Going to the movies in summertime is a classic tradition in America, just like hotdogs at the ballpark and fireworks on the 4th of July.
I recently found myself on a hot summer day retreating to the cool confines of an air conditioned movie theater. The movie, Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, promised to provide two hours of fun, action-packed, fantasy adventure while I ate too much much popcorn and forgot my worries.
But would you believe me if I told you this science fiction, action adventure, turned out to be not so fictional after all?
Genetically modified dinosaurs and an amusement park built on a not-so-dormant volcano may be something we only see in movies but – spoiler alert – a money-hungry corporation seeking exorbitant profits off of immoral, and possibly illegal, actions is something that happens far too often in today’s (real) world.
The premise of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom is pretty simple (and very similar to Jurassic Park 2), now that the dinosaur amusement park is destroyed, the creatures are running loose on the island. The corporation is trying to steal the dinos to sell on the black market and weaponize for millions of dollars. The company even goes to extreme lengths by misrepresenting their intentions, hiring mercenary soldiers who attempt to kill the activists that get in their way, and unleashing incredible harm into the world. Luckily for us, Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard are there to save the day.
Unfortunately, many real-life activists have not been so lucky. In the 1990s, the Ogoni people of Nigeria organized in protest of Royal Dutch Shell’s oil operations in the Niger Delta. In response Shell worked with the Nigerian military to crack down on the Ogoni. Nigerian soldiers used deadly force and massive, brutal raids against the Ogoni people throughout the early 1990s to repress a growing movement against the oil company. This crackdown culminated in the torture and execution of acclaimed writer and environmentalist Ken Saro-Wiwa and eight other leaders, known as the “Ogoni Nine,” on November 10, 1995.
Jurassic World isn’t the first movie whose villainous corporation hits a little too close to home. While fantastical, plenty of science fiction movies are representative of the harms corporations have committed around the world.
The Umbrella Corporation of “Resident Evil” developed a virus leading to a zombie apocalypse, and the real-life Union Carbide poisoned the air in Bhopal, India – killing thousands of people. Considered the world’s worst industrial disaster, in 1984 a toxic gas leak occurred at a Union Carbide pesticide plant. After the gas disaster, Union Carbide ceased operations and left India, leaving behind toxic waste that continues to pollute the groundwater and soil. To this day, the site remains unremediated, and the pollution continues to harm the local community.
The Weyland-Yutani Corporation of the “Alien” franchise (one of the most notorious movie corporations) was willing to sacrifice their spaceship’s crew just to obtain and weaponize a murderous alien (I can’t believe I just wrote that in a professional blog post), and real-life Chiquita (yes, the bananas) was willing to do whatever it takes to build their banana empire in Colombia–including hiring a designated terrorist organization that tortured and murdered hundreds of people.
You may think that comparing a xenomorph alien to banana growing is a bit of stretch, but when you compare the motives of both fictional and non-fictional companies, they are eerily similar. Both companies were willing to do whatever it takes to ensure their profits grow, including harming people in the process. In movies, this occurs for extraordinary and fantastical reasons, capturing aliens or dinosaurs, but in the real world, the purposes are far more mundane: agriculture, extractives, or building a dam. But the result is the same: an exchange of blood for money, putting profits over people.
In movies, the heroes always save the day. Unfortunately, it also takes more than an exciting battle sequence or chase scene to stop errant companies from committing human rights abuses. It can take months of active campaigning, years working to pass strong corporate accountability laws, and even decades litigating cases in the judicial system. Let’s just say, it doesn’t always make for the most exciting movie scenes.
But that doesn’t mean it’s not worth fighting the good fight. Lives, livelihoods, and generations of communities rely on the ability of environmental and human rights activists to launch these campaigns and take these companies to court, to fight for those who have been harmed and to keep future abuses from occuring.
As movie-goers, we root for Sigourney Weaver or Chris Pratt to defeat the evil corporations, reveal the abuses, and take down the system. In the real world, we should and we must do the same.