Why Hollywood Should Leave Tragedies Alone

Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 disappeared on March 8th with minuscule trace, affecting all 239 passengers’ families in ways I can’t possibly imagine. It’s mid-May, and nothing about Flight MH370’s path or crash sight has been confirmed. This tragedy occurred so recently, and yet there is already a movie pitch based on the enigmatic flight.  The film, if made, is to be called The Vanishing Act with the assumptive tagline, “the untold story of the vanished Malaysian flight.” You can watch the trailer here:


Too soon? Um, yeah. I thought that would go without saying, but here I am. A few days ago, director Rupesh Paul brought the idea to the Cannes Film Festival, stating in his defense that he doesn’t believe the passengers’ families would find his film insensitive. Because a movie about a tragic airplane incident that yielded no conclusive evidence of the remains of 239 passengers or their location isn’t going to be insensitive. Because filling in the gaps with fiction is totally the right thing to do here.

Worst of all, Paul says that TheVanishing Act will work as a self-contained thriller, and that it doesn’t really matter how real-life events pan out, because this film will be pure entertainment gold. Paul told Hollywood Reporter, “Our movie is a thriller. It will not be based on stupid things. There will not be a [gun] and there will not be any aliens. The controversy [of the missing plane] will help indirectly, but we are not cashing in on the flight.” My question here, is how could one possibly create a movie that strategically utilizes the trauma of an event and not cash in on it?

The Youtube trailer has over 140,000 views already, receiving almost 300 dislikes, and a hundred negative comments that accuse the director as being “sick,” “disrespectful,” and “ruthless.” Many feel that it is too soon to be playing with the idea of a Malaysian Airlines movie, regardless of plot.  However, Paul has yet to face any direct criticism from the families.

The Vanishing Act sets itself up to be about “the story of five young people, their plans on revenge and the resulting havoc they infuse on the world.” So, Paul is borrowing an incredibly harrowing disaster, and injecting a fictionalized scenario into it? It’s all so wrong, and I will be sad if it actually gets picked up. According to Telegraph, “Paul, who is also promoting Kamasutra 3D in Cannes, is seeking ushers for the film, and claims to have had interest from Malaysian and Chinese companies.”

Creating a movie that is based on a real event is something that needs to be handled delicately. Even when United 93 and World Trade Center were released five years after 9/11, they faced their fair amount of backlash. Although 10% of United 93’s profits went towards the victims, the film made a total of $76.3 million dollars. World Trade Center grossed at about 70 million. While I think it’s important to discuss current and past events, I think there is something a bit indecent about making films so grossly huge.

Shortly after the release of World Trade Center, The Guardian wrote a scathing review, saying, “Oliver Stone’s grotesquely boring and badly acted TV-movie-style World Trade Center spectacularly fails to do justice either to the global geo-political nightmare of 9/11 of even to its ostensible subject: the courage of New Yorkers who risked their lives to help others that day.” The reviewer, Peter Bradshaw, was unimpressed with the way the director handled the representation of the tragedy.

On the other side of the spectrum, Roger Ebert asserted, “Stories of survival need to be told and World Trade Center needs to be seen in perspective as an early…attempt to deal with a galvanizing tragedy.” Ultimately, the films were created five years later, and to many they held merit because these movies were not simply “thrillers.” They recounted the lives of individuals who lost their lives, and the film makers probably aimed to honor them, as well as shed light on a country’s calamity. Although profitable, these films seem to have purpose.

The Vanishing Act doesn’t seem to have much purpose at all, and that’s my main problem with it. Educating others about the devastating incident, or perhaps organizing a call to action is one thing, but fictionalizing the event is another.  Paul stated, “People ask me one thing – if you’re saying a theory and suddenly the flight is found it’s totally the opposite, your investment will be wasted. We will be fools. That’s the biggest challenge I’m facing.”

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