Netflix has become somewhat of a cultural phenomenon, quickly emerging as an essential for Gen Z, Millennials and Baby Boomers alike. While shows such as "House of Cards" and "Thirteen Reasons Why" are the entertainment hub’s bread and butter, Netflix is now hoping to leverage its influence to turn viewers’ attention towards critical environmental and social issues. The network has signed on two new films that seek to bring the issues surrounding climate change and GMOs to the mainstream.
Out of sight, out of mind: Coral reefs provide essential ecosystem services that determine the vitality of the world’s oceans, but warming waters brought on by climate change are threatening their very existence — and that of the many marine species that rely on them for survival. Premiering on Netflix on July 14, Chasing Coral, a documentary directed by Jeff Orlowski, follows a team of divers, scientists and photographers racing against the clock to document the disappearance of coral reefs. The film aims to draw attention to the pressing underwater issue through the presentation of hard facts and mesmerizing time-lapse imagery of coral reefs that took three years to shoot.
The result of over 650 hours underwater, submissions of footage from volunteers from 30 countries and support from more than 500 people — including climate scientists, reef experts, marine biologists and more — from across the globe, the film provides irrefutable evidence of the catastrophic changes taking place under the ocean’s surface.
Teaming decades of scientific research with firsthand accounts of destruction and awe-inspiring footage of vibrant reefs in all their glory and those on the threshold of death, the film reveals that over 50 percent of the world’s coral reefs have already been lost and those that remain could be wiped out in our lifetime if current rates of loss continue. According to Chasing Coral, 22 percent of the Great Barrier Reef died in 2016, which equates to the loss of most of the trees between Washington, D.C. and Maine.
The documentary’s message is a powerful one — one that even skeptics would be hard-pressed to contest — but the efforts undertaken to tell it were anything but simple. The team repeatedly faced technical malfunctions and the force of nature was constantly throwing new obstacles in their way. Despite the magnitude of the issue, the film ends on a relatively positive note, providing updates on work being done by film participants to protect global coral reefs and the oceans as a whole.
The film is a follow-up to Orlowski’s 2012 documentary Chasing Ice, which examined Arctic glacier retreat, and was picked up by Netflix at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. The move could prove instrumental in driving the widespread of adoption of renewable energy and providing greater imperative for both businesses, governments and private citizens to take action.
Coral reef destruction isn’t the only environmental issue that has caught Netflix’s attention. The entertainment company has also released a new science-fiction film, Okja, that tells a tale of animal activism, corporate greed and scientific ethics.
Okja explores the harsh realities of factory farming through a storyline that sees CEO Lucy Mirando (played by Tilda Swinton) order the breeding of “super pigs” around the world, which will eventually be slaughtered for consumption. Okja is one of the super pigs and has been raised in South Korea by Mija (Korean actress Seo-Hyun Ahn). After Ojka is reclaimed as the Mirando Corporation’s intellectual property and taken to New York, Mija sets out on a rescue mission, which becomes increasingly more complicated as she crosses paths with disparate groups of capitalists, demonstrators and consumers, each battling to control the fate of Ojka.
The film received significant acclaim at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival and comes at a time when the future of food and labels such as organic and non-GMO are gaining prominent places in the climate change conversation.
Released on Netflix on June 28, the film has already caused a stir and brought the conversation surrounding meat consumption and the industrial food system to the forefront. The creative team behind the film claims it didn’t intend to drive viewers towards vegetarianism, but the film asks hard questions and forces viewers to work out the answers for themselves.
While Swinton’s character could be painted as the film’s villain, her super pig plot is the attempt to feed people more efficiently while reducing the environmental impact of food production. As Jon Ronson, the film’s writer, puts it: “The heroes aren’t entirely heroic and the villains aren’t entirely villainous.”
The film doesn’t shy away from difficult topics such as animal cruelty either and features disturbing scenes that are hard to watch, but force the audience to acknowledge how food is produced.
“Own your lifestyle choices and own your positions. If you’re going to eat meat, this is what happens in a slaughterhouse,” Ronson said. “I think that’s something you can take into life. If you’re going to bully somebody, don’t trick yourself into thinking you’re not bullying them. Understand your actions.”