How a Hollywood-savvy animation studio in Nepal offers lessons in inclusivity

Company behind Stranger Things and Lego Batman shares insights about its successful equality programmes at Unesco conference in Abu Dhabi

Deepa Chipalu Joshi, co-chief executive of Incessant Rain Studios and special adviser of Women in Animation Nepal, at the Abu Dhabi conference. Leslie Pableo for The National
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There is a pocket of Hollywood in Kathmandu, and at the recent Unesco meeting in Abu Dhabi, it was highlighted as a case study of inclusivity within the audiovisual industry.

Incessant Rain Studios, an animation and visual effects company, has worked on several titles that have been the pride of cinema and streaming platforms in the past decade. Its repertoire includes working on the visual effects in John Wick: Chapter 4 and Stranger Things, as well as the animation in Lego Batman and films from the Kung Fu Panda franchise.

The studio has been instrumental in positioning Nepal as a filmmaking destination. Last year it began working with a Nepalese initiative to prop up its female workforce.

The studio’s founder Kiran Bhakta Joshi and co-chief executive Deepa Chipalu Joshi serve as special advisers in Women in Animation Nepal, an initiative that helps women develop the skills necessary to work as animators. The organisation has been an example of how gender and youth inclusivity programmes can help pave a new career path, drive economic growth and contribute to diverse storytelling.

At the recent World Conference on Culture and Arts Education conference in the capital, Incessant Rain Studios and WIA Nepal joined representatives of Netflix’s Fund for Creative Equity, as well as Becoming Maestre, an initiative by Premi David di Donatello and Netflix that supports young female talent. The panel discussion was dedicated to how to foster inclusivity within the audiovisual industry.

Chipalu Joshi elaborated on WIA Nepal, saying the initiative was divided into two wings, one based in Los Angeles and the other in Kathmandu. “It advocates for the upliftment of women through engagement and education," she said. "In the US, it's a mentoring program and some scholarships. In Nepal, we really focus on education.”

The women who enrol in the programme, Chipalu Joshi said, do not have prior experience in animation. The initiative collaborates with the Incessant Rain Academy in Kathmandu and is currently providing scholarships to 120 women.

She added: “Advocacy is not just paying for education, which is a top priority for us, but also outreach. Letting them know that you have a teacher, you can feed your children and take care of your family. That is really important.”

The aim is to bolster women who are interested in animation so that they are fully capable of making a career out of their skills. The ultimate goal is to have a workforce at Incessant Rain Studios, where 50 per cent of the employees are women, Chipalu Joshi said.

Besides encouraging youth and gender equity, Incessant Rain Studios is also working to invest in regional content “that tell authentic stories and gives voice to local storytellers", Bhakta Joshi said.

In a conference centred on culture and arts education, the panel discussion was an important reminder of the power of stories in education.

Netflix is well-attuned to the power of storytelling, as well as the commercial potential of diversity. The streaming platform has also been working to extend its content to a diverse variety of voices.

Its Fund for Creative Equity, launched in 2021, has allocated $100 million across five years to train and provide jobs to talents from underrepresented communities around the globe. The mission is to pave an avenue of expression that leads to new, untold stories.

“Looking at our industry, for decades, historically marginalized communities have been defined by a single story, or worse, have been absent from our screens,” Krysia Kozniewska, head of the division for Europe, Middle East and Africa, said.

“At Netflix, we're really committed to programming local, authentic stories for local audiences.

“We also want to ensure that our employee base reflects our membership. We also realise that people want to see their lives reflected on screen. And research tells us that the more perspectives you have behind the camera, the better representation you then end up with on screen.”

The platform says it has invested almost $30 million over the past two years, helping around 4,500 creatives in 35 countries. Its Middle East initiative Because She Created aims to support the next generation of female storytellers in the Arab world, from writers to filmmakers.

Updated: February 15, 2024, 2:56 PM