Written and posted by Corey Howell
Anyone in film school knows how difficult it can be to pursue extracurricular activities and hobbies when your schedule is constantly brimming with classes and various projects. But for one student - Second-Year M.F.A. Fernanda Soares Da Cunha - it’s a way of life. But Fernanda isn’t working on an extracurricular activity or a hobby. No, in her own words, “this is my life’s project.” And it’s been an amazing success.
Fernanda and her two main collaborators Jessica Tauane and Luciana Arraes are co-owners and operators of the Brazilian YouTube channel Canal das Bee or Bee Channel which boasts a wildly impressive one-hundred and eighty-five thousand subscribers and just recently broke over fifteen million views. The channel, named to invoke the dual nature of the honey bee which can produce sweet honey but also defend itself, deals primarily with broad topics in the Brazilian LGBTQ community ranging from homophobia, transphobia, non-binary, public policies, LGBTQ news but also touches on smaller things such as finding a boyfriend/girlfriend and what to do when you fall in love with your best friend.
Occasionally, Fernanda told me in a recent interview, the channel will have guests (one example being the first open Brazilian trans-man talking about his experiences and the troubles faced by the trans community in Brazil). They also do video series like Pergunte às Bee (Ask the Bees) and Bee Comenta (Commentary of the Bee) as well as lighter, comedic series like Bee Fun and Bee Cozinha (Cooking with the Bee) where they still talk about LGBTQ issues but look for the bright side of things.
“We do videos on topics ranging from lesbian and gay slang, challenges, YouTube tags, types of lesbians you’ll date, etc., etc.,” she told me. “Oh, and on the cooking show we have a lesbian couple, one of whom is a chef, and they teach easy recipes to our audience.”
The “our” in that sentence began when Jessica Tauane started the channel as a thesis project at her multimedia major in college. A year after it began, Fernanda became involved after meeting Jessica at a YouTube conference in July 2013. Together, the pair produced a video for the “Youpix Content Talent Show” - a popular, wide-reaching web-based talent show - which ended up winning the competition. Afterward, Jessica decided to make the channel her priority and asked Fernanda to be her main collaborator.
“Today,” she told me, “we are a team of three working every day with the channel (directing, editing, replying to emails, reaching out, etc.) but now there is also a team of collaborators including a psychologist, producers, content collaborators and presenters.
The channel started out small. When I asked about how Fernanda and her partners grow their channel she enlightened me that “YouTube is all about constant and different content.” Now, the group’s schedule is two videos a week and one live “Hangout” every month. In the two years since they started, the channel and YouTube Brazil have both grown exponentially she told me.
“We have a lot of collaborators now,” she said, “from astrological channels to literary channels, from comedy sketches to serious interviews,” she continued. “Unfortunately, every once and a while we also get the attention of people who are severely anti-LGBTQ and we receive a lot of hate. But the fun fact is, the more they see our videos and the more they leave nasty comments, the more YouTube likes us and promotes us throughout the site. So, we are happy for our haters as well.”
Fernanda, who, while even in Ohio, edits raw media sent to her by her partners and releases content every week, is constantly working on the channel whose audience ranges from teenagers first trying to discover their gender identity and sexuality to LGBTQ activists and anyone willing to learn more about the LGBTQ community.
“Before I left for Ohio University, we shot over fifty videos that I released for one year,” she told me. “This past summer, I went back for a month and we shot another thirty videos to be released until December.” It’s a group effort - a bee cannot make honey without the entire colony. “We have a Facebook group where we share our ideas,” she said. “Everyone helps.”
And it’s paying off big time. “We’ve had a lot of major milestones in the past two years,” Fernanda told me. “There are the millions of views we have reached. There are our hundreds of thousands of subscribers. In the São Paulo Pride Parade we were invited to go on top of the Netflix sound truck with the stars of Orange in the New Black and Sense 8. We got to interview countless LGBTQ Brazilian icons. It was amazing.”
But none of those even came close to one moment in particular. “In May 2014, we were robbed during a shoot,” she told me. “More than ten thousand dollars worth of equipment was stolen. We were devastated. We thought abut giving up. But as soon as we shared our story with our viewers, that all changed. In two months of fundraising through selling merchandise, we were able to make all of the money back. We were shocked that so many people wanted to help us.”
Fernanda, who is also the head of the OU Film YouTube Channel, and her partners hope to be working exclusively for the channel in a couple of years. They hope it will allow them to travel around Brazil and bring a different perspective on LGBTQ issues to the country’s diverse areas. “Being LGBTQ in São Paulo or Rio is very different than being LGBTQ in the middle of the Amazon,” she told me. But, very simply put, regardless of how they do it, they just want to keep doing what they do - reaching more people and hopefully creating change in society.
“It’s the perfect job,” Fernanda said of using her gift for storytelling to enact social change. “What keeps me making the videos is knowing we’re still such a long way from equality in Brazil. It’s knowing that we change people’s lives. Though still a small change, to know that making a video with my friends makes a thirteen year old in the countryside of Brazil feel less alone is huge,” she continued, telling me about how the group has received both death threats and a prize for human rights. “It’s a roller coaster of emotions,” she said. “But helping a mother understand their son or daughter, helping people accept themselves, that is why I keep doing what I do.”