CASE STUDY: Starstruck By National Geographic’s “Nujeen”

On July 26, 1969 the world watched with bated breath as Apollo 11 descended onto the powdery gray surface of the moon. In celebration of this astounding event’s 50th birthday, National Geographic decided to remind us of the ways we can be starstruck not just by space, but by each other. The Starstruck campaign is a year-long celebration in 2019 of fifty years on the moon and hopefully many more.

Since I first saw one of the campaign’s videos, “Nujeen,” I have caught my mind constantly wandering back to her story.

National Geographic posted the minute and a half-long video in a tweet. Since then, “Nujeen” has accumulated over 143,250 views on Youtube alone.

The video opens in Nujeen’s living room–her classroom–as an astronaut floats across the TV screen in front of her, courtesy of Nat Geo broadcasting. The camera quickly pans away, though, as the wailing of sirens tears through the house. We watch as Nujeen and her sister flee Syria; like the moon, we circle the earth with them as they traverse–by foot, boat, and train– across Turkey and Austria.

Life told her she had no chance of surviving, no chance of hope because of her cerebral palsy. But she responded by embracing Life with wide eyes and courageous curiosity. By going further.

Eventually she is sitting at a desk in a classroom as planets dance across her the lenses of glasses. She boldly tells the viewer, “So imagine how I feel when people tell me I can’t be an astronaut.”

The film ends with us settling down behind Nujeen who sits looking up at a sky brimming with stars and the words: “Look up. It’s all out there waiting.”

When we celebrate great moments in human history, the tendency can be to do just (and only) that — to praise the endeavors and triumphs of a universal, faceless “humanity,” but National Geographic reframes the celebration of human achievement by grounding it in a personal experience.

There is no celebration too large or far-reaching which cannot be traced back to the tendrils of individual stories.

National Geographic showcases the powerful impact of storytelling through this cinematic portrayal of Nujeen’s acute desire to be an astronaut, despite what life and people have told her. We indeed find ourselves starstruck by her kaleidoscope of bravery, vulnerability, and hope. Confidence and wonder seep from the edges of the short film wherein Nujeen graciously offers us a glimpse into her story.

As Nujeen dares to look up and challenge prescribed (false) limits, so we are invited–and inspired–to partner with National Geographic’s Starstruck celebration as it remembers how far we’ve come and how far we can go.

Nujeen’s experience leaves us humbled by wonder and hope, inciting our empathy to the moon and back.

She reminds us how powerful a story can be and enfleshes National Geographic’s exploratory, limitless vision.

About the Author

Lindsay Isler

Lindsay is a graduate of the University of Virginia where she received a Bachelor’s in English Literature.