New York, Seattle, Switzerland and South Africa inspired her to turn to storytelling as an alternative to statistical representations of populations.

When she started her thesis project, she knew she wanted to do something that allowed her to creatively implement her research. With no film editing experience to begin with, she transformed her vision of film from using a FlipCam to a two-day studio shoot funded by EngenderHealth’s CHAMPION project.

“Because of my background as a performer and activist, I’m really interested in exploring the relationship between performance and politics and performance and social justice,” she said.

In May, Leslie-Rule presented her preliminary research findings, research methodology and sections of the film in a panel at the UW Women of Color Collective’s Dialoguing Difference conference.

She hopes to further disseminate the film to global health and nonprofit agencies. After her travels this summer, Leslie-Rule plans to continue working on advocacy strategies and one day start her own business through a lens (perhaps quite literally) of performance.

View a clip of “Wanawake 8/8 Women”  and keep up with Michaela through her blog, “fact.memory.testimony.”