In the last days of 2021, a year in which Texas froze and the freakin' ocean caught fire, the number one movie in the world on Netflix is a star-studded climate movie that's not about climate.
Let me be super clear: Any time climate breaks through, it's worthy of celebration. But this isn't an ordinary climate movie. Don't Look Up is special.
Watching it last night for the first time, I was legitimately blown away by how much I felt like I could relate to the main plot — well-meaning scientists being ignored because their message wasn't pleasant or profitable. I was scared to watch it because I was worried it would make me feel even more depressed than I already do about being a climate communicator during these decades of climate delay, but it's just the opposite. This is the climate movie I was waiting for.
The reason I think Don't Look Up works so well is because the film's creators did their homework. There are so many Easter Eggs thrown in throughout that it's like a love letter to climate activists. There is a massive, waiting audience for authentic climate movies like this that speak to the deep, existential anxiety of being alive at this profoundly terrifying moment in history. We know how to solve the climate emergency — stop burning fossil fuels, build up a circular, caring society, and shift political power so that nothing like it ever happens again — and yet our leaders are staring us straight in the face and saying no.
Director Adam McKay wrote that his own climate anxiety after reading David Wallace-Wells' The Uninhabitable Earth helped inspire the film, and screenplay co-writer David Sirota wrote that empowering the climate movement was a primary goal of the film.
I reached out to McKay and Sirota, and they both confirmed this hunch I had that the movie wasn't just a political satire, it was a gift for battle-weary activists after several long, hard years of struggle. "We literally made Don't Look Up for the climate community," McKay told me.
When I asked Sirota about the movie's lack of a preachy, prescriptive call-to-action takeaways at the end, he said that was intentional.
"We want it to be a clarion call for the movement," Sirota said, "But also respect that the movement should decide its tactics."
The movie isn't perfect. There's too much of a focus on the United States, and there's a valid criticism that seeking action from corrupt politicians during a time of crisis is counterproductive. We know that climate action at the scale and scope we need will only come from collective movements.
But that's exactly our job now — tell more climate stories that build on this one.
This isn't a movie that could exist without the decades of failures that have happened so far. But it's also a movie that finally FINALLY acknowledges that the lynchpin to taking action on climate isn't about data or carbon or graphs, it's about finding our shared humanity.
That part is working:
Authentic climate action is way easier than shooting nukes at a comet -- it's treating each other and the Earth better. It's listening. It's building systems of power to replace the systems that have been built to kill us.
It's up to us, the climate movement, to redirect the energy that Don't Look Up gives us. Here's a place to start. And if you're wanting to tell you're own climate story, I'd be happy to give you a platform at The Phoenix.
With any luck, there will be many, many more movies like this to come.