June 20, 2023
Room to Read’s soon-to-be-released film series, She Creates Change, would not have been possible without an incredible all-women team of directors, animation artists, voice actors, composers, producers and writers curated by BAFTA-winning entertainment company, Nexus Studios. Each of these talented women brought a unique and diverse perspective to each film, helping bring the stories of six young women from Room to Read’s Girls’ Education Program to life.
Today, we’re excited to introduce Neeraja Raj, an animation director who led the production of Diksha’s short film, which tells the story of a girl from Nepal who overcame discrimination and went on to challenge unjust traditions and strive for gender equality in her community.
Neeraja is a director, writer, animator and highly imaginative and gifted storyteller. Her diverse portfolio showcases a range of techniques spanning stop-motion, puppetry, 2D and 3D animation, meaning she is uniquely positioned to select the best medium to tell authentic and emotionally captivating stories. She is able to create endlessly detailed and tactile worlds and capture heartfelt performances through carefully crafted characters.
Her National Film and Television School film “Meow or Never,” a beautifully crafted stop-motion madcap musical, quickly grabbed the attention of the animation industry. The piece was shortlisted for a student BAFTA and won Best Film at the 2020 Women in Animation Showcase, featured in a range of international animation publications and festivals. Her animated short, “The Girl Who Built a Rocket,” commissioned by WaterAid NGO, had a reach of 15.6 million people. The campaign led to a sharp increase in donations which meant even more communities could get access to clean water, the first line of defense against COVID-19. What could have been WaterAid's worst year ended up being their best year ever because of Neeraja’s powerful storytelling. She previously worked at Aardman Animations and Disney Animation. Most recently, she was featured in Variety magazine’s “Top 10 Animators to Watch, 2022” list and is a Forbes “30 Under 30” 2023 honoree.
Hear Neeraja’s story in her own words below.
Having grown up in a multitude of counties, from Indonesia to the United Arab Emirates to India, my formative years were spent in many different schools, perpetually the “new kid,” constantly adapting to change. I believe that the ever-shifting backdrop of my youth opened my mind from a very young age to a smorgasbord of ideas. Knowing people from all walks of life helped me create an open-minded view of the world, always welcoming new concepts and thoughts. And so, I am constantly creating, conjuring up stories out of incidents, people and more. Art and filmmaking were my guiding lights and where I found solace. Most of my films encompass fantastical tales, big dreams and ambitious characters. Music has been a solace and comfort to me, so I always aim to weave lyrical poetry and rhythm into my work — there is also an intangible universal language to melody that can't be replicated otherwise.
I was most inclined to tell Diksha's tale because it so closely mirrored my own experiences of growing up somewhere my skin was alien, and therefore, othered. I was darker than all of my Indonesian classmates in primary school, and I remember instances of bullying and micro-aggressions due to this very fact. Many Indian girls face this caste-based and color-based discrimination even today; this is not just Diksha's tale, but mine, and so many other little kids who feel lost.
I hope to empower young girls through Diksha's story, taking them through the narrative of how she took control of her own agency. There is potential in each one of us. Sometimes, a film is all it takes to open one's eyes to their unlocked power.
Girlhood is an unstoppable moving force. With this film, I wanted to embrace the soft power of femininity and the quiet confidence of inner beauty. With one little change, like Diksha's acceptance of her skin, comes more — it is a ripple effect that widens inexplicably; with one girl believing in herself, and another, then another. Change begins with small steps!
The She Creates Change film series, which will be released in October 2023 to commemorate International Day of the Girl, aims to reach all 432 million adolescent girls globally with content and educational curriculum that supports them in creating change in their communities.
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