New York Times Laments Enviros As Movie Villains, Wants More Climate Lectures

August 17th, 2019 8:11 PM

The New York Times’s Cara Buckley (“a culture reporter who covers bias and equity in Hollywood”), complained Hollywood wasn’t embedding enough climate change messaging in their blockbuster movies in Saturday’s “Hollywood Sells Doom, Not Hope On Climate -- Critics say villains and dystopias obscure crisis-alleviating actions.”

Humans ruined everything. They bred too much and choked the life out of the land, air and sea.

And so they must be vaporized by half, or attacked by towering monsters, or vanquished by irate dwellers from the oceans’ polluted depths. Barring that, they face hardscrabble, desperate lives on a once verdant Earth now consumed by ice or drought.

That is how many recent superhero and sci-fi movies -- among them the latest Avengers and Godzilla pictures as well as “Aquaman,” “Snowpiercer,” “Blade Runner 2049,” “Interstellar” and “Mad Max: Fury Road” -- have invoked the climate crisis. They imagine postapocalyptic futures or dystopias where ecological collapse is inevitable, environmentalists are criminals, and eco-mindedness is the driving force of villains.

One suspects that the complaint that “environmentalist are criminals” is the true concern here: Perhaps Buckley and company are just annoyed that left-wing environmentalists sometimes feature as movie villains, as opposed to the usual villain of corporate raider or military madman?

But these takes are defeatist, critics say, and a growing chorus of voices is urging the entertainment industry to tell more stories that show humans adapting and reforming to ward off the worst climate threats.

Buckley worried that superhero movies are not realistic enough and lack sufficient environmental lecturing.

But [writing professor] Svoboda sees [Aquaman character] Orm as part of a trend that moves the climate crisis into emotionally familiar and comfortable territory. The villain is defeated and the audience feels relief, he said, not least because they have been let off the hook: People may be doing real harm, but the alternatives are worse.

The trend of linking environmentalism to eco-terrorism is not confined to superhero and genre flicks, Svoboda said. In the 2017 indie “First Reformed,” Ethan Hawke plays a radicalized pastor who plots to blow himself up at a church service attended by a polluting industrialist.

“It plays into conservative talking points that environmentalists are out to reduce the pollution and restrict lifestyles and are genocidal,” Svoboda said. “They create mass murderers who are the only ones fighting climate change.”

At least a right-leaning movie reviewer got a back-handed shout-out:

In a contrarian piece for The Washington Post, the film journalist Sonny Bunch said as much himself, opining that environmentalists made for ideal bad guys because they want to make our lives worse by banning straws, large families, plane travel and red meat.

More sober takes on the subject, at least on the silver screen, have largely been confined to documentaries, which, with the exception of the 2006 Al Gore hit, “An Inconvenient Truth,” audiences and buyers mostly shunned....One big studio feature that tackled climate change, “The Day After Tomorrow,” in which subzero superstorms envelop half the globe, was released 15 years ago....

The Day After Tomorrow’s “correct” climate message didn’t stop it from being intensely disliked by critics, though one wonders if the reception would be different in the “woke” era.

The actor and director Fisher Stevens, who has made several documentaries about environmental issues, including two with Leonardo DiCaprio, said he found it deeply frustrating that Hollywood had not taken Big Oil to task onscreen in a significant way.

Perhaps because Hollywood stars who fly around the world in personal jets aren’t the best ambassadors to usher in an age of limits?

So why aren’t there more realistic, or semi-realistic, or, dare it be suggested, hopeful films about climate change?


Adam McKay, whose film “Vice” included references to the Republican Party’s minimization of climate change, said the fact that the crisis was so large made it hard to fathom and to capture narratively....

Buckley seemed eager for initiatives hectoring writers and producers and directors over what to make movies about:

On both sides of the Atlantic, there are efforts to change that and to infuse narratives with hope. Along with detailing how projects can reduce their carbon footprint during production, the Producers Guild of America, and, more emphatically, the British Academy of Film and Television Arts, are showing content creators how to incorporate green themes into their films and shows.

On the Producers Guild’s Green Production Guide site, a report by the Rocky Mountain Institute, a nonprofit that promotes sustainability, lays out ways renewables can be portrayed onscreen. Some suggested plotlines come with a wink, ranging from showing characters who go off the grid to philanderers who fall for their solar-panel installers. The point, said Jacob Corvidae, one of the report’s authors, is to relay how robust the clean energy sector is....

Can't really see a blockbuster emerging from the premise of a "robust clean energy sector."

Buckley credited the British Academy of Film and Television Art (BAFTA) for its initiative “exhorting film and television content creators to help ‘make positive environmental behaviors mainstream.’ With screen industries’ massive reach, they said, ‘it’s a chance to shape society’s response to climate change.’”