Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Public Health Cinema

As a public health student, I've been trying to fill up my Netflix queue with public-health related films. There are some really good films out there, here's a list of my favorites. If you have any suggestions, please, please leave a comment!

Infectious Disease:
Jezabel (1938, USA) This would be a great one for any Tulane MPH student to see. Starring Bette Davis and set in 1840's New Orleans, it is essentially a love story with the Yellow Fever Epidemic as a backdrop. It goes into some detail as to the confusion over how the disease was spread- miasmic fumes or mosquitoes?
The Painted Veil
(2006, USA) Another romantic period piece, this time set in China during a Cholera Epidemic in 1800's China. Edward Norton and Naomi Watts play an unhappy British couple sent to help.
28 Days Later
(2002, UK) and Resident Evil
(2002, USA) Modern zombie movies have abandoned the original premise of Voodoo and now lean towards biological/viral explanations for people coming back from the dead. While not medically sound, these movies present interesting social situations that the public health community has to consider during actual outbreaks. The CDC has very real concerns over the theft of their smallpox samples by those with evil intentions.

And the Band Played On (1993, USA) This movie shows the actual process epidemiologists took to track down and identify the spread of HIV/AIDS in the very early days of the epidemic.
Philadelphia (1993, USA) A story of discrimination against an AIDS patient. This story repeats itself every day, all over the world. Tom Hanks earned an Oscar for this part.
Yesterday (2004, South Africa) A very emotional story about an HIV positive mother and the arrangements she must make for her child before she dies. One of the first full-length movies ever made in Zulu. This story also addresses themes of spousal abuse, poverty and discrimination.

Reproductive Health:

The Business of Being Born
(2008, USA) A documentary about the medicalization and industrialization of birth. It made me scared to give birth in a hospital!
Children of Men (2006, UK) Directed by Alfonso Cuaron, of Y Tu Mama Tambien, this movie poses the question "How would humanity react if there could be no more children?" There would be despair. While set in the near future, the film also feels like it could be set in the present or in the 1960's. Set in London, at times it feels like America, like Iraq, like Russia. It also deals with themes of immigration and oppression. It's brilliant.
Four Months, Three Weeks and Two Days (2007, Romania) Set in Communist Romania, 1980's, this is a story about a college student helping her roomate through an illegal abortio
n. It present all the problems that come with criminalizing the procedure.
Lake of Fire
(2006, USA) An intense documentary about the controversy that is abortion in the United States. This film is incredibly balanced, showing both sides of the issue evenly. Difficult footage of actual abortions is watchable only in black and white. But there are also extensive interviews of women and also nurses and doctors.
She Hate Me (2004, USA) This Spike Lee film touches a range of topics, from a possible HIV vaccine to gender issues. The story centers around an unemployed professional, convinced to sell his sperm to lesbian couples. He becomes, in a way, a surrogate father, twisting your expectations in many ways.

Environmental Health:

An Inconvenient Truth (2006, USA) A documentary by Al Gore about the dangers of global warming. This is a topic we talk about in my Environmental Health class, so I can't imagine a student not having seen this yet.
The Constant Gardener (2005, UK) Set in Kenya, it is a love story told in reverse. But the love story is somewhat in the back round of a mystery about pesticide/chemical pollution by an evil multi-national with no regard for human life.

Health Management:

John Q (2002, USA) A drama about the problems of our health system. Denzel Washington stars as a father who takes an ER hostage in order to get his son an organ transplant. It's actually not my favorite movie, but the characters have interesting conversations about the scandalous inequalities in the system.

(2007, USA) A Michael Moore documentary, also about the problems with our medical system. He mostly attacks the insurance companies. While he can be a little idealistic about the systems of England, France and Cuba, he makes very good points. Every public health student should see it; even if you disagree, the movie has been seen by many- so you should be familiar with what people are talking about.

International Issues:
Born into Brothels
(2004,India) A documentary about the children of prostitutes in Calcutta and the photographer who attempts to get them out of poverty. Addresses the issues of prostitution, poverty and discrimination.
God Grew Tired of Us
(2006, USA) A documentary about Sudanese refugees in America. It should make us think about what it means to bring Africans into the U.S. as refugees.
Lilya Forever (2002, Estonia) A drama about an Estonian teenager who is trafficked to Sweden to become a prostitute. What was most interesting to me was that in Estonia, Lilya chooses to be a prostitute, but at least there she has control over her life. When in Sweden, prostitution is not a choice and she can't make even the smallest decisions about her life. Addresses human trafficking, poverty and prostitution.
Moolade (2004, Burkina Faso) A movie decidedly against female genital cutting(FGC).
The story explores the problems of FGC and also the problems in changing a culture.
The Motorcycle Diaries (2004, Pan-Latin American) This one may be a stretch, but a good portion of the movie is set in a leprosy camp. As a young medical student, Ernesto Guevarra was profoundly impacted by his trip through Latin America in the 1950's. He saw all the inequities of his world up close. He then turned around and profoundly impacted Latin America, through the Cuban Revolution. To this day Cuba has a health system admired across the world. You don't have to agree with him, but you should at least know who he is.


Supersize Me (2004, USA) A documentary about what would happen to your body if you ate McDonald's everyday. The thing is, while it made the film maker sick, there are people in this country who really do eat McDonald's every day. It reminded me that just because they say it's food doesn't mean you should eat it. I haven't seen the movie they made out of Fast Food Nation, but the book changed the way I look at our food-systems.

Like I said, if you know of any other movies with these themes, let me know so I can add to the list!!

1 comment:

Ananda said...

Hi Heather,
Great list! I am putting together a public health cinema quiz and was searching for ideas to plump out my list and came across yours...
Here's some I can share: Outbreak+ Contagion for ebola and superflu. I Am Legend is re-engineered measles. Thank you for smoking is topical, as is Kids about under-age sex and HIV, Vera Drake is fantastic and of course no list is complete without Trainspotting!
I'm just about to put some questions together around dental health in the cinema but I've not got further than Little Shop of Horrors! Hope your list continues to grow!