The Foreign Service Journal, March 2020

THE FOREIGN SERVICE JOURNAL | MARCH 2020 51 AFS has promoted science cooperation and STEM careers for girls via more than 120 free screenings of the blockbuster film “Hidden Figures” at U.S. posts overseas and helps filmmakers, writ- ers and producers “create more nuanced entertainment, the kinds of content that can spark public debate around important social issues,” according to Rachel GandinMark, AFS programdirector. Gandin Mark also confirms that AFS is only growing in popu- larity, with many posts requesting to screen box-office hits in tandemwith related programs on space exploration, diversity and inclusivity and other hot-button topics. Along similar lines, PD shops know what gets people in the door. In places like Georgia, Paraguay and Mexico, com- ics and popular arts programs have helped post meet policy goals around human trafficking, workforce development, STEM education, English learning, public health and more. They’ve accomplished this task through the multimodal, engaging and, dare I say, fun mediums of comics, superhero culture and film. Diversity and Representation— Reflections of America In terms of true inclusion and diversity, change is afoot, and the world has taken notice. Once again, popular arts can tell inspirational stories about gender, race, sexual orientation and other inequalities with authentic voices. For instance, the groundbreaking graphic novel trilogy, March , by Representative John Lewis (D-Ga.) gives civil society and political leaders an opening to learn about civil rights and transformational leadership in their own countries through embassy-led book clubs, speaker engagements or simply additions to the inventories of American Spaces facilities that provide opportunities for dialogue and hands-on activities overseas. The comic arts industry, which is grappling with its own lack of diversity, has begun to make the changes needed with unde- niable success. To understand the raw power of seeing ourselves in massive entertainment productions, take, for instance, the runaway popularity of the new Ms. Marvel, Kamala Khan, a Paki- stani American teenager from New Jersey, and the new Spider- Man, Miles Morales, who’s half black and half Latino. But what does that diversification of messengers mean for public diplomacy? It means new faces, new conversations, and a new lens through which we view ourselves and through which others view us—as people and as a country. Standing Out So there I was at Comic-Con International in 2018, flanked by producers, animators, visual effects specialists and artists. SDCC, and its superhero culture, crosses borders and draws throngs of attendees and local media from Baja California. That year, it also presented a unique opportunity to lever- age State’s power to benefit Mission Mexico’s goals, as well as inform attendees about how the department brings together their favorite popular arts with cultural diplomacy. With this in mind, we snagged a coveted panel discussion slot to present Consulate General Tijuana’s comics-related programs and to highlight U.S. “citizen cultural envoys” who At the 2018 State Department panel at San Diego Comic-Con International (from left to right), Book of Life director Jorge Gutierrez, American Film Showcase director Rachel Gandin Mark, Public Affairs Officer Preeti Shah, teacher and program implementer Alexandra Wesser, and State Department Arts Envoy alumnus and visual effects producer David Andrade discussed popular arts as a medium to engage young audiences around the world. JOSEM.NORIEGA/U.S.CONSULATEGENERALTIJUANA