Saturday, January 16, 2016

Hollywood shuns climate-themed movies for 2016 Oscars telecast. Why?

Will the Hollywood sign in 2100 still be there?

By Dan Bloom
If there really is a strong liberal, progressive presence in Hollywood -- and there is, from producers to directors to writers --  then where are all the global warming-themed movies
in Tinseltown? They just aren't getting greenlighted.


With the recently-concluded COP21 climate talks in Paris reaching a successful agreement
December, the current list of
nominations doesn't
​include even one
single movie with a
​I wondered why and decided to get on the email phone with two experts I trust on this: Edward Rubin at Vanderbilt University in Nashville and Michael Svoboda at George Washington University just a few city blocks from the White House.

Rubin, born and bred in Brooklyn and in his mid-60s now, is the author of a new cli-fi novel titled "The Heatstroke Line," and he's teaching a cli-fi course this semester at Vanderbilt called "Climate Change Literature: a New Fictional Genre about a Real Problem." 

I asked the law professor, who earlier in his career worked as an entertainment lawyer for some Hollywood producers, what his take was on the movie capital of the world turning a blind eye to climate change themes, even when the newspapers are full of climate science news items every day now.

​"Climate-themed movies can play a crucial role in educating people worldwide about climate change," Rubin told me by email. "To begin with, people will watch the movie and be moved by it, and they are not going to just look at government charts and scientific research papers."

''Even more important, movies can present scenarios that make large events comprehensible and future possibilities concrete," he added, noting: "What is truly false, and belongs in the category of puerile fantasy, is to deny that climate change is occurring. The fact is that many of the grim possibilities portrayed in a cli-fi movie will become realities unless we take global concerted action."
For Svoboda, an assistant professor of writing and director of the Sustainability Minor at GWU as well as a regular contributor to Yale Climate Connections, where he first began to write about climate change in popular culture, Hollywood's fear of making climate-themed movies sets a bad example for other film capitals around the world, from Bollywood to London. Where Hollywood producers should be leading, they are being lazy and running on fear. The author of a recent academic paper titled "Cli-fi On the Screens," a survey of climate change in over 60 feature films, the professor has done his homework.

"For the big Hollywood studios, I think the fear of alienating a segment of the market, due to the polarization of the climate change issue in the U.S., is a factor in whether to incorporate 'climate change' into a plot," he told me. "That seems to have been the case with 'Mad Max: Fury Road.' For the smaller studios, the ones making movies for network and cable TV channels, I think there's a sense of 'been there, done that.' They've moved on to the latest fear in the daily news cycle. And neither group seems to understand the challenge. Climate change doesn't fit into the stories they've been trained to tell."

I asked Svoboda if he thinks things will change.

"I hope so," he said. "As the evidence mounts that climate change is already changing weather patterns, which in turn are affecting the global economy and international relations, I think moviemakers will figure out how to combine the different elements of climate change -- extreme weather, economic impacts, the conflicts driven by food insecurities that result -- into coherent, compelling and new stories."

To move the public on this issue, these stories must also illustrate how we can make the social changes necessary to avoid truly dangerous climate change, Svoboda said.

And that may mean movies that look more like ''Too Big to Fail'' or ''The Big Short'' than ''The Day After Tomorrow,'' ''Into the Storm,'' or ''Snowpiercer."

In a recent oped article Svoboda wrote headlined "No Awards for the Academy on Climate Change this Year," he said that Hollywood producers and screenwriters seem cowed by the politics and confused by the challenge of climate change.
​"The 2015-nominated actors, directors, and films portrayed Cold War-era America, in several places, the Western frontier, the surface of Mars -- anything but the future we actually face," he wrote. "Even in ''Mad Max: Fury Road,'' a major theatrical release predicated on a breakdown of the environment, the words 'climate change' never appear."  

''Politics'' is certainly part of the answer, Svoboda told me.

''Over the last decade, climate change became embroiled in America's culture wars," he said. "A significant portion of the American electorate now views 'climate change' as a Trojan horse for 'the liberal agenda.' If a studio has invested millions to create a pop-spectacle, it will hesitate to include political notes that might sour its siren call."

Svoboda said he's hopeful that a new cohort of moviemakers, such as producer and climate activist Marshall Herskovitz, will face climate themes head-on in the future.

"The stories they greenlight in coming years may well influence what humans are able to achieve on climate change by 2100," he said. 
So how about it,
​liberal, progressive 
Hollywood? When will you start making
​global warming

themed movies
​ for America's cineplex audiences

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