How 23-Year-Old Sisters Are Disrupting The Status Quo
Sarah and Leah Talabi were told by their mother from the time they were very young, “You can do whatever you want with your life, but first you have to start a company because you have to contribute to the world before you take from it.” The twins, now 23, took that advice to heart. In 2017 at the age of 17, they started Changemakers Studio, with the goal of telling stories that disrupt the status quo and inspire action on society’s most pressing issues. The studio will release the documentary Democracy Dies in Darkness on April 19th, a film that examines the political and cultural shift caused by the overthrow of Roe v. Wade. Sarah and Leah directed the film.
The twin’s passion for activism, politics, and social change began in 2008 when they were just 8 years old. Their mother, a native of France, was inspired by then presidential candidate Barack Obama and applied for American citizenship in order to vote for him. She took Sarah and Leah along with their baby sister to volunteer at the local campaign office. They made phone calls and posters and even traveled a bit. It was then, star struck by Obama, Vice Presidential candidate Joseph Biden, and their social causes, that Sarah and Leah’s mission to make a difference in the world was ignited. This mission, along with an entrepreneurial spirit inherited from both parents, provides the foundation for Changemakers Studio which seeks to amplify marginalized voices.
I asked both Sarah and Leah about their goal of speaking up for others.
Leah Talabi: If you don’t speak your mind in this world, then what are you doing? If we just sit back and don’t do anything, nothing’s ever going to get better. I think it’s so important for us, especially as women, who are not given a voice, to speak out and fight for what they think is right. That’s what we try to do. Fight for what we believe in; for the change we want to see in the world.
Sarah Talabi: We have the freedom of choice. That’s what we’re fighting for in everything. And so, I do documentaries and love documentaries, because we can better inform people about things going on in the world, things going on in America. If it persuades their decision, then that’s their choice. Now they can make a better-informed decision. In my view, the purpose of documentaries is to better inform.
Our documentary is about the tug of war between the U.S. government and women fighting for their right of bodily autonomy. It’s been a battle for years but intensely since 1973. I like to call our film a time capsule because that’s my goal with it, to document and preserve. That’s what this film is all about; documenting, preserving, amplifying the voices of the women who have fought tirelessly for the right to exist freely as a female in America without laws restricting their freedom of choice.
Leah: I think our part is to inform people because there’s a lot of biased information and misinformation in this world. There isn’t a push for truth in this society. We want to put the facts out there so everyone is saying, ‘This is the true story. Now I can decide which way I want to look at it and what perspective I want to have on it’, which I think is really important.
Bonnie Marcus: Have you yourself experienced being marginalized?
Sarah: I’m aware of the prejudices that are against me. I’m young. I’m a woman. I’m a woman of color, and I understand how society is quick to categorize people. They prefer to put people in boxes. I’ve seen that people are quick to dismiss my work as a director and as an activist because I’m also a fashion model. Just because I modeled for Victoria Secret doesn’t mean I don’t have a brain.
Marginalization comes in various degrees. I understand there are people who have experiences that are perhaps more relevant, and maybe even better to speak on certain things. That’s why I say, ‘Come up to the mic, then. Use my platform. I want to amplify your story.’
Marcus: Do you feel you’re taken seriously?
Sarah: No. There’s a huge struggle to be taken seriously as young as we are, and we do approach things differently. Maybe the way I direct and the way I think or utilize my platform doesn’t look like the way someone double my age does. That doesn’t mean that my way is wrong and your way is right. I have a unique perspective because of my age but I don’t think that my work should be discredited because I’m young. It’s a shock to a lot of people, especially men, to see us in these roles as director, as activists, as business owners. Society is quick to put people in these square boxes, and I don’t really fit in any box. I’m more like an obtuse triangle making my own way.
Marcus: Leah, do you feel society puts you in a box?
Leah: I don’t put myself in a box. I want to be my own person in my own unique way because I bring something unique to this world. I think that everybody does. Everyone has their own passions, their own dreams, their own talents. It’s so important to bring out everyone’s uniqueness in this world and I think as women, we definitely get pushed down and we don’t get the same opportunities men do. I think it’s important for women to fight for who they are and the people they want to be.
Marcus: As activists, how do you help initiate action?
Sarah: No. Along with Changemakers Studio, we formed Changemakers Foundation, which is a 501c3 non-profit because we want to implement action. Our mission is to develop awareness campaigns and initiatives that create measurable change toward gender equality, racial equity, and environmental sustainability. It’s a way for us to partner with other humanitarian initiatives and charities to further their mission through the power of partnership. In 2022, we worked with UNICEF, the Palais de la Femme in France where my mom worked, the Académie du Climat, the Barbecue Center in London for their climate exhibit, and the Superbloom climate exhibit, as well as the LA Mission.
Marcus: Who are the other family members working with you?
Leah: My mom and dad are actually producers on this project. They’re very passionate about this as well. And my little sister, she’s only 16, but she’s working with us as well!