In the UK, only 42 per cent of schoolchildren in the most deprived areas are able to swim, compared to 86 per cent in the least deprived areas, according to research from Black Swimming Association and Sport England. “Moreover”, the release from Speedo continues, “532,000 children from ethnically-diverse communities have missed out on swimming lessons due to the pandemic”. Speedo’s recent campaign Swim United, responds to this fact. In three films created by youth culture and purpose agency Livity and directed by Jess Kohl, Swim Stories “celebrates the joy of swimming”, as experienced by three real families who are underrepresented in the swimming community. But, when creating essentially commercial work, how do agencies and creatives tell real stories from marginalised communities in a way that’s truthful and nuanced?
“This isn’t easy,” Rani Patel, Livity’s director of cultural collaborations, tells It’s Nice That. “Often, when brands attempt to tell the stories of underrepresented cultures or communities, they end up subscribing to a generalised and diluted narrative which in turn fails to engage the audience they are trying to target. This raises further challenges for brands when it comes to authentically amplifying new voices and can render the word ‘diverse’ itself problematic and performative.”
Faced with navigating this complex territory, Livity emphasises the importance of telling more than one story on the project. The final series captured the experiences of Remi, “a mother of Caribbean-descent who reflects on the uniqueness of a childhood spent swimming at Brixton’s leisure centre,” Niran, “a father whose Keralan ancestry didn’t prioritise swimming, sharing in his daughter’s joy of the water every weekend,” and Cathy, “a single-mother to two young children, all three of whom were born with dwarfism, who is teaching her two daughters the joys of the pool”. All three stories sensitively explore each contributor’s personal experiences in and out of the water. To do it, director Jess Kohl used the filming process as a “platform” for stories.