Vanessa McNeal MSW, is an accomplished and acknowledged public speaker and storyteller from Iowa. Through her work in speaking and film production, she informs and transforms audiences with her passion and veracity. Vanessa is a survivor of child abuse and sexual violence, but she uses her past as a vehicle to empower, educate, and inspire others. She is an expert at sharing her experiences in a way that is thought provoking and life changing. Having presented at countless conferences, campuses and fundraising events, Vanessa has made a big difference in her short 23 years. Recently, Vanessa was presented with the 2017 Young Woman of Tomorrow Award by the YWCA.
Vanessa is the Executive Producer of the internationally recognized documentary, “The Voiceless”. The Voiceless is an hour long documentary that features the stories of male survivors of sexual violence. The documentary explores taboos, stereotypes, intersectionality, and the impact sexual violence has on male survivors. The film has been accepted into the Newark International Film Festival and is being screened across the world. She is an expert at leading creative works and giving color to personal stories. Her work has the potential to transform normative beliefs about real life stories and their impact.
NY Elite Interview with Vanessa McNeal
NY Elite: What is the film “The Voiceless” about?
Vanessa McNeal: The Voiceless is an hour long documentary that features the stories of five male survivors of sexual violence. The documentary explores masculinity, culture, intersectionality, and the impact sexual violence has on men. The film has been recently accepted into the Newark International Film Festival.
NY Elite: What projects are you currently working on?
Vanessa McNeal: I am continuing to market “The Voiceless” documentary. It released in April, so I am focusing on film festivals and distribution. The film has been so successful because of its rarity. It is being screened across the world because its impact is cross cultural. People can relate to this film because sexual violence doesn’t discriminate based on culture, race, or religion. I am working on a new documentary currently, but I haven’t publicly announced what that will be about yet.
NY Elite: What is unique about being in the director’s chair with this project?
Vanessa McNeal: What was unique was that this topic is of sensitive nature. The stories that were shared were difficult to tell, so it was really important that sensitivity and emotional safety were of upmost importance. Sexual violence is a pervasive problem, but you have to understand that it is perpetuated in silence. For them to share their stories was very brave, so I had to make sure that everyone felt comfortable enough to share.
NY Elite: Which film subjects stood out?
Vanessa McNeal: Depending on who you ask, it could be any one of them. They all speak to a different story. Caleb is a white bisexual man that was abused by his male friend/co-worker, Ivan is from Africa and identifies as heterosexual who was sexually abused by women in his childhood, Jassim is an international student from Saudi Arabi who identifies as gay and speaks on the cultural trauma and abuse he endured by his multiple accounts of abuse, Will is a heterosexual African American male who speaks on how his abuse perpertuated by his father influenced his gang life, and Dakota is a white graduate student who identifies as gay, he speaks on his abuse that was perpertrated by his partner. All of their stories are compelling and they all speak to a different struggle.
NY Elite: What makes a film great for you? Are there certain qualities that make a film better for you?
Vanessa McNeal: What makes a film great for me is the personal connection that you can make from the stories. Story telling is the single most powerful things in my eyes. Being able to relate your struggles and your story is what connects people to your work.
NY Elite: What have you learned since your first film?
Vanessa McNeal: Two years ago I produced a documentary about my life, as I am also a survivor of sexual violence. That was my very first film and it can be found on my website. I have learned so much since. I have learned to be a better story teller, producer, and artist. Film is an art. The progress can be seen in each film that I have produced. I have learned that the more you put into a film, the more you get out.
NY Elite: Have you thought about acting in your movies or in general?
Vanessa McNeal: I haven’t really thought about acting. I would be open to it, but my passion is in public speaking. I express myself creatively through speaking. It is the single most powerful tool for me. I have been speaking professionally for about a year, traveling, and it is my favorite thing to do.
NY Elite: What do you enjoy most about your job, your career?
Vanessa McNeal: What I enjoy most about my career is that my truth of being matches my way of being. I meet countless people who spend their entire lives hoping to live out a dream, but instead they work a tireless 9-5. At 23 years old, I have found my passion and I live out my truth by making a difference through my work. There is nothing more beautiful to me. My hope is that I will grow and expand even more. I hope to be a top international filmmaker and speaker in the future.
NY Elite: What advice would you give to someone who wants to have a career in filmmaking?
Vanessa McNeal: I would say start today! Know that with hard work that you can make a really successful film. Tap into local resources to gain interest and momentum. Also know that everything gets better. Overall time, your craft will grow and each time you will get better.
NY Elite: Are you working on your next project now?
Vanessa McNeal: Yes I am. It is still a secret, but know that I am working!
NY Elite: What has been your personal key to success?
Vanessa McNeal: My personal key to success has been to believe in my work. If I don’t, then certainly other people won’t. I have to know that with hard work and dedication there will be favorable outcomes. If those outcomes aren’t what I desired, I have to learn from that and grow. Knowing and believing that I am meant for this work gets me through.
NY Elite: Where can everyone keep up with you to learn more? …social media…website
Vanessa McNeal: Everyone can keep up with me to learn more primarily through my social media and website! I am also looking for new opportunities to screen the film and speak. I speak on behalf of the film as well as my personal story and other related topics. All of those details can be found at www.vanessamcneal.com.