The Backstory…Behind The Backstory

Pictured from left to right: Jasmine Jones, Liz Ramirez, Kristen Hotz and Danielle McLean
Pictured from left to right: Jasmine Jones, Liz Ramirez, Kristen Hotz and Danielle McLean

In spring 2011 the four of us – all underclassmen at James Madison University – were taking a class called Writing for New Media, where we had the opportunity to learn about many of the recent, innovative ways that campaigns have used interactive media

When another student in our class discovered that mtvU had put out a challenge for college students to come up with their own concept design, we were all immediately inspired. We all decided to form a group and use this challenge as a sort of framework for an in-class project.

The project is actually what brought us together. We didn’t really know each other before, but one of the reasons we made such a good group, was that each of us chose to work on the project, because it was something that we were all passionate about.

We had all heard about human trafficking abroad, but what we learned when we began our research for this project, was what a serious issue it was in the United States. According to The National Human Trafficking Resource Center hotline, incidences of human trafficking were reported in all 50 states in 2012. In our research, we found out that there were a lot of misconceptions about how people are brought into this life. It’s commonly assumed that people are abducted, but the reality is that many are psychologically coerced.

We were inspired by the stories of real life survivors and wanted to make the topic of human trafficking more personal and relatable to the average college student. It’s easy to become numb to statistics, but when you watch an individual’s story and are able to interact with it, it makes the issue much more real. The more awareness we have for this issue, the more we can to do prevent it and to protect the victims of human trafficking.

video clip from The Backstory
video clip from The Backstory

So after dozens of hours of brainstorming, we submitted our proposal for “The Backstory,” an interactive video experience that explains how many are led down this path. “The Backstory” draws you in by turning you into a central character in a developing storyline. It all starts by having you select one of several provocative ads, and you slowly learn the painful stories behind the people involved in the seemingly innocuous posts.  As the experience progresses, the backstory of the victims is illustrated through a powerful series of videos featuring dancers from Ailey and narration read by rapper Talib Kweli, all of which was inspired by a compilation of real-life survivor stories. And though social media you can further become immersed in “The Backstory” by connecting to Facebook during the experience. We encourage you to try it out at

It was important to us to give students the opportunity to get involved with the issue when they interact with the videos. Human trafficking is an issue that’s been getting a lot of attention on college campuses across the country and we wanted that to build through our work with mtvU’s Against Our Will Campaign, which is specifically designed for students. So “The Backstory” connects users with simple steps to take action against modern-day slavery, from rallying for laws that support the rights of trafficking survivors to discovering how their actions could inadvertently be supporting modern-day slavery.

“The Backstory” allows students to visually and audibly connect with the reality of today’s slavery, in the same way that we connected with the stories of survivors. We hope that this will spark the same passion we have for this issue in other students, and inspire them to take action.


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