Health experts issue stark warnings to coronavirus filmmakers

Health experts have issued warnings to filmmakers of all upcoming coronavirus-themed movies, urging them to treat the topic with sensitivity and accuracy.

It’s been more than a year since the pandemic started, and we’re beginning to see the release of movies featuring Covid-19 as a plot point – from Locked Down, starring Anne Hathaway and Chiwetel Ejiofor and Michael Bay’s Songbird, to smaller productions like Canadian thriller Corona.

Plus, it’s likely there are more to come.

However, unlike previous pandemic movies, like Steven Soderbergh’s Contagion, these films have all the problems and responsibilities of tackling a real life health crisis.

While the movies feature Covid-19 to varying degrees, health experts have spoken to about what exactly they need to get right – and what they need to be very careful of.

Don’t ‘sensationalise or trivialise’ the pandemic

Asked what concerns she has about cinema tackling the pandemic, veterinary pathologist Dr Tracey McNamara, who worked on the early stages of Contagion, said: ‘None, IF they get it right and don’t sensationalise or trivialise the message Hollywood style.

‘There is no need to do so as there are plenty of real-life dramatic moments that could be put into a movie Soderbergh-style. I think a movie at this time is important. Lessons learned from Covid-19 are most likely to be listened to while the pandemic is in progress. If history has taught us anything, it is that once the crisis is over, the public and policy makers lose interest and that “teachable” moment is lost.’

She added: ‘There is no need to create ludicrous scenarios as was the case in the Dustin Hoffman film Outbreak. The truth is even more frightening and that is what Contagion presented. That is why it was such a compelling film.’

NHS GP Dr Ahmed El Muntasar added: ‘My main concern is how the dramatisation of the pandemic will be portrayed in a movie. The frontline has been under enormous pressure throughout the pandemic, and for many medical professionals it has been a traumatising, exhausting and relentless few months and we are far from out of the woods yet.  This isn’t a film – this is people’s actual livelihoods and it’s important this is conveyed in a respectful way that reflects the real events.’

Get the facts straight

Dr McNamara pointed out the importance of getting the facts right about the pandemic, saying: ‘Do your research – get your facts straight.

‘Do justice to all those who have died. This is easy enough to do. Reach out to those scientists who were involved in efforts to manage this outbreak from the beginning. Get them to outline the critical issues the public should be made aware of.’

Don’t exploit conspiracy theories

Dr Jonas Nilsen, CEO of vaccination and travel specialists Practio, advised filmmakers to ‘consider the impact of their work on people’s perceptions, and avoid exploiting conspiracy theories and negative angles that can fuel unreasonable fears.’

‘Vaccines have had a major positive impact on global health but not without hiccups,’ he continued. ‘Exploiting those could do a major disservice to the world.

‘If a movie is to be made about the recent pandemic, it is important to demystify the current events and clear the air of conspiracies.

‘The world suffers and will continue to suffer from dangerous contagious diseases, and vaccines have been part of the solution for a long time. Many people seem to ignore this when forming opinions about the coronavirus and the vaccines released to fight it.’

Consult healthcare professionals and patients

Dr El Muntasar said: ‘I would suggest the directors and producers interview healthcare professionals that specialise in different areas to get a good overview of the impact it had on them – and also interview the patients – as there are so many different experiences.

‘As we know, some have ended up in ICU and of course there are also people who lost their lives. But the majority who have had Covid have recovered well and so I’d worry that the film may focus on the portion of people who had it severely and be misleading.’

Avoid using anxiety and fear as a tool

Dr Nilsen added: ‘It’s also not advisable to use people’s anxiety and fears as a tool. It’s important that the population get precise and correct information and that we help people act rationally on the threat that Covid-19 poses.

‘We know from research that anxiety can lead to irrational actions and that anxiety can be a catalyst for conspiracy theories. I hope that the people behind the movies are aware of their social responsibility and have consulted experts from health authorities while making the movie.’

Songbird is out now, while Locked Down is set for release on March 5.

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