Entertainment-Education is a social change strategy that incorporates an educational message into popular entertainment content in order to raise awareness, increase knowledge, create favorable attitudes and ultimately motivate people to take socially responsible action in their own lives. As a means of raising awareness of social issues and having a positive impact on changing culture and society, Entertainment-Education has been receiving increasing attention since the 1950’s in the scientific, media and academic communities. It is widely known that storytelling is one of the oldest methods of both entertainment and education. Since the beginning of time, it has served humanity as a source of cultural preservation and transfer of moral values. Stories have been painted, carved, scratched, printed or inked onto cave walls, wood and bones, pottery, clay, stone, leaf and skin, cloth, paper, silk, canvas and, most recently, recorded on film and in digital form.
Most commonly today, storytelling - and by extension Entertainment-Education - uses a combination of artistic forms such as oral narrative, music, dance, visual and the digital arts. Most recently, new technologies have added seamless interactivity and viewer participation to the process, drawing the audience even deeper into the subject matter. Entertainment-Education provides the viewer with new information and presents him/her with the consequences of the choices made by the story’s characters, allowing the viewer to make informed decisions and develop new ways of thinking that it may be appropriate for them to adopt personally and as members of their collective society.
The past and present impact of Hollywood and other production hubs around the world on cultural, social and economic issues around the globe is immeasurable. Examples of Entertainment-Education using film, television and new media are numerous and date back to the early 1900’s. Whether or not they were designed as Entertainment-Education programs, film, television and new media productions have often had great impact on society.
- Charlie Chaplin’s 1940 film, The Great Dictator, which offered a strong condemnation of fascism, anti-Semitism, Nazism and Hitler himself: parody, satire and comedy serving a point of view.
- Stanley Kramer’s Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, starring Katharine Hepburn, Spencer Tracy and Sidney Poitier depicted a couple whose attitudes are challenged when their daughter brings home a fiancé who is black. Until the landmark 1967 civil-rights case Loving vs. Virginia, that was decided just five months before the movie was released, marriage between blacks and whites was still illegal in parts of America, and Kramer’s film was groundbreaking for its willingness to tackle this taboo topic at a time when it was still highly contentious.
- Elia Kazan’s Gentleman’s Agreement is a 1947 drama film about a journalist (played by Gregory Peck) who goes undercover as a Jew to conduct research for an exposé on anti-Semitism in New York City and in the affluent community of Darien, Connecticut.
- Ed Zwick’s film, Blood Diamond, opened the world’s eyes to the suffering endured by the people and the profits generated by the warlords behind the diamonds trade. Fearing the film’s impact on fine jewelry sales, the Jewelry Consumer Opinion Council (JCOC), a research agency, conducted a consumer research study to determine the movie’s impact on the industry.
- Jeff Skoll's and Al Gore’s An Inconvenient Truth, directed by Davis Guggenheim, raised awareness in wide audiences on the topic of global warming, with three out of four viewers reporting a change in habits as a result of seeing the documentary.
- Terry George’s Hotel Rwanda – A historical account of the 1994 Rwandan genocide and how the world turned a blind eye through the experience of a hotel manager, Paul Rusesabagina, portrayed by Don Cheadle. The movie is now widely screened in American high schools – with the support of a teacher’s guide developed by Amnesty International USA – to help students explore the history of the crisis and to generate debate on strategies that could have been pursued to prevent the genocide. It is also a tool for analyzing what will be effective in the future when the international community confronts similar conditions.
- Television shows such as Friends, Grey’s Anatomy, ER, and Law & Order: SVU, as well as numerous daytime dramas and talk shows in the US and abroad have included social issues in their programming while achieving critical acclaim, audience following and commercial success. In an attempt to educate the public about the growing proportion of US families suffering from food insecurity, the renowned children’s program, Sesame Street, introduced a so-called “hungry Muppet”, Lily, who lives on a bread line.