In the beginning of Netflix’s Bird Box, Sarah Paulson’s Jessica informs her shut-in sister Malorie, played by Sandra Bullock, about the chaos engulfing Europe. Jessica tells Malorie to turn on the TV to any channel and they see news reports of people inexplicably killing themselves. It is these news reports that have landed Netflix in hot water, as the footage used in them comes from a real-life disaster.
Some of the stock footage used in the news reports at the beginning of the film is of the Lac-Mégantic Rail disaster that happened in 2013. It occurred when a train carrying crude oil derailed in the Quebec town of Lac-Mégantic. This resulted in the tragic deaths of 47 people. Julie Morin, the mayor of Lac-Mégantic, has criticized Netflix for the use of the disaster footage, according to Deadline.
Bird Box isn’t the only Netflix title to have used this footage either. The Netflix original series Travelers, which is about future humans who discover how to send their consciousness back through time to try and change the course of human history, was also criticized for using footage of the train wreck in the show’s third season.
The producers of the show acquired footage of the Lac-Mégantic disaster from a stock footage vendor, but said they weren’t aware of its specific source. The producers, Peacock Alley Entertainment, apologized and said that the footage will be replaced. It seems, however, that Netflix will not remove the Lac-Mégantic footage from Bird Box.
This is, of course, not the only controversy that has surrounded the Netflix original film. The premise of the film, which had people keeping on blindfolds when venturing outside in order to survive, has resulted in people taking the Bird Box Challenge, wherein people will do various tasks blindfolded in order to get those all-important internet points.
There was even an instance of someone who decided to do the Bird Box Challenge by replicating a scene in the film and driving while blindfolded. In addition to reminding us what a miracle it is that humanity has made it this far, these instances have now resulted in YouTube banning dangerous prank videos like the Bird Box Challenge and Netflix issuing a warning about it. If stupidity is going to kill you, you won’t enjoy any posthumous fame.
The controversy over the Bird Box Challenge is just people being idiots, whereas this situation with the Lac-Mégantic disaster footage is much more sensitive. It is no surprise that a film or television show would use stock footage for a news report like this as opposed to actually creating it.
True, it is only a brief snippet, unrecognizable from any other disaster footage to most people. But when you experienced the disaster being shown, where real lives were lost, and now it is being used in mass entertainment, I imagine that can be rather upsetting.
Despite the controversies, Bird Box has been a smash hit for Netflix. The streaming service claimed 45 million people watched the Sandra Bullock film in the first week. Nielsen put the number at 26 million, which, although much smaller, is still huge. So with that level of cultural penetration, I wouldn’t be surprised if there is a sequel in the future. Though maybe next time Netflix will be a little more careful about what stock footage it uses.
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