Vanessa McNeal, documentary filmmaker and national speaker, is an Iowa State alumni who works to raise awareness on sexual violence through her media company “McNeal Media” founded in 2017.
McNeal is a two time TEDx speaker and has received several awards for her four documentaries.
Her achievements include winning best director for her film “The Voiceless,” Women Filmmaker Award of Recognition, 2017 YWCA Young Woman of Tomorrow Award of Recognition, 2018 STATEment Maker award and in 2019 she was presented with the Outstanding Iowa Anti-Trafficking Service Award.
McNeal is a survivor of childhood sexual abuse and was sexually assaulted again at the age of 15. She had no understanding of what she suffered until taking a human sexuality class at Iowa State that was life-changing for her.
McNeal said she thinks being a survivor of trauma "shapes and molds who you are." McNeal said that even though her experience heavily impacted her it is still a small version of the larger part of who she is.
Family and friends helped McNeal through her healing process while she attended group trauma therapy and individual therapy.
As a senior at Iowa State, a friend of McNeal’s asked what her wanted her legacy to be. McNeal said she knew she wanted to tell her story and help others share theirs.
McNeal began her filmmaking journey by creating her first documentary about her life called “I Am — The Vanessa McNeal Story." From there she went on to produce three more documentaries. One of those documentaries is her latest film "Gridshock."
“I think all of my films are inspired by my story because I don’t want people to think they’re alone,” McNeal said. “I want to talk about things that people don’t want to talk about even if they’re really hard.”
With "Gridshock," McNeal wants to inform people about the horrifying business of sex trafficking. Sex trafficking is not a common topic of conversation. McNeal said the scariest part of sex trafficking is the fact that people don’t know about it.
“I think there’s so much awareness and prevention that needs to happen,” McNeal said. “The more ignorant we are and the lack of awareness we have benefits them [perpetrators] in every way.”
To produce "Gridshock," an all or nothing campaign was started on indiegogo.com. $45,000 from 300 donors was raised in just 60 days to fund the "Gridshock" project. McNeal expressed her gratefulness for those who believed in her mission and were willing to donate.
Once the money was raised, McNeal and her team put in a lot of time researching and talking to experts. The team heard numerous perspectives and narrowed down what aspect of sex trafficking they wanted to focus on.
A lot of networking went into finding people for the interviews. McNeal found that most people were willing to add their point of view and knowledge to this documentary.
“We have like 40 hours of footage I wish we could give the world to see, there’s so many interviews and things we saw that were shocking,” McNeal said.
The filming and producing of "Gridshock" was an emotional project for McNeal. She said it’s hard to live with the stories she heard and had to take an emotional break after filming.
One of Gridshock’s team members was Taylor Bluemel, the cinematographer. Bluemel aided McNeal a great deal throughout the process. McNeal said it was mainly her and Bluemel the whole time filming.
“Gridshock is a riveting documentary exposing the hidden and disturbing reality behind the sex trafficking demand in Iowa,” according to vanessamcneal.com. "Gridshock" is touring now and premiered on April 2 to a group of over 1,000 people. A screening of the documentary took place Monday in the Great Hall of the Memorial Union with lots of people who showed up to watch and learn.
McNeal and Bluemel are set to launch a campaign by the end of the year for their next project focusing on child pornography.
To learn more about "Gridshock" and hear news of McNeal’s future projects visit gridshockdocumentary.com and subscribe for updates.