Editorial – Entertainment industry exploits grief

Mac Olsen

The entertainment industry, worldwide, should reassess how it provides content for consumers, given two incidents where someone’s grief has been exploited.

One of those incidents involves the Irish short film, ‘Detainment’, which is based on the brutal murder of two-year-old James Bulger, committed by two ten-year-old boys, Jon Venables and Robert Thompson in the U.K. in 1993. ‘Detainment’ has received an Oscar nomination to the outrage of Denise Fergus, the victim’s mother.

As found on the ‘Entertainment Weekly’ website, Fergus is quoted:

“I cannot express how disgusted and upset I am at this so called film that has been made and now nominated for an Oscar. It’s one thing making a film like this without contacting or getting permission from James’s family but another to have a child re-enact the final hours of James’s life before he was brutally murdered, and making myself and my family have to relive this all over again!”

Vincent Lambe and Darren Mahon created this film, and Lambe offered his explanation for how they went about it.

“As we set out to make a fact-based film that was impartial, we did not attempt to contact any of the families involved and instead relied solely on the factual material,” he said. “I have enormous sympathy for the Bulger family and I am extremely sorry for any upset the film may have caused them. With hindsight, I am sorry I did not make Mrs. Fergus aware of the film.”

The story also notes that Fergus has called for the Oscar nomination for ‘Detainment’ to be withdrawn and she launched an online petition to this effect.

I sympathize with Fergus’ plight; losing a child to brutal murder is a traumatic experience no parent should have to endure. But somebody exploiting that parent’s grief by making a “documentary” out of it, is shameful and heinous of the highest order.

I remember hearing about that murder back in 1993 and thought how low humanity can become when 10-year-old boys engage in brutality against another defenceless child.

After a time, I had forgotten about it, although people like Paul Bernardo still stood out with me.

Then, when I heard about this short film ‘Detainment’, it brought back the memories of the stories I heard in 1993.

Moreover, I am outraged as much as Fergus, because no one has the right to exploit someone’s grief for self-gain and recognition, as Vincent Lambe and Darren Mahon are engaging in with this “documentary.”

Even though Lambe has offered an apology, he and Mahon had no right make to make it, especially as they didn’t even consult with her about their intentions. So they, along with the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, should do the right thing and withdraw this “documentary” from Oscar consideration, out of respect for Fergus.

But Lambe and Mahon aren’t the only ones in hot water over exploiting grief for self-gain. Netflix has been criticized for its use of some real-world footage in its movie, ‘Bird Box’. That footage is from the Lac-Megantic train derailment and explosion of 2013.

The movie incorporated some of that footage, which is also inappropriate given that many people died and the incident traumatized an entire community. This, too, is merely exploiting someone’s grief for self-gain and reputation.

As per a story found on the globalnews.ca website, Netflix has apologized to Lac-Megantic for use of the footage in ‘Bird Box’ and said the company would avoid using such stock footage in future productions.

So, given these two incidents, I expect all media/entertainment companies will learn a hard lesson, that they should put policies in place to ensure that they don’t blatantly or accidentally use source material that was the result of tragic circumstances. If they don’t, then government legislation and oversight should be implemented to keep them from doing so.


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