Viewing Instagram posts by an African boy of 11 who lives a carefree life and chronicles it via daily posts is nothing to write home about. But, what about Instagram stories posted by the same boy who is being transported on a slavers’ ship in 1756? Mati Kochavi, an Israeli-American technology, and media entrepreneur have a powerful story to tell while speaking with the voice of the digital-native generation that is won over by the unprecedented interactivity and intimacy of the narrative.
The boy in question is Olaudah Equiano whose life is presented in the manner most younger audiences will be familiar with – through a series of videos and images that make up a digital diary of sorts. The only thing Kochavi, a mastermind behind the Equiano.Stories project, asks of his viewers is to suspend their disbelief for a second. Yes, 18th-century Africa could not be home to Instagram, but everything else about this story is harrowingly genuine. Once Equiano is captured, enslaved, and sent to the Caribbean on a slavers’ ship, his Instagram posts go from being an all-too-familiar childhood chronicle to a multimedia account of the horrors of slavery from the first-person view.
Kochavi is no stranger to this innovative mode of storytelling. Three years ago, he spearheaded the pioneering Eva.Stories project about a 13-year-old Jewish girl Eva Heyman who died in the Holocaust. While Eva is a real person, her Instagram profile is, understandably, fictional, just like Equiano’s. Yet, this did not stop Eva’s profile from receiving millions of views, particularly among the younger audience. What Kochavi did is to offer them a deeply personal story about an important historic event that is unlike everything they may have seen at school or in books or films. Eva.Stories was a smashing hit with the professional critics as well, winning no less than two Webby awards, lovingly called the Oscars of the Internet.
While it’s still early to predict if Equiano.Stories will replicate the Eva.Stories’ success, Kochavi, and his two daughters Adi and Maya poured their heart, soul, and experience acquired with Eva into 400 Instagram stories that make up the story of Olaudah Equiano. This includes the quality of production rivaling that of a professional film studio, paired with thorough research into a story that is already bespelling thousands. Kochavi and his aides consulted the experts on history in recreating every aspect of the boy’s story that is now drawing the attention of academics and museums alike.
Luckily for Kochavis, telling this story is no longer an uphill battle as it was in the case of Eva.Stores. This refers to the need to convince the naysayers that using the medium of Instagram to teach important historical lessons does not mean disrespecting the protagonists of these events. The voices protesting this type of narrative treatment are too few now which is a testament to the power of Kochavi’s vision which will continue to grow wings with similar media projects that are being announced now.
Finally, we seem to be at the threshold of the emergence and affirmation of a new genre in which the historical protagonists interact with their 21st-century audience in the most immediate way possible – by giving them insights into their daily lives and building a personal relationship that goes both ways. Now that Mati Kochavi has paved these ways with a brave new artistic-technological vision, it’s time we recognize this genre for what it is – a revolution in historical storytelling for a true 21-st century listener by the campfire.