Recently, I’ve been in love with exploring the visual storytelling some brands and other creatives are doing. In this ongoing series, I’d like to shed some light on why I feel some of the best pieces of content excel at storytelling. In this post I discuss a stunning video featuring the African-American fencing athlete Nzingha.
Nzingha: from Brooklyn to Olympic dreams
Just before the 2016 Rio Olympics, this video garnered quite some attention online, thanks to its unique main character and its strong visuals and mood. The video tells the story of Nzingha Prescod, a young fencing athlete from the USA. Nzingha, named after a queen from present day Angola, hails from a rough neighbourhood in Brooklyn. Her dream of becoming a successful fencing athlete seemed far fetched, until she ran into Peter Westbrook.
This first black fencing athlete to ever medal at the Olympics trained her for years, with the penultimate goal of helping her become the first African-American woman to ever medal at the Olympics. Unfortunately, in Rio, Nzingha didn’t succeed in her mission. She appears to be of a young enough age to try again in Tokyo in 2020 though.
Captivating from the first shot
From the first shot, this video captivated me made me wonder what visual storytelling goodness I would be treated to in the next shot. Quite telling, on my first viewing ever, I kept pausing the video to take screenshots that I could include in my inspiration folder I keep on my computer.
Interestingly, the video mixes two distinct visual styles, and does so perfectly. On the one hand, the video offers a documentary style, showing Nzingha in her daily life and training. On the other hand, we see some shots that offer an extremely stylised and abstract shots, placing the athlete in a minimalist space with obviously set up lighting. Somehow this makes the athlete look somewhat larger than life, like a gladiator preparing for battle. In these scenes, Nzingha is always in full competition outfit.
Lighting and color grading
One of the things I loved most in this video was the lighting. In the abstract and stylised scenes, the light seems to be rotating around Nzingha, which brings out the colors and textures in her outfit in an extremely strong way. The documentary styled scenes seem to have some light added at times as well, which works ever so well. The light adds to the mood and helps viewers feel something. The metro scene, where Nzingha recalls the moves she makes in her mind and the light and sound perfectly complement the story is just exceptional editing. On a side note, the color grading in this production is top notch as well. It never takes center stage but adds something to the feel in every single shot.
In terms of sound, the video sports a very strong soundtrack that never draws too much attention, but instead builds the tension. It slowly swells and builds to the grand finale. Nzingha has a lovely subdued voice, and what I loved about the monologue she tells is that it doesn’t seem rehearsed or even edited. It’s as if she just tells us some things that come up in her mind and that she feels are important to share. Though her story isn’t smooth and even entirely coherent, the soundbites she serves us taste sweet.
Visual storytelling for the sake of visual storytelling
This also means that the video doesn’t contain some sort of higher moral or overarching message. Instead, it should be seen as an ode to the athlete and her dedication. On a related note, the video doesn’t seem to be produced or even sponsored by a brand. It shares a very, very, very similar feel, approach and style to the Under Armour spot with Michael Phelps, which although commissioned by Under Armour wasn’t in your face marketing either.
Nzingha does seem to be wearing Nike in some shots, but these can hardly be called annoying pushing of a brand. I’d have to conclude that the project was done for the simple love of telling a compelling visual story about a dedicated athlete, and did an amazing job at that.