SHARE newsletter: New movie takes viewers on a musical journey – from a mine shaft to center stage – and delivers a powerful message on TB at the same time
“’The Lucky Specials’ has the potential to help people realize that they can overcome curable diseases like tuberculosis. This is a story of triumph over adversity, and it poignantly demonstrates the importance of access to medical care and information.”
- Dr Erin O’Shea, President, Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI)
Just in time for World TB Day on March 24 comes a new feature-length film, The Lucky Specials, from the makers of the widely-acclaimed movie Inside Story. Slated to entertain and educate millions with its captivating storyline, new brand of African music, and a unique look at tuberculosis (TB), The Lucky Specials combines the best of fiction and non-fiction storytelling to demystify TB, bringing audiences face-to-face with the current social and scientific realities of the disease. Through its dynamic characters, the filmreplaces misconceptions about TB with facts, and shows the journey of TB bacteria inside the body using state-of-the-art animation, transforming hard-to-grasp science into a compelling visual reality.
"This movie is an unprecedented opportunity to shape how millions of people see, understand and respond to TB,” says Aric Noboa, president and executive producer of the Discovery Learning Alliance, which produced the film along with Quizzical Pictures in association with Tangled Bank Studios, with support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), the Wellcome Trust, and USAID and PEPFAR through the Leadership, Management & Governance Project, led by Management Sciences for Health (MSH).
Last year, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported that 10.4 million people fell ill with TB and there were 1.8 million TB deaths in 2015, making it the top infectious killer worldwide. World TB Day is an opportunity to raise awareness about the burden of TB worldwide and mobilize political and social commitment for further progress in efforts to end TB. Like HIV, TB is devastating communities across southern Africa and is the leading cause of death among people living with HIV.
“This disease is deeply rooted in populations where human rights and dignity are limited. While anyone can contract TB, the disease thrives among people living in poverty, communities and groups that are marginalized, and other vulnerable populations,” says the WHO. “These include migrants, refugees, ethnic minorities, miners and others working and living in risk-prone settings, the elderly, marginalized women and children in many settings etc. Factors such as malnutrition, poor housing and sanitation, compounded by other risk factors such as tobacco and alcohol use and diabetes, affect vulnerability to TB and access to care. Furthermore, this access is often hindered by catastrophic costs associated with illness, seeking and staying in care, and lack of social protection, resulting in a vicious cycle of poverty and ill-health. The transmission of multidrug-resistant TB (MDR-TB) adds great urgency to these concerns.”
Indeed, The Lucky Specials begins in the dark, wet mining shafts of southern Africa, where rock dust and cramped quarters expose workers to various risks. From here, the film follows Mandla, a young miner by day and lead guitarist for cover band The Lucky Specials by night, and his friends on their journey to create a new musical sound and propel their small-time band to the big stage. But when tragedy strikes, the band, Mandla and their friend Nkanyiso struggle to hold everything together.
In addition to raising awareness and promoting behavior change around TB prevention, testing and treatment adherence among public audiences through screenings at commercial cinemas and in communities, the film also provides health workers at all levels with an effective tool to engage communities in TB education.
“Innovative thinking and partnerships are crucial to effectively addressing global health challenges,” explains Ambassador Deborah L. Birx, US Global AIDS Coordinator and US Special Representative for Global Health Diplomacy. “The Lucky Specials reimagines how to deliver lifesaving information about TB and HIV to affected communities, empowering individuals to make better informed health decisions. This unique approach transports us to the heart of local communities, which hold the power to help bring life-saving treatment to HIV-TB co-infected patients and, ultimately, achieve an AIDS-free generation.”
A comprehensive rollout of The Lucky Specials will include theatrical film screenings, national television broadcasts and grassroots distribution by NGOs, schools, and governments. Facilitator guides and educational materials are also being developed for community and public health organizations and schools to help reinforce messages.