When you first meet them, VICE correspondents Gianna Toboni and Isobel Yeung don't seem especially loud. The reporters are friendly, polite, and speak carefully when discussing the many issues they've highlighted on the HBO documentary series, which returns on Friday, Feb. 24 at 11 p.m. But don't let their approachable nature fool you — Toboni and Yeung are extremely vocal in ways that any woman hoping to affect change should strive for.
As both producers and correspondents who cover a wide range of stories, Toboni and Yeung often face harrowing situations, from spending time in war-torn Syria to visiting U.S. prisons. But whether they're tackling a widely reported issue or shining a spotlight on something in dire need of more attention, both women hope that their VICE segments will raise the volume of others' voices.
"I think a big part of the reason that we do this is to give people a voice," Toboni says, speaking at Bustle's office just a few weeks before the Season 5 premiere. "To allow them to share their story, which then we produce into a film and can help educators, policy makers, activists, people who are interested in the world."
"We’re trying to come up with a longer thesis on how this impacts the world and the people here in the long term."
Though it's far from the only news series that chooses a different story or issue to investigate every week, VICE stands out for its rotating cast of correspondents, who each delve into certain topics in a single 30-minute episode. And to Toboni, the show stands out for putting the voices of its subjects front and center.
"Sometimes, in news stories that are a little bit shorter, those people get a quick bite, it doesn’t last more than four seconds. We’re able to give people minutes to tell their story, which is really gratifying for us and I think for the greater good," she says. Yeung also sees the benefit of the series' close look at the real people impacted by world events. "We can get more in depth with those types of stories and we’re not just chasing the latest news thing that’s going on right now," she says. "We’re trying to come up with a longer thesis on how this impacts the world and the people here in the long term."
Toboni and Yeung are just two of the 20 correspondents featured in VICE's fifth season, and notably, nearly half of those correspondents are women. Though it's true that the female participants face unique challenges in some of the situations seen on the series, these correspondents — who say they are usually the only women on their crews — also see their gender as a benefit.
"In a way, women have an advantage when you go to conflict areas," Yeung explains. "You’re sort of in this no man’s land between being treated like a man, and obviously talking specifically talking about the Islamic countries that I’ve done some stories in recently, you kind of float between the area of not being a woman, so you don’t have to have the restrictions that come with being a woman in certain countries and in conflict areas. And you’re also able to talk with men, you’re able to go outside and to travel around pretty freely, so in some ways I think it’s an advantage."
"I think sometimes people are ... afraid to admit what the risks are, or afraid to admit that a certain situation is scary. And I think it’s really important to admit that and talk about that. "
For Toboni, there's also an advantage in the different perspectives women may bring when faced with a potentially dangerous situation.
"I think sometimes people are — and not just correspondents, but people in any position on a film or a documentary or news crew — afraid to admit what the risks are, or afraid to admit that a certain situation is scary," she says. "I think it’s really important to admit that and talk about that because [we] pride ourselves on ... we’re taking risks, but they’re very calculated risks. And being a woman, I’m taking sort of a different approach to the answer — it’s a different experience than being a man."
It really comes down to speaking up again. This time, for yourself. Even if it's difficult, Toboni believes you have to face these scenarios head-on.
"We were in an ISIS prison and I forced myself to be very aware of the fact that all of those guys on the other side of the bars were looking at me as a white, non-Muslim woman who’s not covered up and who works for the media, it’s like their perfect target. And the reason I think it’s important to force yourself to address those risks is because... sh*t happens," she says, referencing CBS reporter Lara Logan, who was sexually assaulted and beaten by a crowd in Egypt while covering the 2011 fall of Hosni Mubarak's government.
Clearly, the risks are there, but so are the stories that need to be told — and sometimes, they need to be told by women.
"It’s really important for women to be in those places and to be reporting on those stories," Yeung says. "I think that we are able to give a new perspective and to highlight the sort of nuances that don’t necessarily come out when ... male conflict reporters come to those areas."
"Sometimes it’s a case of shouting your case louder than other people..."
And you might have to be willing to go outside of your own comfort zone when telling these stories, as Toboni recalls her initial hesitation to work on a story about transgender children because she couldn't pinpoint her own view on the issue. Now, she's glad she took the assignment, because not only will she share the often overlooked struggles these children face with the world when the episode airs on March 3, but it's affected her professional outlook.
"I heard a quote once, and I wish I knew who said it, but 'fortune favors the bold' is something that I started to tell myself after reflecting on that experience," she says. "Doing that piece was one of the best experiences of my entire career."
But first, women need TO GET these opportunities, which yet again comes down to raising a voice — your own.
"I think that as a woman in this industry in particular, but in all industries, you have to raise your hand," Toboni says, after acknowledging that she's lucky to work for a company that has many women in executive and leadership roles. "If you don’t agree with something, you have to say it. People will talk over you. And you have to stand up and make sure that your point is heard or you’ll get ignored and you won’t progress in your career."
Often, the only way to prevent people from talking over you is to be the loudest voice in the room, which Yeung thinks is especially important right now.
"Sometimes it’s a case of shouting your case louder than other people, but I think that’s, obviously, especially important given the current political climate," she says. "I think that everyone, all the women, especially, who are involved in the making of this show feel a lot more driven and very motivated to do that and to make sure that our voices are heard."
Whether you're advocating for your own future or trying to speak up for someone who's been silenced, you can't tell a story if no one can hear you. And even if they're not literally shouting, every time Yeung and Toboni step in front of a VICE camera to reflect the world's harshest realities, they show women everywhere what it means to be loud.
Hair & Makeup by Dani Levi using Tom Ford