Stay Home, Wash Your Hands, And Press Play On These Disease Movies

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Who are we when faced with widespread contagion? Disease and humanity’s varied responses to sickness are on full-display in cinema – from zombie flicks to documentaries that help deepen our understanding of epidemics in the real world.  

Two such films have been trending in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.  “Contagion” (2011) spotlights the conspiracy theories and bogus cures that seem to emerge during every medical disaster, while defiant citizens spreading the infection are a feature of “Outbreak” (1995). Devoted scientists or those who survive to restore society are often the heroes of the silver screen – but is there no role for the patients, policy makers and bureaucrats who work to avoid these tragedies by advocating for better health care and preparation?

'Films often use disease as a metaphor for communism, the government, globalization. But when it happens in real life, it isn't a metaphor.'- Laura Boyes

Host Anita Rao dissects movies about disease with film experts Marsha Gordon and Laura Boyes, along with Priscilla Wald, a professor of English at Duke University and author of “Contagious: Cultures, Carriers, and the Outbreak Narrative” (Duke University Press/2008). Boyes is the film curator for the North Carolina Museum of Art and the curator of the Moviediva Series at the Carolina Theatre in Durham. Gordon is a film professor at North Carolina State University and a National Humanities Center Fellow. 

Also joining is Emily Kass, executive director of The Chelsea Theater in Chapel Hill, to discuss how cinemas and the film business are changing modes of distribution.

'In some ways we want to look at a film like 'Contagion' because it's like wow- this is eerily predictive. Why aren't we more prepared for this?'- Marsha Gordon

"Contagion" (2011)

"Outbreak" (1995)

'The problem with [Outbreak] is that it doesn't get at the larger issues of why we're in this kind of problem in the first place and how we ought to be thinking about it which is problems of development, globalization, global poverty. '- Priscilla Wald

"Falling Leaves" (1912)

"How to Survive a Plague" (2012)

Note: This program originally aired March 18, 2020.