Study | The climate crisis rarely appears in Hollywood films

(Portland) Aquaman may not be bothered by rising oceans, but moviegoers probably will.

Researchers have tried to determine whether today’s Hollywood blockbusters reflect the current climate crisis. The vast majority of films failed the “climate reality check” proposed by the authors, who studied 250 films from 2013 to 2022.

The test is simple: the authors wanted to know if a film presented a story in which climate change existed and if a character knew it. One film that passed the test was the 2017 superhero film Justice Leaguein which Jason Momoa’s Aquaman character says, “Hey, I don’t mind if the oceans rise” to Ben Affleck’s Bruce Wayne.

But most films fell short: fewer than 10 percent of the 250 films passed the test, and climate change was mentioned in two or more scenes in fewer than 4 percent of the films. This is disconnected from the movie-going public who want “to see their reality reflected on screen,” said Matthew Schneider-Mayerson, an English professor at Colby College and the study’s lead researcher.

“The bottom line is that the vast majority of films, popular films produced in the last ten years in the United States, do not depict the world as it is,” he explained. They depict a world that is now history or fantasy – a world in which climate change is not happening. »

Researchers at Colby College in Maine published the study in April with Good Energy, an environmental consulting firm in Los Angeles. The results have been peer-reviewed and the authors are seeking publication in scientific journals. Researchers view the test as a way for viewers, writers and filmmakers to evaluate the depiction of climate change on screen.

Some results were surprising. Films that, on the surface, appear to have little connection to climate or the environment have passed the test. “Marriage Story,” Noah Baumbach’s moving 2019 drama about the collapse of a relationship, passed the test in part because Adam Driver’s character is described as “Conscious about energy,” Schneider-Mayerson said.

The thriller of 2022 Glass Onion and the 2019 folk horror film Midsommar also took the test. Some, more explicitly linked to climate change, like the 2021 satire Don’t Look Up, were also successful. But this is not the case San Andreasa 2015 film about a West Coast earthquake, and The Meg a 2018 action film set in the ocean.

The authors narrowed the selection of films by excluding those not set on Earth or set before 2006 or after 2100. They found that video-on-demand services had a higher percentage of films that included climate change than the big studios.

A “conversation starter”

The study is “useful for marketing, information and data accumulation purposes,” said Harry Winer, director of sustainability at the Kanbar Institute of Film and Television at the Tisch School of the Arts from New York University. Winer, who was not involved in the study, believes it could also serve as an incentive to connect audiences with climate stories.

“The public will be more open to hearing a dialogue about what is right and what is wrong,” he said. It’s a conversation starter. »

The study authors view the climate reality check as a kind of Bechdel-Wallace test for climate change. Alison Bechdel, a cartoonist, is credited with popularizing this test in the 1980s by incorporating her friend Liz Wallace’s test on gender representation in cinema into a comic strip. The test is to see if a film includes at least two female characters who have a conversation about something other than a man.

Bechdel herself praised the study’s climate test, which is long overdue, she wrote in a social media post during this year’s Oscar season. Bechdel said in an email to The Associated Press that “for a film set in the present, ignoring this existential threat simply no longer makes sense” in the age of climate change.

“I fear that the writers will only do it mechanically, which could be counterproductive, just like “strong female characters” (introduced) mechanically are, she argued. But injecting an awareness of our common plight into the stories we consume seems like a no-brainer. »

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