The COVID-19 pandemic emerged from the unknown and changed our lives unexpectedly, leading us to turn to films and shows for comfort. Sarah Harris shares how it has been represented in entertainment.
When the COVID-19 pandemic first began to impact the UK, the entire nation was glued to their television screens in anticipation of new announcements. Instead of EastEnders, families would spend their evenings watching the news and praying that the daily rate of COVID-related mortalities had reduced. But after a few months of watching, the news and information became repetitive. Hence, we found comfort in our favourite shows and films.
From Bridgerton to The Queens Gambit, we held on to any distraction that was thrown our way. Submerging ourselves in alternate realities allowed us to forget the despair that we were experiencing and, for just a little while, it provided a sense of normality. Yet, what about the shows that had ongoing storylines taking place in the modern-day? Would producers and directors include the events of COVID-19 in their scripts? And more importantly, was this a good idea?
This seemed like it would result in the loss of several loyal fans
After all, we turn to our screens to escape. To be reminded of reality – when all we want is to spend a little time with our favourite fictional characters – somewhat defeated the whole purpose of this.
When Greys Anatomy, a show that I have long been a fan of, announced that they would include the coronavirus in their storyline, I was skeptical. This was a show that was already overflowing with more medical trauma and tales of loss than I could count, and, to add more to this, seemed like it would result in the loss of several loyal fans.
Instead, the show created a powerful dialogue around a topic that is affecting everyone in a different way. It’s often easy to find yourself dwelling on your own personal issues and end up basking in self-pity, but Grey’s Anatomy taught me the true realities of this pandemic on the medical community. Although the media has allowed us to gain a slight glimpse into the lives of front-line workers who have so bravely been risking their lives for the sake of their patients, it was difficult to place ourselves in their shoes. Beloved characters, like doctors Meredith Grey and Miranda Bailey, allowed us to understand the emotions and thoughts running through these healthcare workers’ minds.
It’s not just medical shows that are representing the realities of COVID-19. Hit NBC show, This Is Us, covered a number of issues surrounding the pandemic, including but not limited to loneliness and not being able to see your family in difficult times. One particular episode told us the tale of Nasir Ahmed, the computer scientist whose data compression algorithm eventually went on to play a huge role in the creation of video chats and without whom, millions of people all over the world wouldn’t be able to connect with their loved ones during the pandemic.
But not all of these representations of COVID-19 are accurate. The Amazon Original film, Songbird, starring KJ Apa, faced heavy criticism. The sci-fi thriller followed the stories of several characters living in the year 2024, where the newest strain of coronavirus had mutated into COVID-23. The severity of the virus had led to the deaths of millions and as such, the world was subjected to permanent isolation, with citizens being required to take daily temperature checks on their smartphones. Those infected were forced into concentration camps and stripped of their basic human rights.
Thousands of critics argued that the premise and release of the film would spark unnecessary fear and misunderstanding. Given how much of that we already had, we didn’t need more. If this film had been released pre-COVID-19 and hadn’t been so awfully produced, it would have had the potential to be a semi-decent film. However, the release of this after the deaths of thousands of people and when the world was already shaken up enough seemed insensitive and pointless.
I’m not against using COVID-19 in storylines, but I strongly believe it should only be done with a positive intended outcome. Both Greys Anatomy and This Is Us – and I’m sure many other shows – successfully managed to tie the pandemic into their current storylines and also raised awareness on positive topics and issues. But films like Songbird were made with the purpose of entertainment and, given the devastation it’s caused, COVID-19 is anything but entertaining. It’s important for the film and TV industry to remember that.
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