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It’s Still Not Time for Pandemic Storylines

Contagion Movie Pandemic
Contagion Movie Pandemic

I am not sure I can speak for everyone, but I certainly think I can speak for a lot of people when I say the last thing I want to see in scripted content right now is the coronavirus. The last year has been trying for everyone, where every day the main story is the pandemic. In fact, the coronavirus is the most covered news story since World War 2. So, why then, is Hollywood gearing up to integrate the pandemic into their stories?

Back in March, when the country was almost completely locked down and film studios were shuttered, I could be a bit more forgiving. After spending all day on zoom, nothing was more tedious than all that quarantine tv and even well reviewed lockdown movies like Host were not enough to beat zoom fatigue. But at the time, it was all we got. It was better than nothing, right?

But now, with many studios back in production, new in-person content is bracing our screens. The “better than nothing” excuse doesn’t exactly fly right now. But TV shows like “This is Us” and now the new “Sex and the City” have all decided to integrate the pandemic directly into their stories. Movies are following. 

There are two main reasons I could see for studios wanting to incorporate the pandemic. The first, and most cynical, is financial. It’s the hottest news story so it could be a chance to cash in on the uncertainty. Movies like “Contagion” and “Outbreak” saw huge spikes in viewership when people first entered lockdown. But frankly, I don’t care much about how full the big studio executives want to fill their pockets. 

The second reason is purely artistic. Since it’s one of the biggest struggles going on, many artists likely feel an obligation to tackle it. Not to mention, things will be changed forever because of it, so pretending it doesn’t exist and going back to the world before might be fruitlessly idealistic. There’s also the struggle for shows and movies that are supposed to be in real time. Do they just ignore the reality of today? 

But I would argue there are ways to use the universal experiences of the pandemic in movies without actually having to show covid. Uncertainty, isolation, and fear are all tools storytellers can use to speak to the times. It’s exhausting to have to watch people wear masks and social distance when we have to do that every day. But it can be cathartic to watch people experience a similar emotional state, even if in a different physical world. Isn’t that, after all, the very nature of fiction?

Right now, viewers want to see the world we want, not the one we have now. Maybe one day, when we have some distance between this intense period in history, will the pandemic be the center of phenomenal films. But for now, I only hope that Hollywood doesn’t drown in untimely content. 

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