Netflix's Our Planet: are we already immune to environmental documentaries?

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Netflix has launched its new documentary series: Our Planet. How effective are these documentaries in the conscience of caring for the planet?

Netflix's Our Planet: are we already immune to environmental documentaries?

To celebrate Earth Month, Netflix has launched Our Planet, a documentary series that aims to raise awareness of the impact of global warming on species around the world.

Leer en español: Nuestro Planeta de Netflix: ¿ya somos inmunes a los documentales ambientales?

The British series is narrated by David Attenborough in his version in English and by Penélope Cruz and Salma Hayek in the versions for Spain and Latin America respectively. It is produced by Alastair Fothergill and Keith Scholey, who have also been directors of the environmental documentaries Planet Earth and Planet Blue in collaboration with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF). It is the first nature documentary produced by Netflix for the conservation of the species.

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These well-meaning environmental documentaries that direct their efforts to amaze the viewer with the greatness of nature are often well received by the public and critics. Our Planet has not been an exception. According to several critics in different publications, in four years of shooting the documentary producers managed to capture the most beautiful images of nature and show with delicacy and compassion the effects of global warming on the species that the documentary makes us admire.

Others, however, think differently. Ed Power, for the Telegraph, calls the documentary very beautiful but cliche. It is true that the series uses common places that we have already seen in the other projects of the same creators to generate an impact on the viewer: the scenes in slow motion and the close-ups in the eyes of the animals are resources that we have seen using again and again in these environmental documentaries. And maybe they do not have the same impact on us anymore.

On the other hand, the second chapter of the series has aroused controversy on how to raise awareness around global warming. This is the episode "Frozen Worlds", in which we see how some walruses fall from a cliff and it is implied that they fall because the ice has been thawing. Several zoologists have claimed that this episode occurred in 2017 and was the product of the pursuit of polar bears, which is absolutely normal in these ecosystems.

The documentary also takes two isolated scenes and makes them look like one. Some experts have accused the documentary of "eco-tragic porn". In the words of Dr. Susan Crockford of the University of Victoria in Canada for The Telegraph: "This powerful story is fiction and emotional manipulation at its worst" Others also claim that it may even have been the recording equipment that scared the walruses and he confused them to the point of falling off the cliff. 

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Have we already become immune?

In recent years there has been an overproduction of this type of documentary that aims to create awareness through the exhibition of the beauty of the planet Earth. Beauty that the viewer, on the other hand, wouldn't have known if it was not because he sees it on the screen.

All, as the criticism of The Telegraph makes clear, use the same cinematographic resources to inspire in the viewer some kind of compassion and admiration for the species. I think, then, that these common places that producers use again and again have already worked as a vaccine in which we are given a bit of the virus to make ourselves immune.

Thus, now we can see many documentaries and be touched by the species that we see in their natural habitat but we will be anesthetized because our body has become accustomed to the impact that these productions intend to create. The commonplace has fallen asleep to the point where we can cry watching it and then go out to have the same unconscious practices as always.

In this sense, not even the emotional manipulation of which they accuse Netflix will have an impact on the actions of the spectator, for which reason it is a double failed resource in both manipulation and as useless. Impact environmental documentaries should be uncomfortable and this is the opposite of those produced in collaboration with the WWF, totally apolitical.

These documentaries do not denounce those who actually pollute or reflect on the specific practices that affect the species that are displayed on the screen with such grace and beauty. Instead, they put all the responsibility in the individual decisions of each subject, hoping that we all change our practices. And as we have seen in recent decades, not enough tears in front of the screen on the sofa in our house.


LatinAmerican Post | Juliana Rodríguez Pabón

Translated from "Nuestro Planeta de Netflix: ¿ya somos inmunes a los documentales ambientales?"