The Directing Change Program & Film Contest engages students and young people throughout California to educate them on the topics of suicide prevention and mental health, and the short films and art that youth create for the program are utilized to support awareness, education, and advocacy efforts on these topics. By participating in Directing Change, youth learn about mental wellness, as well as how to help those around them who might be struggling.
Directing Change was founded on the idea that stories are one of the most powerful tools for elevating conversations around critical health topics, changing norms, challenging harmful perceptions, and inspiring action toward more inclusive communities. When crafted with care and completed with authentic writing and characters, movies, shows, songs, and other media can open hearts and minds to change – and can help audiences feel less alone. Directing Change recognizes content and creators that do an exemplary job of elevating conversations about mental health on an annual basis, driven by the conviction that shining a light on quality storytelling is worthwhile and can have a positive influence – not only on entertainment, but also on audiences and society more broadly.
Directing Change is excited to announce its 2023 honorees. Together, these advocates, shows, films, documentaries, and creators are working to normalize open discussion of mental health and suicide prevention topics, destigmatize important health issues for viewers from all walks for life, and encourage a culture of help-seeking and emotional support.
- Mental Health Trailblazer – Taraji P. Henson
- Show with Outstanding Messaging around Mental Health – Ginny & Georgia
- Film with Outstanding Messaging around Suicide Prevention – Close
- Film with Outstanding Messaging around Mental Health – The Fallout
- Show with Outstanding Messaging around Mental Health and Suicide Prevention – Modern Love
- Animated Film with Exemplary Messaging around Social Emotional Learning and Culture – Turning Red
- Animated Short with Exemplary Messaging about Mental Health – If Anything Happens I Love You
- Mental Health Documentary – Angst
- Mental Health Documentary – Hiding in Plain Sight: Youth Mental Illness
- Mental Health Documentary – A Trusted Space: Redirecting Grief to Growth
Below are some of our justifications for these awards, aspects of their stories that impressed us, and places where the creators helped set an improved standard for depictions of mental health challenges and topics.
Taraji P. Henson
Award: Mental Health Trailblazer
Acclaimed actor Taraji P. Henson is a stalwart advocate for mental health, consistently using her platform and visibility to spearhead and support initiatives designed to reduce stigma, educate on critical topics, remove barriers, and provide resources. Henson is the founder of the Boris Lawrence Henson Foundation, whose projects include the Unspoken Curriculum campaign – working to improve school environments and reduce their negative impact on the wellbeing of Black students – and the BLHF Scholarship Fund for African Americans pursuing mental health educations and careers. Henson also hosts Facebook Watch series “Peace of Mind with Taraji,” which provides uplifting, authentic content centered on mental health topics. By speaking openly about mental health and the importance of combating stigma – as well as the impacts of cultural inequity and systems on intersecting oppression – Henson is helping to shape a healthier, more just society for all and is a shining role model for youth hoping to make a difference.
Ginny & Georgia(2021-2023)
Award: Show with Outstanding Messaging around Mental Health
Created by Sarah Lampert, Ginny & Georgia is a first-rate, youth-focused series which interweaves a range of mental health lessons into its storylines. While honoring the show as a whole, Directing Change would like to highlight its depiction of Ginny’s self-harm, mental health journey, and experiences with therapy, as well as the episode “Hark! Darkness Descends” (which focuses on the character Marcus and his struggles with worsening depression). Ginny & Georgia effectively engages with other important topics as well, including generational trauma, suicidal ideation, bullying, body image issues, gender and sexual identity, and more. The series also works to make seeking help for mental health challenges seem more approachable for viewers without obscuring the fact that healing often requires hard work. Directing Change also appreciates the way Ginny & Georgia shows art as a healthy coping outlet, encourages the replacement of unhealthy and avoidance behaviors with better alternatives, and demonstrates the far-reaching impacts of unaddressed trauma.
Award: Film with Outstanding Messaging around Suicide Prevention
Directed by Lukas Dhont, Close is a coming-of-age drama featuring an intimate bond that challenges toxic masculinity while calling out its potential for harm. With sensitive performances and a moving story, the film reminds viewers of the importance of creating safe spaces for boys to express emotions openly, allowing them to cry, hug, and love without fear or shame. Directing Change also celebrates Close for depicting educators and other adults as competent and caring in the wake of tragedy, thereby encouraging young people to reach out in times of need. At the same time, the film’s accurate depiction of how a survivor close to a deceased individual might perceive what others intend to be kind words as confrontational – or may lash out unfairly while navigating grief – is also crafted with care. With its nuanced and touching portrayal of both youth and the complex emotional web tying youth and parents together, Close is a truly special work of art.
The Fallout (2021)
Award: Film with Outstanding Messaging around Mental Health
The Fallout authentically navigates the complexity of emotional healing, as well as the incredibly real impacts of trauma on youth mental health. Writer/director Megan Park and actor Jenna Ortega (along with everyone else who contributed) have created a layered portrayal of youth grief, PTSD, and recovery. Though its subject matter is heavy, The Fallout teaches viewers vital lessons, among them the fact that trauma affects everyone differently and that a range of responses are valid; that healing isn’t linear and people need time and space to process traumatic events; that therapy should be accessible for young people but also requires trust; and that coping with negative events and emotions through substance use is maladaptive and unsustainable long-term. Directing Change also praises The Fallout for offering a raw depiction of surviving adversity centered on a young woman of color, and for tackling the long-term, ongoing effects of trauma head-on.
Modern Love (2019-2021)
Award: Show with Outstanding Messaging around Mental Health and Suicide Prevention
John Carney’s anthology series Modern Love traverses a range of sincere human emotions and mental health challenges with grace. In honoring the show, Directing Change celebrates the teams behind the episodes “Take Me as I Am, Whoever I Am” and “In the Waiting Room of Estranged Spouses” in particular. The performances in both are touching and raw, ultimately conveying vital messages of acceptance and hope. Regarding “Take Me as I Am, Whoever I Am,” Directing Change was especially impressed with the respectful portrayal of life with bipolar disorder and the message that viewers should not be ashamed of mental health conditions that might affect them. As for, “In the Waiting Room of Estranged Spouses,” Directing Change praises Modern Love for offering such a sensitive depiction of male pain – encouraging men and veterans to be more vulnerable and seek care for their mental health – as well as for demonstrating the importance of remaining connected to others even when it’s most difficult to do so.
Turning Red (2022)
Award: Animated Film with Exemplary Messaging around Social Emotional Learning and Culture
With Turning Red, Domee Shi became the first woman to receive sole directing credit for a Pixar feature. Her film follows a 13-year-old Chinese-Canadian girl and encourages viewers to embrace their unique qualities while feeling their feelings fully. Featuring a diverse and talented voice cast, Turning Red reaffirms the importance of cultural identity without negating the difficulty of balancing cultural expectations with individuality. The film teaches that feeling overwhelmed by emotions is part of life, normalizes struggles that children of immigrants often navigate, and acknowledges the complexity of mother/daughter relationships. Turning Red also has the potential to serve as a much-needed conversation starter on topics that are too often regarded as taboo, such as periods, female puberty and sexuality, and adolescent rebellion.
If Anything Happens I Love You (2020)
Honorable Mention: Animated Short with Exemplary Messaging about Mental Health – If Anything Happens I Love You
If Anything Happens I Love You is an animated short centered on two grieving parents as they struggle to process the death of their daughter following a school shooting. Directing Change thanks the filmmakers for their deft, respectful handling of such a sensitive topic. With its beautiful artwork, moving narrative, and lack of spoken dialogue, the film is a strong example of effective visual storytelling that teaches viewers not shut themselves off from others during dark times and shows that they can love, support, and honors those they care about, even amid tragedy. Directing Change was also impressed with the creative, deeply moving way the film illustrates the power of memory – as well as the role that power can play in processing the death of a loved one.
Award: Mental Health Documentary
Angst and its accompanying educational program, Angst: Building Resilience were designed for implementation in classrooms and are centered on raising awareness around anxiety. Written and produced by Scilla Andreen, the documentary helps normalize the discussion of mental health among young people – all the while demystifying a common mental health condition and teaching that there is hope for those who suffer from it. Additionally, Angst and Angst: Building Resilience were made available to all public middle schools and high schools in California through a partnership between iNDIEFLIX Education (now iMPACTFUL), the California Department of Education (CDE), CalHOPE, and BlueShield of California.
Hiding in Plain Sight: Youth Mental Illness (2022)
Award: Mental Health Documentary
Hiding in Plain Sight: Youth Mental Illness features firsthand accounts of living with mental illness from a range of young people. The film also gives voice to the parents, teachers, friends, and healthcare providers playing vital roles in the lives of these young people. Importantly, the film provides an honest look into what it’s like for youth to live with mental illness, as well as the experience of those trying to provide help. In doing so, the film encourages the normalization of seeking help for mental health conditions and shows that those who are struggling are not alone. Directing Change was also impressed by the way Hiding in Plain Sight: Youth Mental Illness reminds audiences that mental health concerns among young people must be taken seriously, demonstrates the interconnectedness of communities affected by mental health challenges, and provides hope to those who are struggling through the lived experiences of real people.
A Trusted Space: Redirecting Grief to Growth (2020)
Award: Mental Health Documentary
A Trusted Space: Redirecting Grief to Growth is a documentary and curriculum devised during the COVID-19 pandemic which features students, parents, teachers, and subject area experts. Created by the nonprofit All it Takes, the film and accompanying curriculum provide tools meant to help students and teachers navigate and better respond to grief, trauma, and anxiety. Importantly, the film reminds viewers of the power of human connection, all the while reassuring them that it’s normal to struggle with negative emotions, particularly when living through unprecedented circumstances. Directing Change also praises this documentary for encouraging students and teachers to work together to building environments that foster healing and reminding audiences of all ages that the need for mental and emotional wellbeing is something all people have in common.
Other projects Directing Change found noteworthy this year include Puss in Boots: The Last Wish(2022) and Baymax! (2022); even though these projects did not receive an award, their contributions to improved conversations and cultural understanding around mental health still merit celebration. Puss in Boots: The Last Wish teaches that even the bravest, most daring characters sometimes experience self-doubt and need support and provides a thoughtful, educational depiction of what it’s like to experience a panic attack. Baymax! is brimming with straight-forward, positive messaging that could be an effective gateway to more elaborate mental health lessons for young viewers and shows audiences the value of self-care, power of collaboration, and importance of reaching out to friends for help.
Congratulations to everyone who worked on these outstanding projects — thank you for putting such care into your work! This year’s group of distinguished honorees joins an esteemed list of works previously celebrated by Directing Change, including the teams behind shows such as This is Us, Never Have I Ever, All American, One Day at A Time, and Glee and the films Words on Bathroom Walls, According to Greta, It’s Kind of a Funny Story, Short Term 12, and The Road Within, among others.