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Hollywood Ignores the Biggest Drama on Earth: Climate Change

California wildfire

With Los Angeles recently under siege by wildfires, it’s time for the movie industry to acknowledge our current reality

Weare in the golden age of entertainment. The #MeToo movement and increased diversity are changing Hollywood for the better. Prestige television and film are delivering hard-hitting stories tackling racism, inequality, and reproductive rights. After dragging their feet, the entertainment industry is officially “woke-ish.”

And it’s not just quality, it’s quantity. In 2018, there were a whopping 495 scripted TV shows, 871 films released in theaters, and an endless stream of superhero movies, live-action remakes, and the always-necessary Fast & Furious spinoff.

Yet there is a glaring omission in the swarming vortex of entertainment — virtually any storyline that addresses the climate crisis.

Just last week, wildfires once again reminded us how vulnerable Los Angeles is, with the glitz and glam of the Hollywood dream factory now turning into a huge question mark of unsustainability. Just like Oscar season, wildfire season is here to stay. And in this new reality, The Rock won’t jump down from a helicopter and save us all. SPOILER ALERT: No matter how rich and powerful you are in Hollywood, the climate crisis will affect everyone.

It’s absurd that the world’s most talented and powerful actors, writers, and producers, the people who control global culture, are watching the destruction of their lives and city and yet they can’t come up with one honest story about our current reality.

Over the last few decades, the entertainment industry has offered very little substance on climate change for audiences to sink their teeth into, but for Roland Emmerich’s The Day After Tomorrow (2004) and the over-the-top CGI-fest, GeoStorm (2017). Paul Schrader’s 2017 film First Reformed gave us a more nuanced look at climate grief, while Leonardo DiCaprio’s well-meaning documentaries provide useful information and helpful motivation. Unfortunately, none have managed to stick in the public consciousness.

This year saw much of the same. We got a few throwaway lines about the need for population control in The Avengers: End Game and Godzilla: King of the Monsters. The only real moments of climate-related content was during an episode of HBO’s Big Little Lies when Laura Dern’s character yells at her child’s second-grade teacher for exposing the awful truth about our planet’s destruction. The only in-depth look at the climate crisis came in the last season of The Affair, which took a bold flash-forward into the year 2053, where Montauk, New York, is ravaged by coastal flooding and a lack of breathable oxygen.

These were riveting scenes and storylines, filled moral questions about parents concealing the big lie about our climate, whether it’s even responsible to have children, and the fact that nothing ever stays the same, including Mother Nature. It got people talking.

Still, you can just picture a Hollywood producer sitting poolside, surrounded by models drinking White Claws, as he screams out, “But what about the money?!” Producers like him, who have all three Chrises from the Marvel movies on speed dial, can list plenty of arguments against addressing the climate crisis in films: It’s an existential story too big to tell; there are no heroes or villains; the conversation is too easy to shut down; and most of all, audiences don’t want to see those type of films, which = no profits.

Give us a generational saga of how Gen Z bucks the system and leads us to a better future.

Yes, the climate crisis is an all-encompassing behemoth posing certain storytelling problems, but is that a reason to shy away? World War II was vast, as is colonialism, human rights, and space exploration. We narrowed those broad topics down and managed to create digestible stories; we can do the same for our most probable future timeline of unstable climate and fracturing societies.

In case Hollywood producers are suffering from writer’s block, here are a few ideas for them to get going. Consider this a first-look deal.

If we don’t get more attention on climate change, millions of climate refugees will be searching for new homelands. How about a plotline that follows Dutch parents escaping a recently flooded Amsterdam as they try to smuggle their family into New York City? With the current rise of U.S. nationalism playing out in the backdrop, U.S. coast guard officers must make a life and death decision for this family.

With more frequent and violent hurricanes, floods, and wildfires, how does an investment banker come to grips with losing his dream home, his town, his high school sweetheart?

Or for something lighter, a new Romeo and Juliet rom-com where two feuding families living in apocalypse bunkers don’t want their teenagers to marry. See? Plenty of high-concept material.

The villains practically write themselves. For decades, the oil and gas executives have rigged the system in order to extract and profit, knowing their actions are destroying the planet. Equally culpable are the corrupt politicians who have taken money while the citizens they were sworn to protect are poisoned. Plus, you can add the catchy tagline, “Based on true events.”

If we are talking about bad-guy tropes, oil and gas executives are as insidious as Agent Smith, greedy as Charles Foster Kane, and psychotic as the Joker.

Heroes are trickier because it’s difficult to save the world from a runaway climate with a McGuffin or secret weapon. But what about the story of a small-town politician standing up to a fracking company? Or a woman returning home to her native Bangladesh to help adapt against rising waters? Or a group of kids growing up on a dying planet who unite to protect the city they love?

Hollywood was built on the tough-guy image like John Wayne and Clint Eastwood. But now industry insiders are acting as though they’re too scared to address the most pressing topic of our times because a few climate deniers will troll their movie in the comment sections. They’re ignoring the fact that as artists, their job is to move the audience, to challenge, to provoke.

The facts are in, and the science is settled; why are we avoiding speaking the truth? Where are the counterculture narratives that provoke instead of placate? Give us a generational saga of how Gen Z bucks the system and leads us to a better future.

The tentacles of massive conglomerates like Comcast, Amazon, and Disney control almost every aspect of our media landscape. Like any good corporation, selling toys, theme parks, and keeping the all-powerful and cash-rich Chinese government happy is paramount. Unfortunately, this makes it safe to assume their desire to portray the real, necessary changes isn’t quite there. But who’s to say the profits aren’t?

With the current glut of dystopias, millions eagerly tuned in for The Walking Dead, ran to cinemas to see The Purge, and played hundreds of hours of popular video games like Fallout and The Last of Us. There is no scarcity of stories of humans in an apocalypse, but why are there so few about how we get there? I don’t believe audiences sit through grizzly murders, heart-wrenching injustice, and gruesome rapes but draw the line at the climate crisis.

Hollywood, don’t treat your audiences like precious children who can’t handle tough subjects. Even more than the adults who may be feeling overwhelmed and slightly guilty about the climate, the younger generations are not just eager to talk about the crisis, they are practically screaming to be heard over the squabbling politicians and business-as-usual attitudes.

Instead of wasting more time and money on soulless live-action remakes and cash-grab Star Wars sequels, let us open our imaginations to new kinds of futures.

The next five years may be the most consequential in human history, determining if we as a species are capable of tackling the most difficult challenge we’ve ever faced. It’s time to find the courage to stand up to corporate indifference and address the most pressing topic of our lifetime.

Instead of wasting more time and money on soulless live-action remakes and cash-grab Star Wars sequels, let us open our imaginations to new kinds of futures where we have discarded capitalist systems of profit over people, dismantled the consumerism of the American Dream, and created a new one based on access to clean air, water, and more community spaces.

We need a dialogue that speaks truth about our climate, characters that show us how to overcome our fears of living different lifestyles, and stories that move us to action. If not, well, that’s all folks. Films are the most accessible form of art, as well as the most human. It breaks down social barriers, sparks conversations, and gives us avenues for talking about controversial subjects with people holding different viewpoints.

A few weeks ago in Washington D.C., celebrities Jane Fonda and Ted Danson were arrested protesting the climate crisis. It was a small but symbolic step that more of Hollywood must follow. Celebrities should use their influence and speak earnestly about the crisis to the millions of their followers. Better yet, they should demand artistic roles that normalize the subject: turbine installers, sustainability consultants, or climate activists that aren’t fringe characters.

Besides director Roland Emmerich, are other screenwriters ready to insist these stories be told? Are the producers willing to take risks and put their money behind meaningful content? As the wildfires have reminded us, there is no “happily ever after” guaranteed for anyone. From Kim Kardashian to Lebron James, the Hollywood bubble has burst. It’s time to point the camera at the oncoming storm.


This article was originally published by Greg Bratone,

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