Press Conference on How New ‘Ugly Betty’ Season Helps Raise Awareness of Malaria

8 October 2009

Press Conference on How New ‘Ugly Betty’ Season Helps Raise Awareness of Malaria

8 October 2009
Press Conference
Department of Public Information • News and Media Division • New York

Press Conference on How New ‘Ugly Betty’ Season Helps Raise Awareness of Malaria

The two-hour season premiere episode of the award-winning television show Ugly Betty highlights the grassroots campaign Nothing But Nets, which saves lives through the distribution of malaria nets in Africa, according to cast members and producers who held a press conference at Headquarters today.  The episode, titled “The Butterfly Effect”, airs at 8 p.m. on 16 October.

Moderating the press conference, Kiyo Akasaka, Under-Secretary-General for Communications and Public Information, said:  “The United Nations realizes that television and films are powerful mediums by which new audiences can learn about global issues.”  To that end, the Creative Community Outreach Initiative, a liaison office within the Outreach Division of the Department of Public Information, was an important bridge for producers, directors, writers and new media professionals seeking a working relationship with the Organization.

Accompanied by actors Judith Light, Tony Plana and Ana Ortiz, Executive Producer Richard Heus said of Ugly Betty, the first television series to film at Headquarters:  “We were very lucky and fortunate to come to the United Nations and shoot our premiere episode.”  He added that after he had met with the Creative Community Outreach Initiative to discuss several possible United Nations Programmes to integrate into the show’s story line, the writers had chosen the Nothing But Nets campaign, because “mosquito netting, fashion… that’s very logical.  We’ll put that together and that will work for Ugly Betty”.  Shot in August, the story line had resonated with both cast and crew, he added.

Elizabeth McKee Gore, Executive Director of Global Partnerships and Nothing But Nets for the United Nations Foundation said she was “so excited that Ugly Betty chose to help Nothing But Nets spread the buzz”.  The campaign targets sub‑Saharan Africa, where a child dies of malaria every 30 seconds.  “Nothing But Nets is a good news story,” she said, noting that it offered the public an easy and powerfully effective way to “give $10 and save a life”.

She said the campaign worked with the United Nations Children’s Fund, the World Health Organization and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to ensure donations went towards bed nets, education and distribution.  ABC had posted information about the campaign on its website and donations had already increased.  “I can’t wait for you to see how Miss Betty convinces Mode Magazine that malaria is something to talk about,” said Ms. Gore.

Giving a brief description of the episode, Mr. Heus said Betty [played by America Ferrera] is promoted to features editor, but told she cannot discuss malaria at a major story conference.  However, Betty being Betty, she cannot help herself and pitches mosquito netting and a glamorous fashion show at the United Nations.

Judith Light, who plays Claire Meade, one of the owners of Mode Magazine, noted that the topic and the show were “really a perfect marriage.  This character of Betty Suarez is a person who has a great heart and a great soul.  It’s not a stretch at all that she wants to help other people.  She’s trying to change hearts and minds about the way we all relate to each other”.

Mr. Heus also noted that Betty and the United Nations were a “natural fit” and that, with a good storyline the show would collaborate again with the Organization.

Asked how effective the episode would be, Mr. Heus said that by putting the issue of malaria in front of millions of people, he hoped it would spread awareness.  Mr. Plano, who plays Betty’s father Ignacio, said that until the premiere episode, he had not been aware of the malaria question Nothing But Nets.  “Maybe I’m reading the wrong newspapers.”  He added that not every show was just entertainment, but about learning and promoting compassionate awareness.

When asked how becoming a mother had changed her outlook, Ms. Ortiz, who plays Betty’s sister, Hilda, replied that something as simple as a net to protect at-risk children deserved all the publicity it could get.  “All they need is a little net at night and any awareness we can bring to this is wonderful.”

In response to another question, Ms. Gore said that since the campaign’s inception, more than two million nets had been distributed all over Africa through donations from the United States public.  However, the United Nations system distributed multiple millions of nets each year.  “The need is great.  There are 300 million sleeping spaces on the continent of Africa that need these nets.”  With the Organization’s goal of eliminating malaria by 2015, the nets were the best prevention tool to achieve that aim.

Under-Secretary-General Akasaka added that more than 45 per cent of the population in targeted African nations had received bed nets.  In the past three years, 140 million bed nets had been distributed, offering protection to 300 million people.

Mr. Plano noted that being involved with important social issues promoted good will and good perspectives about different people in the world.  “It’s so right that the United Nations is a good fit with Betty, because we are the United Nations of television.  We represent inclusion.  We’re already connected to a set of issues.  To know we are able to extend that beyond culture and social economics to global awareness about issues of this nature just makes you feel wonderful about the work that we do beyond just entertaining people.”

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For information media • not an official record
For information media. Not an official record.