After she’s married, Katherine (Florence Pugh) starts each day being woken up and cinched into a corset and cage crinoline. Then she’s helped into a dress — her signature frock is cobalt blue and pinned with a brooch at the neck. And then she sits on a settee in a parlor in sleepy, stupefying boredom, watching the clock tick away until she can go through the whole dressing process in reverse and then find out if her husband, Alexander (Paul Hilton), will try to impregnate her that night.
Alexander is a stranger to her, a man old enough to be her father and one who treats her with open contempt. He’s the browbeaten child of a tyrannical landowner named Boris (Christopher Fairbank), and he baldly reminds Katherine that his father bought her to bear heirs to his son. In that, Boris is out of luck — aside from some brusque acts of sexual humiliation, Alexander hasn’t touched his child bride.
Katherine’s is a miserable, oppressive Victorian existence, one in which she’s treated as the equivalent of both an ignored ornament and a brood animal. But as the title of her movie, Lady Macbeth, suggests, Katherine is ready to wreck some shit. The film is a corrosive, intelligent costume drama from first-time director William Oldroyd, and it isn’t Shakespearean at all — it’s based on a Russian novella by Nikolai Leskov, though the action’s been transported over to 1800s Northumberland.
Katherine soon sets about kicking down patriarchal dictates and chasing her own budding desires with an admirable recklessness. Her rage is glorious, incandescent, and entirely self-concerned — she’s perfectly comfortable stepping on the necks of those she outranks or, if need be, stepping over their dead bodies. And in Lady Macbeth, while it’s white men to whom the world belongs, the people whom Katherine has power over are mostly black.
It’s a coincidence that Lady Macbeth arrives in theaters so soon after Sofia Coppola’s exquisite, myopic The Beguiled, a historical drama that takes place during roughly the same time period in Civil War–torn Virginia. But it’s a serendipitous one. The Beguiled, after all, has been criticized for its decision to excise a slave character (a choice director Sofia Coppola recently defended) and, in doing so, to effectively exclude race from its depiction of the dynamics of a group of genteel Southern women who take in a wounded Union soldier. Lady Macbeth does the opposite, inserting race into a 19th-century England so habitually portrayed as all white onscreen that projects about actual famous figures of color from the era have had trouble getting made.
The sketch Lady Macbeth offers of a rural society divided into strata on the basis of race as well as gender and class gives the film a contemporary-feeling jolt, though maybe it shouldn’t — as Oldroyd has pointed out, assumptions about the era’s racial uniformity have more to do with traditions in media than historical research. Race is never mentioned out loud in Lady Macbeth. Very little is mentioned out loud in Lady Macbeth, a movie fond of beautiful static shots to foment a sense of claustrophobia and long silences under which emotions roils. But it’s there onscreen, complicating the story of its antihero’s struggle to carve out a better life for herself at the cost of those intended to use her, and those she ends up using.
It’s there, in particular, in the form of Anna (Naomi Ackie), the long-suffering maid whose responsibility it is to tend to Katherine. Anna is Katherine’s most frequent companion, the person tasked with yanking Katherine’s corset tight in the morning and sitting up with her in the evening to keep her awake for her indifferent husband. And yet the power is entirely on Katherine’s side.
When Katherine begins testing the boundaries of her circumscribed wedded life during a giddy window of liberation when both Boris and Alexander are traveling, she discovers that no one else has authority over her, though they might have to shoulder the blame and face consequences for her behavior. She starts small, taking walks on the moors when she’s been told to stay inside and drinking all of Boris’s favorite wine, but her insurrections escalate into taking a lover and, not long afterward, murder.
And through it all, Anna is there, Katherine delighting in all but daring the servant to inform the world about her various delinquencies, and to face whatever the consequences might be for defying the progressively more frightening young woman she answers to.
Katherine allows the handsome, brutish, ethnically ambiguous groomsman Sebastian (Cosmo Jarvis) into her bed and lets Anna discover her nude in the morning, basking in satisfaction at her own boldness. Anna has more reasons to be shocked than her young mistress’s open, giggling infidelity — Sebastian was one of the workers on the estate who, not long before, got a laugh out of stripping Anna and hoisting her like a pig for weighing, with rape strongly implied.
Sebastian first caught Katherine’s eye when she put a stop to the incident, not out of concern for her maid but because she wanted to flex her power by telling the men they were wasting her husband’s money by fooling around. It’s one grim little meet-cute, and meanwhile Anna hurries away to weep on the stairs, with no expectation of justice meted on her behalf.
Katherine is an impetuous girl who starts blowing things up because she can, and who becomes truly terrifying and tragic only when the idea of a happy ending, a previous impossibility in her dire situation, flits tantalizingly if improbably into view. Pugh, who’s now 21, is blisteringly great in her breakout role, fascinating and unlikable and oh so young — the lady of the house as defiant teenager.
When Boris berates his daughter-in-law for her poorly hidden affair, he sounds like nothing so much as an enraged dad yelling at his recalcitrant kid — “Do you have any idea of the damage you’re capable of doing to this family?” he roars. He might as well be handing her the keys to the castle in reminding her that it’s in everyone else’s best interests to affirm her blamelessness. She might get degraded and treated like an object, but she enjoys a level of societal protection that Anna never has.
Like The Beguiled, Lady Macbeth is about power and the performed innocence of white womanhood. But in enriching its drama with race, Oldroyd’s film demonstrates just how much Coppola’s missed out on in contorting itself in its attempts to make gender dynamics its only axis. Lady Macbeth‘s main character slides from exhilarating outrageousness to painful monstrousness, a journey that’s illuminated by how her resentment at her own mistreatment fails to give her any empathy to those she in turn mistreats — to Anna, to later arrivals Agnes (Golda Rosheuvel) and Teddy (Anton Palmer), and even to Sebastian, who starts to pull away from his aristocratic lover when her demands get more ruthless. Katherine’s acts of go-girl vengeance are soured not just by their increasing viciousness, but by the way she flexes the advantages she has over others.
Which is an idea that’s never better summed up than in the sequence in which Katherine murders her father-in-law, poisoning him at breakfast and then serenely barricading him in another room to die. Anna is with her the entire time, Katherine ordering her to sit, trembling, and make small talk over the sounds of Boris in agony. It’s a shoot-the-moon approach to homicide, so hilariously outrageous that no one could believe in her guilt, but the giddy audacity of Katherine’s act is mitigated by Anna’s obvious trauma at being made an unwilling accomplice.
Katherine has such confidence in the other woman’s comparative powerlessness and vulnerability that she renders Anna mute through seeming sheer strength of will, unable to spill Katherine’s secrets or to defend herself. The empowerment Katherine finds at that moment literally comes at the cost of a black woman’s voice — an act of silencing that could be a critique of Coppola’s act of erasure.
Tiffany Haddish can pinpoint the exact moment her life changed for the better.
It was 2004 and she was “homeless as fuck,” spending nights in her Geo Metro on the streets of Los Angeles. But she was trying to keep up appearances. “I made sure my nails were done, I made sure my hair stayed done, I could keep my armpits up with baby wipes, I tried to stay clean,” Haddish said of her self-proclaimed “classy homeless” facade.
The then-25-year-old LA native was angling for stage time at Hollywood’s famed Laugh Factory in hopes of realizing her dreams of becoming a stand-up comedian. But one night, as she was arriving late — per usual, so the other comics wouldn’t see her clearly lived-in car — another car pulled into the parking lot directly behind her. It was Kevin Hart, who Haddish had become friendly with on the comedy circuit. She tried to play off the fact that all her belongings were jam-packed inside her sedan, but Hart wasn’t fooled. After the show, he pulled her aside to talk in his car. He gave her $300 and told her to make a list of goals, both professional and personal, so she could get back on track.
“He noticed, and nobody really noticed,” Haddish said through tears over tea at Coffee Commissary in West Hollywood, a few miles away from the parking lot where everything changed. “I was homeless, I was hopeless, and he noticed. He didn’t try to take advantage of me. He helped me. Like an angel. It was a turning point for me.”
Haddish did what Hart suggested. Atop her list were practical goals: Move out of the Geo Metro, move into a real apartment, and buy some nice drapes. Farther down the list were dreams that felt utterly impossible at the time, like working with Danny DeVito, Dave Chappelle, and Jada Pinkett Smith.
Fast-forward 13 years and Haddish is living the kind of life she wished for that night in Hart’s car. (Hart was unavailable to comment on this story.) She’s a staple in the stand-up comedy scene, she’s costarred on Tyler Perry’s If Loving You Is Wrong, she’s worked with Jordan Peele and Keegan-Michael Key in Keanu, and she routinely steals her scenes on NBC’s The Carmichael Show. She’s worked with DeVito on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, she’s opened for Chappelle on tour, and she’s about to costar with Pinkett Smith in the year’s funniest comedy, Girls Trip.
In the film, Haddish plays Dina, one-fourth of a college crew nicknamed the Flossy Posse (rounded out by Queen Latifah and Regina Hall), who travel to Essence Fest in New Orleans in hopes of repairing their fractured friendship. Each woman has taken a different path since college: Pinkett Smith’s Lisa is a harried mother of two, Latifah’s Sasha is a formerly respected journalist now slumming it as a gossip blogger, Hall’s Ryan is an aspirational lifestyle guru, and Haddish’s Dina is living an emotionally stunted but totally joyous life as the group’s irrepressible free spirit.
Many of the same local New Orleans crew members who had worked on Keanu with Haddish signed on for Girls Trip, and after reading the script, they thought she would be perfect for Dina. Unbeknownst to one another, about a dozen crew members sent nearly identical emails to the comedian. “’You need to go audition for this.’ ‘This is your part,’” Haddish recalled of their messages, some of which included the script attached. When she read it, Haddish immediately felt a kinship with Dina. “I was like, whoever wrote this knows me,” she said. “Like, they must have partied with me at least once.”
But there was a hitch: The producers were looking for “a name,” — i.e., another famous actor to join Pinkett Smith, Latifah, and Hall, who had already signed on. So Haddish had a very simple (and very Dina-esque) suggestion for her manager. “I said, ‘Tell them I’ve had a name since 1979. I was born with a name. You tell them I need to come in.’” And that’s exactly what her manager did.
A series of improv-heavy auditions later, Haddish landed the role and found herself with three days to pack up her life in LA and fly to New Orleans. The opportunity offered Haddish something she’d been longing for — not just the chance to work with Pinkett Smith and check another item off her Kevin Hart–inspired to-do list, but the chance to create a character that tapped into her strongest skill set as a performer: physical comedy.
While white women in comedy — like Melissa McCarthy, Amy Schumer, Rebel Wilson, and Kate McKinnon — routinely use their physicality for laughs, Haddish noted that that freedom is not as readily available for black women. So when she began to create Dina in her mind, Haddish looked to a pair of her biggest comedy idols: Whoopi Goldberg and Charlie Chaplin. “Whoopi Goldberg in Jumpin’ Jack Flash was the first black woman I ever saw get to be really physical,” she said. “I am a comedy connoisseur, and when I got this role, I knew there’s a certain way I had to play it, because Dina could be considered the super nasty dirtiest chick in the world and people would hate her.”
That’s where Chaplin came in. “I studied him for a long time because he was doing bad stuff — hitting people, kicking things, hurting dogs, all kind of stuff — but he was always forgiven because he made it feel like childlike behavior. So I was like, if I can bring this childlike vibe to Dina and just be this wild teenage chick, people would be like, ‘She’s nasty and I like it because she’s so fucking sweet.’”
Haddish nails Dina’s duality. About halfway through Girls Trip, Dina not-so-accidentally doses her friend’s drinks with absinthe. As they all begin to trip, it comes to light that she’s responsible, but no one holds it against her, because you can’t help but like a girl who just wants to have fun.
Haddish had been studying Goldberg, Chaplin, and more comedians ever since she was a child. Her first idol? Charles Fleischer, who voiced Roger Rabbit in 1988’s Who Framed Roger Rabbit. “He’s the main reason why I even tried to be funny,” Haddish said. “There’s a scene in the movie where Eddie [Bob Hoskins] says to the rabbit, ‘Why are all of these people doing this nice stuff for you?’ And Roger says, ‘Because I make people laugh, Eddie! If you make people laugh, they’ll do anything for you,’” Haddish said, perfectly emulating Fleischer’s iconic Roger lisp. “I’m like, ‘That’s the ticket! That’s how I’ll get kids to help me do my homework! That’s how I’ll keep from getting beat up! That’s how I’ll keep from people talking bad about my mom.’ That was the beginning of everything for me.”
Haddish was born and raised by a single mother in South Los Angeles, along with her four siblings. When she was 9, her mother was in a serious car accident that Haddish links to her mother developing schizophrenia. From ages 9 to 13, Haddish assumed a maternal role to her siblings until all five kids were placed into foster care before they were able to move in with their grandmother. “Comedy was my saving grace,” she said. “What comedy did for me is it’s been able to make me look at a really bad situation and think, What’s funny about this? What about this is good? What about this can I take with me and be like, ‘Let me tell you a crazy story that happened to me?’ So people can be like, ‘That is so fucked up, but it’s hilarious.’”
As a teenager, Haddish had the opportunity to learn from Fleischer at Comedy Camp, a Laugh Factory community enrichment program that pairs inner-city kids with stand-up mentors. “It was the most wonderful thing in the world that could have ever happened to me,” she said. “It was the first time a man ever told me I was beautiful and I didn’t think something bad was going to happen. It’s the first time a man ever told me I was smart, it’s the first time a man sat me down and showed me how to construct a joke and gave me confidence and communication skills and showed me how to command a room and how to properly receive attention.”
She relied on her newfound comedic stylings to deflect negative attention growing up, calling the art form her “safe space.” For Haddish, comedy is “where I know that I can speak my mind and whether people agreed or disagreed with it, I’m not going to get beat up, I’m not going to get raped,” she said. “I enjoy being able to have a voice and being heard and sharing my truth onstage.”
Now Haddish is hoping she can use comedy to help her mother, too. “My mom is in a mental institution right now, and I think the main reason why I want to be so successful, why I want to do so much, is so that I can get her out of that institution and find the cure,” she said, as tears rolled down her cheeks.
“Because I think rich people be having the cure for crazy,” she continued, finding a way to joke through the tears. “I feel like if I get rich enough, I can put her on a holistic diet and give her these roots and herbs from South America that other people can’t get and then I get my genius mother back. I get my mother back who was good at doing business, who was good at loving her children, who was good at just listening and caring. I want that so bad. That’s why. That’s why.”
Looking at the year ahead for Haddish, it would appear that she’s well on her way to checking off that most important item on her to-do list one day. The third and final season of The Carmichael Show ends in August, Showtime will air her stand-up special — Tiffany Haddish: She Ready! From the Hood to Hollywood — on Aug. 18, and this fall she’ll costar as Tracy Morgan’s ex-wife on the new TBS comedy The Last O.G.
And while Haddish wants to build a career that can offer her the opportunity to help her mother and siblings, that can give her the chance to thank Kevin Hart for all his help, and that can eventually lead her to work with Will Ferrell (the last name on her 2004 wish list), the person Haddish constantly works to impress is herself. “I don’t feel like I need to be successful for others, I feel like I need to be successful for myself,” she said, pointing a perfectly manicured finger at her heart. “I need to be successful for that little girl who was 12 years old, sitting in freakin’ MacLaren Hall feeling like she was going to get beat up by the world and die tomorrow and not be anything. I honestly thought I would be a baby mama with five kids, four daddies; that was how I was going to have to make a living, because I couldn’t read, I couldn’t talk to people, I’m scared of everybody. I honestly felt like that was what I was going to have to do. ‘I’m gonna have to be a ho.’ Because that’s what I saw succeeding.”
Haddish stopped for a moment and used a napkin to wipe the tears from her eyes. “I’ve been through the shit,” she said, not as a knock against herself or a way to build herself up — just a simple fact. “I have come out of society’s asshole, but guess what?” She took another pause as a massive smile broke out across her face. “I’m the penny you swallowed. I’m magical!”●
Jarett Wieselman is a senior entertainment editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in Los Angeles. Wieselman writes about and reports on the television industry.
On Dec. 8, 2015, the basilica in the Vatican was baptized in blue water. Images of endangered animals climbed the columns and domes of the magnificent Italian church, and giant illuminated butterflies clung to its walls. Fifty projectors lit up the white stone of the Roman Catholic mecca with rare marine life swimming to the facade’s perimeters while the echoes of wild birds played on loudspeakers. Many visitors cried in the middle of St. Peter’s Square, perhaps at the wordless beauty or at the dwindling stock of nature’s bounty portrayed in the installation, titled Fiat Lux. Nearly 225,000 people saw the display in person, with many thousands more via online.
“The pope’s number two told us that the last artist to do any [artwork] on the Vatican was Michelangelo,” said Louie Psihoyos, the Academy Award–winning director who curated the installation. He later integrated footage from Fiat Lux into his 2015 documentary Racing Extinction, which explains how human action has led to the mass extinction of many species.
Before the installation made its debut at the Vatican, Pope Francis had released a strongly worded encyclical for Catholics to help save the planet. “Humanity still has the ability to work together in building our common home,” he wrote in May 2015. “I urgently appeal, then, for a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet. … Regrettably, many efforts to seek concrete solutions to the environmental crisis have proved ineffective, not only because of powerful opposition but also because of a more general lack of interest. … We require a new and universal solidarity.”
But it was hardly the first time religion and environmentally conscious filmmaking had come together. Five thousand miles away, about a decade earlier, the US version of The Great Warming was made with evangelical communities specifically in mind. After its successful small-screen run on the Discovery Channel in 2004, producer Karen Coshof and her husband, director Michael Taylor, set out to take their global climate change doc project into movie theaters. For this 2006 big-screen effort, narrated by Keanu Reeves and Alanis Morissette, the Canadian filmmakers integrated new footage with talking heads from the US religious community — like physician-turned-author Matthew Sleeth; Rev. Richard Cizik, who was then vice president for government affairs at the National Association of Evangelicals, and is an influential voice in US Christendom and politics; and lifelong civil rights and environmental activist Gerald Durley. “We were interested in what the total American audience was like,” Taylor told BuzzFeed News. And for many US viewers, religion was — and is — “a driving force.”
In the final cut, church congregations raise their hands in worship in between sound bites about climate change’s impact on the globe. “The [environmentalist] movement will in itself bring grassroots people together,” Durley says in the documentary, talking to kids at a YMCA in Atlanta, not far from the church he led for more than 25 years. “And when grassroots people come together, they do something in America called ‘voting.’ And when voting takes place, it impacts those who make the decisions.”
“You might be more open to believe it because you’re in a place of trust — more than if you just saw it on an airplane.”
In addition to opening in movie theaters, The Great Warming was distributed for free on DVD, and screened at hundreds of town halls and churches in an effort to encourage conservative Christians to vote for environmentally friendly politicians during the US House elections in the fall of 2006 and the presidential election in 2008. Variety called it a “kinder, gentler” global warming documentary compared to the other climate doc from 2006, An Inconvenient Truth. Al Gore’s stats-packed film, directed by Davis Guggenheim, became a foundational movie for modern environmental documentaries with its PowerPoint-style presentation and the famed hockey stick graph. It helped to propel the environmental movement — particularly those simpatico with Gore’s position on one end of the political spectrum — into born-again status.
In the decade since, even more documentaries, like Psihoyos’s Racing Extinction, Before the Flood (2016), Chasing Coral (2017), and From the Ashes (2017), have spread messages about the apocalyptic damage humans are doing to the planet and the increasing efforts it will take to repair it — as will forthcoming films like An Inconvenient Sequel (opens wide Aug. 4) and Rancher, Farmer, Fisherman (Aug. 31). Also in the decade since, thousands of churches and faith-based organizations centered on “creation care” have been preaching the same sermons as these movies.
Documentaries have been used to educate congregations, to convert the unconverted in halls of worship and in homes, and to motivate believers into action to combat climate change, a cause that has become an increased priority in evangelical, Protestant, and Catholic traditions in America. And according to the dozen interviewees who spoke with BuzzFeed News for this story, churchgoing constituencies get a lot more out of the films when they lean into the moral and human centers of the environmentalism movement.
Like last year, when there was a small screening of Fisher Stevens’ 2016 documentary Before the Flood — a title evocative of the flood of the Old Testament — at Baylor University in Texas. The Big 12 private Christian college’s student population draws heavily from Houston and Midland, communities rooted in the natural gas and oil industry. “There’s a lot of diametric opposition that these kids experience, because of the source of wealth from where they come from,” said Andy Peterson of the marketing group Different Drummer, which focuses on “healthy conversations” about faith and entertainment. “But they themselves are very interested in this conversation, and even became advocates for this message after they saw the film because of what they believe.”
When An Inconvenient Truth was released in 2006, Episcopal priest Sally Bingham set out 200 chairs and rented a popcorn machine for her congregation at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco on a Saturday afternoon, promising a movie and some conversation. The first screening filled up, so she offered a second one two hours later; then a third.
Gore’s film, which went on to gross $24 million domestically over its theatrical lifetime, had a domino effect and a “big influence” on the religious community on the whole, Bingham said. Though the science about global climate change had been around for many years, “before 2006, it was an off-the-wall hippie Democratic liberal idea. But after [Gore] showed all that science, there’s a lot of people who thought, Wow, I had no idea.”
Bingham is also the president and founder of Interfaith Power & Light, a US-based inter-religious network of 20,000 groups — most of which are Christian churches — that disseminate copies of documentaries to show inside churches or at church screening events to get religious people to respond to climate change.
During its Faith Climate Action Week, IPL gave away copies of Before the Flood to whomever asked for one, which was about 1,000 congregations. With the average congregation being 400 parishioners, according to Bingham, “that is 400,000 people, potentially. And if they showed it twice?…”
Before the Flood follows Leonardo DiCaprio’s round-the-world journey to colorfully illustrate the planetary destruction predicted 10 years earlier in An Inconvenient Truth. The film has had a long life on the National Geographic Channel since its release in October, but it was also shown to many church groups, in part because it highlights DiCaprio fetching face time with Pope Francis.
“If you saw [Before the Flood] in your congregation, you might be more open to believe it because you’re in a place of trust — more than if you just saw it on an airplane,” said Terry Tamminen, CEO of the Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation. Tamminen and Stevens were on hand in Beverly Hills during the Environmental Media Association’s Impact Summit in March, where Stevens echoed that enthusiasm for attracting such audiences, who may be more prone to get involved if they have a community of accountability. “We wanted to get this movie in front of as many churches as possible,” he said.
Director Jeff Orlowski, who helmed 2012’s Chasing Ice and the new, sad sequel-of-sorts Chasing Coral, doesn’t refer to audiences as “converts versus unconverted” — because to him, that indicates people have heard the gospel but rejected it. Instead, he thinks more in terms of “choir versus non-choir.” Orlowski’s hope is to peel the scales from viewers’ eyes with new and previously unseen video of remote glaciers and mysterious underwater environs, no matter a person’s stance on biblical literalism or evolution. After grasping the hard science of the current and immediate earthly situation, the barrier for the viewer, then, isn’t climate denialism, but determining what action they’re going to take after they’re up-to-date on the facts.
For Orlowski, the key is pairing church and community screenings of his films with sermons or Q&As from local church leaders. “We’re talking about glaciers. But they tie it into why the film matters to that the congregation, making it as local and relevant as possible. When we were screening with the evangelical community … it was really powerful to hear the emotional connection from these religious leaders about why this issue was so important to them,” he said. “I’m not particularly a person of faith. … I can’t replicate the language. I think the most powerful speakers on climate change are speakers from the faith community who are helping to shift their community on an issue that has been framed as a political one.”
“Scientists aren’t well-versed in sharing emotional stories,” Orlowski continued. He evoked the late film critic Robert Ebert’s quote about films being “empathy machines.” “Our job is to be a translator for the scientific community,” Orlowski said.
Rev. Bingham said there’s a similar dynamic between screening a film and preaching about its cause. When congregants roll into an optional church-sponsored screening on a Wednesday night, “they’re gonna get a sermon no matter what,” she said. The movie (as well as the popcorn) “is a perk.” That way a minister can impart theological wisdom to spur action, whether that be installing solar panels on the church roof, biking to work, or writing letters to local politicians.
“No religious leader, no priest is gonna give information that Al Gore or Leonardo did,” Bingham said. Documentaries “provide information that a clergyperson can’t provide. … We can use film to deepen the education around climate.”
Believers may catch docs at Saturday afternoon church screenings, or go to college Christian fellowship gatherings, or head to the bingo hall movie night, but they may also be consuming spiritual food in homebound sanctuaries: HBO, Netflix, PBS, Nat Geo, Discovery Channel, and other platforms. For example, Psihoyos’s Racing Extinction was broadcast via Discovery to 220 countries simultaneously on the day of release.
“Documentaries share the wonder of the world with us,” said Katharine Hayhoe, atmospheric scientist and author of A Climate for Change: Global Warming Facts for Faith-Based Decisions. “They bring the world into our living room in our home on a screen, and they open our eyes and sometimes our hearts, too, to things that we wouldn’t otherwise know about that are real.”
Hayhoe, along with her husband Andrew Farley, an evangelical pastor and author, were filmed in their home state of Texas for the pilot episode of the docuseries Years of Living Dangerously, which made its original bow on Showtime in 2014 (and was produced by heavy hitters like James Cameron, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Jerry Weintraub). “They actually went to churches and they filmed people going on prayer walks,” Hayhoe noted. She was impressed by the filmmakers’ willingness to include spiritual interview subjects in their fight against the threat of global warming — which was as much of an act of targeted storytelling as it was savvy marketing.
Marketing executive Peterson said that he and his team are increasingly interested in audiences who “do not necessarily describe themselves as faith-based consumers. It’s an audience of people for whom faith is probably the most important thing in their lives, but they wouldn’t necessarily define their entertainment choices that way.” Viewing docs at home gives Christians exposure to science and perspectives that their church may not offer — or even endorse. Such an audience is “probably not going to see God’s Not Dead. They live in the real world and subject themselves to the same film and television that anybody else does.”
To put it more plainly: “You’re competing with the Housewives, you need to make something that grabs people’s attention,” Durley told BuzzFeed News.
“It’s not about polar bears, but it’s about our children’s health today.”
Sometimes that means gorillas, several stories tall, curiously perched on a doorway of the Vatican. And sometimes that means meeting people where they are, whether it’s at home, in church, or at the Alamo Drafthouse in Lubbock, Texas, which screened Before the Flood for Texas Tech’s Climate Science Center. Or maybe it’s at small events like EarthxFilm or the Justice Film Festival. Or perhaps it’s at institutions like the Toronto International Film Festival, which premiered Before the Flood; or the Sundance Film Festival, which debuted the Inconvenient Truth follow-up, An Inconvenient Sequel, in January, and boasts not only a climate documentary programming block but a high number of attendees from nearby Salt Lake City, home to a huge Mormon population. (An Inconvenient Sequel filmmakers and Gore declined BuzzFeed News’ request to comment on this article.)
Now, exotic animals, wilting icebergs, bleaching corals, and burning palm oil trees won’t feel so far away to a creation care steward. “It’s not about polar bears, but it’s about our children’s health today,” said Mitch Hescox, the president and CEO of the Evangelical Environmental Network.
Hescox traveled to Washington, DC, in June to meet with lawmakers about the dangers of climate change and to influence their decision-making with the concerns of his conservative base.
Hescox — the former pastor at Grace Church in Shrewsbury, Pennsylvania, as well as a coal industry vet of 14 years — has looked at climate change from a lot of different angles. To him and his conservative peers, “creation care is a matter of life. It’s a pro-life issue. It protects our unborn children, and our born children. And we’re killing our kids with fossil fuels and petrochemicals,” he told BuzzFeed News from Capitol Hill, seven days after President Trump announced that he would withdraw the US from the Paris climate accord in June. “I am a pro-life evangelical. And my values are the same as many of the values [of] those 81% of evangelicals who voted for Donald Trump.”
But then there is the story of Moses parting the seas: a great wading into the unknown which is an apt description for having faith and taking steps forward in this divided environmental era. As the education on climate has deepened, so has the politicization of climate causes. Political partisanship has had obvious and lasting effects on churches when it comes to leaning left or right, denialism, “fake news,” elections, social justice, and prioritization. Focus on the Family, for example, disagrees with other conservative Christian groups that affirm global warming is caused by humans. Atmospheric scientist and author Hayhoe said that the international ministry Willow Creek Association told her that they receive too much negative feedback from their constituents regarding the issue of climate change. (Willow Creek Association did not respond to a BuzzFeed News request for a comment.)
“The whole dialogue has to change to make this not an issue of being a Democrat or being a progressive. For America, it should be a bipartisan issue,” Hescox said.
“If you’re not following climate change right now, you’re really not following Jesus.”
“There’s a split in the evangelical church. There’s a perception that the church is a monolith. That is incorrect,” said Peterson, whose Nashville-based marketing company has worked on 10 climate and environmental-focused documentaries. Per a 2016 Rice University study, self-identified evangelicals are far more skeptical of evolution than they are of climate change. “There are a number of churches and emerging churches every day, month, and year that are jumping on this bandwagon,” Peterson said.
Documentaries— as well as testimonials, sermons, YouTube channels, and proprietary film curricula— help Christian leaders illustrate how poor stewardship hurts Americans in their own backyards, like the speedy ice melt on Lake Michigan, a severe uptick in childhood asthma, the rise in mercury pollution in food and water sources, and rampant spread of Lyme disease in the Northeast.
Hescox is partial to Peter Byck’s 2010 film Carbon Nation — tagline “a climate change solutions movie (that doesn’t even care if you believe in climate change)” — because of its practical free-market solutions, and because it “didn’t mention ‘climate’ once.” That kind of economy-centered touch, plus firsthand experience “in the great outdoors,” is why Hescox thinks Christian conservatives are increasingly coming around to environmental issues. “I don’t like to brand myself as an environmentalist because it’s a very problematic word in our community,” he said. “A lot of people in my conservative community think that when you say the word ‘environmentalist,’ you think of a tree-hugger or an Earth worshipper or something like that.”
Among the crossover audiences who believe in combating climate change as well as the gospel of Jesus Christ, there are some people who just don’t want to hear the names “Al Gore” or “Leonardo DiCaprio” (or even “Pope Francis”) when it comes to stewardship and good works. Film funding and distribution often hinge on the endorsement and participation of big-name personalities, but perceived Hollywood elitism or liberal ideology can be a major turnoff to right-leaning constituencies like Hescox’s, a catch-22 for cinematic proselytizers.
But the hurdles for religious Americans to overcome in order to accept climate change are being knocked down. As an example, in an August 2014 Pew Research Center study, only 28% of white evangelical Protestants said the Earth is warming primarily due to human activity (the same study had black protestants at 56%, Hispanic Catholics at 77%); however, in a fall 2015 study from University of Michigan’s Center for Local, State, and Urban Policy, about 60% of evangelicals (the vast majority of whom are white) accepted global climate change as reality. That base is building to what Hescox estimates will be about 20 million evangelicals in the next two to three years. “And we think that’s a sizable part of the evangelical world. We see it doing nothing but going up.”
That’s because, to worshippers and activists like Hescox, battling climate change isn’t just a moral exercise, but a bounden Christian duty. “Basically our stance is: If you’re not following climate change right now, you’re really not following Jesus.”
In the upcoming Discovery Channel documentary Rancher, Farmer, Fisherman, a cross hangs from the rearview mirror of a truck belonging to the farmer of the film’s title: Justin Knopf, of Knopf Family Farm in Kansas. There’s a moment in the doc where Knopf bows his head at a harvest picnic with his loved ones, and he prays: “Lord, we thank you for the day, for the crop in the field and the wheat. We thank you for the work we’ve been able to do…”
His story, along with those of other farmers who’ve converted to sustainable and conservation practices, is an illustration of reaping what one sows. The Knopf Family Farm’s work — the ballet of combines and trucks, weights and seeds, and (figuratively and perhaps literally) praying for rain — is their ministry. Another farmer in the film, Ben Thompson, gestures toward his native pasture. “It’s something that’s been going on since before Jesus walked the earth,” he says. “Once you’ve killed it, it’s gone forever. I dunno, it’s almost a spiritual thing.”
“We got a chance at building and sustaining the movement.”
In making the Tom Brokaw–narrated Rancher, Farmer, Fisherman, co-director John Hoffman was “keenly aware of the importance of making a film that would be of interest to faith-based communities,” he said. Thus, Hoffman, who is also executive vice president of documentaries and specials at Discovery, consciously made the connection between Knopf’s identity as a farmer and his identity as a Christian. “Justin is just beautifully eloquent on how he integrates his views about creation and his role as a farmer and his role as a steward,” Hoffman said. “Faith is an extremely important part of the entire family. Justin will be the first to say that he is here as a steward of God’s creation, and that in this time on Earth, he is here to protect the Earth.” (Knopf was unavailable to talk with BuzzFeed News — “harvest season has him very busy,” said a publicist for the film.)
Real-life figures like Knopf can influence how people of faith view their day jobs, or how farmers perceive their relationship to the land, because those kinds of humanizing impressions leave marks on viewers. Hoffman referred to the USC Annenberg Norman Lear Center’s study of more than 20,000 people, which concluded that viewers who watched the 2008 agribusiness documentary Food, Inc. had “significantly changed their eating and food shopping habits.”
So when filmmakers collaborate with the religious faithful, the message of climate action could become an even bigger revelation.
At a church revival, as Durley illustrated it, a minister could simply sermonize, “but then you hear an organ and singing and you start to yell out.” For an environmental revival, “it has to be a combination of efforts. … We got a chance at building and sustaining the movement.”
He concluded: “Two perspectives makes what we each do much stronger.” ●
Katie Hasty is a deputy entertainment editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in Los Angeles.
The whole school impressed with your resilience and bad-assitude over the last few weeks, and they rewarded you by voting you Prom Queen! Plus, Zack embarrasses himself by making a heartfelt apology in front of EVERYBODY, so you accept his apology and dance with that hunk for the rest of the night.
You got: You won Prom Queen but didn’t get the guy
You won prom queen and didn’t end up with the guy—and you know what? That’s actually preferable, because Zack was a jerk and you’re way more awesome than everyone at your high school. Plus, now you’re only a couple of months away from college, where you’ll meet way cooler people.
The vote was close, but ultimately Mackenzie came away with the crown. But that’s okay, because you know that in the scheme of things, Prom Queen doesn’t matter as much as staying true to yourself. And, even better, Zack shows up to your house later to genuinely apologize and make out with you! He’s not such a bad dude after all.
You got: You didn’t win Prom Queen but got into art school
You lost the crown, but you stayed true to yourself and didn’t buy into all that “popularity” nonsense. And you managed to channel your feelings into your art, which your art teacher noticed and appreciated. Now you’re getting a full scholarship to your first choice school! Suck it, Zack
Romero’s 1968 classic essentially created the modern zombie, shifting the definition from Haitian mythology-influenced humans under a trance, to flesh-hungry ghouls who will tear you limb from limb.
But Night of the Living Dead wasn’t just groundbreaking for its depiction of the titular monsters: It also reflected Romero’s progressive values. He cast black actor Duane Jones as the lead, and infused the movie with the satire, dark comedy, and social commentary that would become trademarks of his films.
2. BTW yeah it’s still me, the same guy who did this last season. I got married and changed my last name. BuzzFeed will have to pry my cold dead fingers away from doing these posts.
3. So where were we? Let’s see…Cersei is on the throne after half of King’s Landing got greensploded, Jon told Melisandre to fuck right off down south when he found out about Shireen, Arya killed Walder Frey after she FED HIM HIS OWN CHILDREN, the Hound met up with Beric Dondarrion and Dany is sailing to Westeros with Yara, Theon, her new Hand of the Queen Tyrion, three big ol’ dragons, a Dothraki army, and NOT Daario because she kinda dumped his pretty ass.
4. So, barring any kind of major HBO Now outage, here we go!
5. I AM SO EXCITED. WE HAVE ALL WAITED SO LONG.
6. It’s like Christmas morning, only there’s (probably) going to be more blood.
7. OK speaking of blood, y’all see that little cut to Catelyn when Arya sliced Walder’s throat in the “Previously On” segment? Nice touch.
8. Aw man, we still have to listen to Walder talk? Is this a flashback?
9. WAIT A FUCK MINUTE. Is that Arya?
10. Because if it is, she deserves a damn Oscar for her Walder Frey performance.
11. God, I’ve never been so happy to see a bunch of dudes puke blood.
12. “Tell them the North remembers.” GIRL I WILL YOU’RE SO AWESOME YOU’RE LIKE BATMAN IF HE KILLED ENTIRE HALLS FULL OF PEOPLE AT ONCE.
13. Holy shit, what a cold open.
14. She topped the meat pie somehow, and that was a tough act to follow.
15. Damn it feels good to be hearing this theme song again.
16. Oldtown is on the map!
17. I swear to god if they start off the season with wight Hodor I’m gonna be so sad.
18. Oh SHIT they have wight giants though. Not good.
19. But we are so close to a Bran/Sansa/Jon reunion! So close!
20. Thank goodness Edd has some sense in him.
21. “We can’t defend the North if only half the population is fighting.” Damn straight, Jon.
22. “I don’t need your permission to defend the North.” DAMN son we’re only 15 minutes in and already Lyanna Mormont is wrecking bitches.
23. Ugh 15 minutes in and already Jon and Sansa are bickering.
24. But yeah, Jon’s probably right here.
25. QUIT SMIRKING, LITTLEFINGER.
26. Whoa whoa whoa Sansa, let’s not bring Joffrey into this.
27. “You have to be smarter than father.” That’s about the best advice you could give anyone on this show.
28. I mean, don’t we all admire Cersei just a little? Just a smidge? I wish I was as decisive as she is. I can’t even make up my mind on what to order at Jersey Mike’s, so I don’t think I could ever pull the trigger on blowing up my sister-in-law.
29. “Three kingdoms at best.” That’s cold, Jaime.
30. Well, the Lannister family seems doomed but at least Cersei has a nice floor mural.
31. And the Mountain looks snazzy in his new black armor.
32. Omg, is Cersei going to marry Euron? Because I would love to watch her break him.
33. “And two good hands.” THE SHAAAAAAADE.
34. My god, Jaime’s face at that line.
35. Why can’t Sam just catch a break?
36. This montage is brilliant but I’m also very glad I ate BEFORE I started this episode.
37. I especially love how the food and the diarrhea look identical. Nice touch, props department.
38. IT’S JIM BROADBENT!!! Professor Slughorn in the houuuuuuse.
39. And he’s smart!
40. Breaking into the restricted section! Sam’s getting all Hermione Granger up in here.
41. Sorry, too many Harry Potter references?
42. STILL HERE FOR THE BRIENNE AND TORMUND ROMANCE.
43. Not here for Littlefinger’s continuing creepiness.
44. Well, it’s Ed Sheeran time.
45. The Gender Politics Hour featuring Ed Sheeran.
46. Well well well Sandor, look who’s facing the ghosts of his past.
47. “You think you’re fooling anyone with that top knot?” Missed that classic Hound sass.
48. Jesus, this got dark.
49. Even in a show like this, having to kill your daughter and yourself because you’re starving is pretty damn horrible.
50. “It’s my damn luck I end up with a band of fire worshipers.”
51. Fuck me, the Hound’s having a vision?
52. Wait, so the army of the dead is just gonna walk AROUND the wall?
53. A mountain of dragonglass sounds good!
54. SON of a bitch. That jump-scare! Is that Jorah???!!!
55. Noooo Jorah! He’s still scaly 🙁
56. Gotta, say, Dany’s squad is looking fierce.
57. YES GIRL GET YOUR THRONE.
58. I mean yeah it’s not the Red Keep but you deserve this.
59. Don’t touch the table too much, Stannis’ balls were on there.
Two years ago, in a chat with a publication called The Hudsucker, Massoud and his interviewer had the following exchange:
The Hudsucker: What actor or performance do you feel has impacted and inspired you the most?
Massoud: Robin Williams in everything he did. He was an incredibly well-rounded actor but I grew up on his role in Mrs. Doubtfire. That role by itself is very well-rounded and he goes through an amazing journey in that movie. I think it’s very underrated.
For those of you who don’t know, Robin Williams was the voice of the Genie in Disney’s original 1992 Aladdin —
and it ended up becoming a standout role in his career.
The role earned him a Golden Globe for Special Achievement, and paved the way for other celebrities to take on similar voiceover gigs. That was mostly unheard of at the time, and now it’s a staple of pretty much any major animated film made today. It was a big deal for Robin Williams to take on that role — and his involvement in the film remains a big part of his legacy.
The sequel (which will take place 25 years after the original, in1935) will show Mary Poppins return to help now grown-up siblings Jane and Michael Banks, and Michael’s three children, cope after a family tragedy. Lin Manuel-Miranda, Ben Whishaw, Emily Mortimer, Meryl Streep, Colin Firth, Dick Van Dyke, and Angela Lansbury have also been cast in various roles.