Please note: This interview has been edited for increased clarity and readability. Ruth Ntumba’s views are still fully represented.
In 2021, Ruth Ntumba graduated from the University of Warwick having read History. Though she was armed with a First Class degree, Ruth was unsure of the career path she should follow until she was met with an unexpected role in the Internal Communications team at Warner Bros. Discovery.
In Ruth’s talk for the TEDxWarwick Alumni Salon, she explained how her time at Warner Bros. Discovery taught her the power of storytelling. Through working behind the scenes of the entertainment industry, Ruth explored the power dynamics of storytelling on the big screen and the significance of diverse storytellers, which she believes there is a lack thereof. She recounted the previous attempts across the industry by producers and directors to reflect these diverse experiences, which have often been myopic and tone-deaf to what those from these particular backgrounds need and want.
Ruth goes on to highlight how storytelling can intertwine with our personal lives and its power in navigating uncharted territories. Her work with underrepresented creatives and individuals led her to understand the importance of learning from others, especially through their diverse, nuanced experiences, which may be alien to oneself. She argues that through our active interest in learning from each other, storytelling has the power to influence how we write our chapter during our time in uncharted territories.
You speak of the importance of representation on the big screen helping us feel seen, heard and belonging. Can you tell us a time this has resonated with you?
It has improved massively from when I was younger. Growing up, I just saw a specific type of person on the screen. Although I may not personally feel a greater sense of being seen, heard or represented, there has been a shift which the young generation gets to experience. For example, actors like Halle Bailey or the Black Disney princess Tiana. I vicariously live through younger girls who look up to them and think, “Oh my gosh, Ariel is Black!”.
There has also been a diversification of the Black experience that we are seeing on the big screen that I appreciate - shows aren’t just family comedy sitcoms or relating to crime. There is no one Black experience, it is so diverse. One Black person’s experience in an African country is vastly different to the Black experience in the United States of America. So now, we are not only seeing more ethnic minorities on the screen but also a variation of characters and storylines.
How can the entertainment industry continue to diversify itself? What are the limitations and obstacles in doing so?
I believe the fundamental process to catalyse diversity is to support local producers, directors and artists. There is an abundance of creatives who are very talented but do not have adequate funding for their work to make it onto the big screen. Stepping away from only selecting the big names to continue creating content for diverse audiences and actually approaching people who are already doing the work would make a significant difference.
How do stigmatised identities influence storytelling?
While everybody has authenticity and vulnerability in their storytelling, stigmatised identities have unique lived experiences and stories which give them a one-of-a-kind outlook on life that is not commonly heard. There is nuance to these stories and the lived experiences of people, which in turn gives them a broader worldview.
Can you give us a real-life example of one of the drawbacks of storytelling as a tool?
I have been in situations where, as an ethnic minority, there is an expectation to drive how conversations are had and educate people on your lived experience. Yet, in doing that, you risk reliving difficult aspects, and it's not always going to be met with empathy. Some people may refute that experience.
Secondly, having to hold the position of educator is unfair because people should be willing to conduct their own research instead of placing the burden on me, especially as it is already upsetting to recount difficult aspects of my story.
I have had situations where people have looked to me to explain racism from firsthand experience, and I have felt the burdening tax of trying to guarantee that people grasp the impact of my experiences and understand my story.
Taking into consideration your experience at Warner Bros. Discovery, what attitudes and visions will you be taking forward in the next chapter of your life?
I believe I have a lot more clarity about my future and what I want to go into. I may pursue further education, for example. These are very critical years in which I am laying down the foundation for where I want to be at age 30 and beyond, and I am fortunately going in with a lot more clarity and understanding. While still trying to enjoy myself, of course!
I am very open to the fact that something else may come unexpectedly along the way and intrigue me. It is important to be open but still be intentional about the things you’re doing and what you want to get out of it.
What would you say to those who do not believe they have a story to tell?
That is not true… We are shaped by so many different aspects and whether you like it or not, it informs your worldview and how you approach situations. Your perceptions and experiences form the story you have to share - you don’t have to experience something super traumatic or crazy, but all of us have something to share with at least one person. It may not be the most profound thing, but you being here, existing with your particular views and interpretation of the world is enough.
Everyone has been shaped and impacted by events which have developed a unique belief system that may influence or be appreciated by somebody else.
We all have a story.
When navigating uncharted territories, how can one effectively use and apply the power of storytelling?
When I began my role at Warner Bros. Discovery, I was unaware of what it would entail, so for me, that was uncharted territory. But whenever an opportunity presented itself in that environment, I grabbed it, and through that, I was able to gain more exposure and experience, which shaped my goals of what I wanted my time there to look like and what I wanted to get out of it.
You may be entering a chapter that is completely unknown to you, but it is about what you make out of it and how you hope to write the story. Recognise the power to connect through storytelling as a way to make new connections who will give you advice and potentially open doors for you in the future - this will help you better navigate uncharted territories. Enter the territory with an expectation and willingness to learn.
Transcribed and edited by Dunya Simões.
The views and opinions presented in this interview belong to Ruth Ntumba — not Dunya Simões, nor TEDxWarwick.
If you have any questions concerning the interview, or opinions expressed, do feel free to comment in the comments section, or email email@example.com.