Should There Be Movies About 9/11?

Can fictionalized movies about 9/11 ever be good entertainment, or just exploitation?

Universal Studios

For Americans, 9/11 was more than just a horrendous terrorist attack.

9/11 changed the very fabric of American culture. Even for people who didn't lose anyone close to them in the attacks, life seemed to shift post-9/11. Many realized that their world was much darker and much less safe than they had once imagined. Fear of outsiders seeped into public consciousness. Some of it was warranted, but a lot of it was not. Opposing parties briefly united under the banner of American pride and then separated almost as quickly in dispute over how to best move forward.

So, naturally, 9/11 is an incredibly relevant topic in discussions of American culture and media. It's weird to think that many kids growing up now have no real knowledge of the attacks themselves or what America was like before them. HBO's new documentary, What Happened on September 11, which airs on the 18th anniversary of the attacks, aims to fix that by educating kids about the subject in a way they can readily understand.

what happened on september 11 HBO

Documentaries like this are necessary to preserve and teach about history. But what about fictionalized movies that use 9/11 as a source of entertainment? Are those movies positive, too, or just exploitative?

One of the biggest issues with movies based on real-life tragedies is how pandering many of them seem. In most cases, these "real life terrorist attack" movies capitalize on specific instances of human suffering to turn a quick buck from a niche audience who is riled up on a cocktail of patriotism and jingoism but also most likely have no real connection to the tragedy (otherwise, a dramatization would probably be too upsetting). In other words, movies based on real terrorist attacks rarely exist to further any discussion or memorialize the victims––they exist to profit off tragedy, using the suffering of others as a form of entertainment.

But there are a lot of 9/11 movies––a lot––and it would be unfair to lump all of them in the same profit-mongering boat. Some are certainly better than others, but for discussion's sake, let's take a look at two examples: Remember Me and United 93.

remember me Summit Entertainment

Remember Me is definitely one of the worst 9/11 movies (and possibly one of the worst movies ever made). It's a romantic drama starring Robert Pattinson and functions as a pretty standard drama until the end, wherein Robert Pattinson dies in 9/11. It's absolute garbage and essentially turns one of the most tragic events in modern history into an M. Night Shyamalan-type twist.

The biggest problem with Remember Me, though, is that there is no reason for the movie to involve 9/11. It could have used literally any generic "random" tragedy and gotten the exact same result within the context of its narrative. "Life is fleeting, you never know when bad things can happen, yadda, yadda, yadda." Instead, it risks opening relatively recent wounds (the movie came out in 2010) for people who actually lost loved ones in an attack and, presumably, wouldn't have knowingly signed up to watch a 9/11 movie in the first place.

United 93 Universal Studios

United 93, on the other hand, is probably the closest a 9/11 movie has ever come to being a good film. The drama-thriller depicts the titular flight which was hijacked by terrorists but crashed in a field after passengers fought back. The movie is genuinely very nerve-wracking, presented mostly in real time, forcing the audience to question how they would react in a similarly fraught situation.

With that being said, the movie is still rife with the warts of its genre. It was allegedly made with cooperation from all of the passengers' families, but this was later disputed by one of the passenger's widows. That passenger, Christian Adams, received a contentious portrayal in the film, depicted as trying to appease the terrorists despite there being zero evidence that he did anything of the sort. In spite of the filmmaker's best efforts, United 93 is still prone to Hollywood-esque dramatization that, in this instance, spit on the memory of an actual victim. It's hard to say that making a tense thriller is worth it when it comes at the expense of a real, grieving person whose husband died in the attack.

So should there be movies about 9/11? More importantly, should there be movies about recent terrorist attacks in general? It depends. In the best case scenario, you make a technically "good" movie that's still morally dubious. Worst case scenario: You trigger the families of actual victims of a real-life recent terrorist attack. When it comes to "entertainment," there's a very thin line between drama and exploitation. Filmmakers need to understand that when they use real terrorist attacks as a springboard for their films, regardless of their intent, they risk reopening real wounds.

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New York City Welcomes Teen Climate Activist Greta Thunberg

The 16-year-old will take to Foley Square to spearhead a global strike on September 20.

Greta Thunberg touched down on the shores of New York yesterday after a two-week journey at sea, but her real journey has just begun.

The Swedish teenager rose to prominence last year with her "School Strikes for Climate," which have since sparked a worldwide movement. She's since become one of the leading faces in climate activism, representing young people's refusal to tolerate the ignorance of their elders.

Sixteen-year-old Thunberg has spent the past two weeks traveling to New York City via solar-powered yacht, which was chosen in order to avoid a carbon-heavy airplane flight. The journey—which was obsessively followed by activists and European media and much-maligned by critics—culminated with a landing on the shores of Coney Island, Brooklyn, and her final destination was a port off Lower Manhattan. She was welcomed by excited crowds of activists and fans.

Thunberg has a packed itinerary, which includes high-profile meetings with some of the world's most powerful officials. On Friday, September 20, she'll be leading a worldwide Climate Strike, and millions of people will be taking to the streets to call for aggressive global action on climate change. Find your local strike (or start your own) using this website.

Thunberg will be attending New York City's strike, which begins with a march in Foley Square and ends with a rally in Battery Park, where speakers, performers, and Thunberg herself will take the stage. If you want to be more involved in this event, NYC is having an art build on August 30 and 31, and the group Fridays for Future will be organizing other logistical actions in preparation for the strike. Also for NYC folks: Ethical Culture is hosting strike planning meetings every Wednesday from 6-8PM, and Greta herself will be striking each Friday, starting with a strike on Friday, 8/30 at Ralph Bunche Park outside of the United Nations from 11-2PM.

Participants hope that mass action will influence several important upcoming climate meetings, which will be attended by Thunberg. The first will be the Youth Climate Summit at the United Nations in Manhattan on September 23rd. The next is the COP25 summit in Santiago, Chile, which takes place in December.

The young activist recently announced that she's taking a year-long sabbatical from school to focus on her activism. Her actions manifest the emotions and thoughts of many students who are asking, "What's the point in going to school and working towards our future if there is no future?"

As Thunberg put it in 2018, "We cannot solve the crisis without treating it as a crisis. You say you love your children above all else, and yet you're stealing their future in front of their very eyes."

Yet she's also resolutely hopeful. "It is still not too late to act," she reminded the European Parliament in a recent speech. "It will take a far-reaching vision, it will take courage, it will take fierce, fierce determination to act now, to lay the foundations where we may not know all the details about how to shape the ceiling. In other words, it will take cathedral thinking. I ask you to please wake up and make changes required possible."

Thunberg was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize in 2018 for her work. She has mobilized millions of strikers around the world, and she's given hope and a sense of urgency to countless others. She also has been heavily criticized, mostly by conservative outlets and European nationalists. One British businessman even went as far as to Tweet, "Freak yachting accidents do happen in August…" She was also described as a "teenage puppet" by a member of Trump's transition team and a "prophetess in shorts" by a conservative French politician.

Many of these criticisms have taken on a misogynistic undertone, resembling those lobbed at another young, powerful female activist—Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. This may not be incidental, since the kind of global structural overhaul that human survival requires necessitates a revamp of many patriarchal and conservative ideas based in traditional ways of doing things. "For climate skeptics … it was not the environment that was threatened, it was a certain kind of modern industrial society built and dominated by their form of masculinity," proposed one study that linked misogynistic comments about Thunberg and Ocasio-Cortez to toxic masculinity.

Thunberg, however, is not advocating for any particular shift in gender dynamics, nor any politician's agenda. Instead, she's all about ensuring human survival by adjusting our actions based on scientific fact.

As the Malitzia II sailed towards the New York City skyline, a banner reading "Unite Behind the Science" waved proudly above it. Unfortunately, the scientific consensus about the dire consequences of climate change hasn't been enough to mobilize humanity into acting. That has required one particularly outspoken teen activist, and New York City is lucky to have her here.