World Festival of Animated Film /
short and feature edition 4 to 9 June 2018
World Festival of Animated Film / short and feature edition 4 to 9 June 2018
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Meena, a Girl from My Village: 20 Years of Animated Social Change in South Asia – Naima Alam (University of Tübingen, Germany)

This paper aims to take a deeper look into the main characters of one of UNICEF’s most successful Public Service Announcement (PSA) projects in South Asia, the Meena Communication Initiative. Meena is a nine-year-old South Asian girl who likes to learn and wants to make her village a better place. Meena (a cartoon series of the same name) was initially launched in 1998 in 4 chosen countries, Bangladesh, India, Nepal, and Pakistan, but today 20 years later it is dubbed in 30 languages and shown in ASEAN countries along with all SAARC countries.

Looking at the distressing conditions of girls’ rights in SAARC countries, the 1990s were declared as the “Decade of the Girl Child”. This is when Neill McKee, a UNICEF communication officer situated in Bangladesh, collaborated with William Hanna, co-owner of Hanna-Barbera Studios, at a workshop in Prague on March 1990 to come up with the idea for the animated series for development communication. Subsequently, UNICEF conducted eight years of formative research with around 2400 respondents to finalise the 13 episodes of 13 minutes animated shorts. Artists and writers from the four initial target countries sat in several workshops with the research findings to carefully visualize and give life to these characters.

What is remarkable about the characters is that audiences in each of these countries, including myself, thought these characters are from a nearby local village. The article will analyse the character design and interactions—including attire, personality, and dialogue delivery—of the main characters. The study will show how these characters remained relatable to millions of rural South Asian children and adults for the past 20 years.

Ms. Naima Alam is a research assistant and a PhD candidate in the Department of Media Studies at University of Tübingen. She is also a freelance animator who specializes in explainer videos. She recently developed explainers for awareness campaigns and events run for international development organizations such as Swisscontant, and International Finance Corporation. Prior to that she taught at the University of Liberal Arts Bangladesh (ULAB) as a Lecturer of Public Relations and Animation. At ULAB she helped develop the Animation Minor program and founded the #VoicelessBangladeshi project to teach PR students about community outreach through application of theory into practice. She obtained her MSc. in Media Studies and Journalism from Brunel University, London.