“Human beings share the same common problems. A film can only be understood if it depicts these properly.”
Legendary filmmaker Akira Kurosawa
In last week’s newsletter, we explored how climate themes and solutions are beginning to show up more on our screens, from subtle mentions to full-blown plots, and we heard from some of the advocates behind the push to represent climate in Hollywood. But one thing we didn’t mention was that in the course of our conversations, those experts shared tons of shows and movies that serve as great examples of incorporating climate mentions into mainstream viewing.
So, today, we’re sharing a roundup of climate-conscious movies and TV to watch this summer — as recommended by Anna Jane Joyner, the founder and CEO of Good Energy; Samuel Rubin, an impact producer and one of the founders of the Hollywood Climate Summit; and Cyle Zezo, an executive producer and former head of alternative programming at the CW Network. Plus, we’ve got a few recommendations shared by your fellow readers.
You have our full blessing to binge. And please let us know if you check any of these out! We would love to hear your thoughts.
First Reformed. (Watch on HBO Max.) Anna Jane Joyner’s number one pick was this 2017 drama starring Ethan Hawke as a small-town pastor. In addition to climate anxiety, the film deals with faith, personal crises, and suicide. Without giving too much away, Joyner praised the way this movie refrained from wrapping everything up in a bow, leaving the viewer without all the answers but with a sense of possibility. “I think stories that help us become more comfortable with uncertainty are really, really important,” she says.
Beasts of the Southern Wild. (Rent or buy it on Prime Video.) Set in the Gulf Coast, this 2012 fantasy-drama is the only Oscar-nominated film to acknowledge climate change (despite being hailed as a climate film, Don’t Look Up actually handles it metaphorically). Joyner recommends it for its rich setting, its handling of systemic racism, and adds that “it’s just a gorgeous film.”
Woman at War. (Watch on HBO Max.) This 2018 Icelandic film follows a middle-age choir teacher who becomes an eco-terrorist. It’s a quirky, fun story, Joyner says, with a very compelling main character. “It also, in a very subtle way, points out racial injustice,” she adds, “because there’s this Spanish tourist who’s biking around Iceland, and he keeps getting arrested for her crimes.”
Additional recs from readers
Black Panther. (Rent or buy it on Prime Video.) Even if superhero movies are not your jam, this one is worth a watch. Reader Luke Gliddon recommends both the 2018 movie and its more recent sequel, Wakanda Forever. He calls them “a beautiful mix of solarpunk and Afrofuturism.” (Gliddon also contributed to this ClimateLit post about how educators can use themes from the movie!)
Soylent Green. (Rent or buy it on Prime Video.) This 1973 film is a classic in the world of eco dystopia — and it comes recommended by reader Brian Hart. (If you don’t know the twist, just know that naming a meal-replacement shake after this story was … a choice.)
Deadliest Catch. (Watch on Discovery+.) The long-running Discovery-channel reality show is a prime example of seeing climate impacts play out in real people’s lives, says Cyle Zezo. In one recent season, the Bering Sea was closed to fishing because of an unprecedented heat wave. “That affects production, of course, but it also affects these people’s lives,” Zezo says. “Deadliest Catch is not fiction. It’s a real thing happening to people on this show.”
The Hype, Next in Fashion, and Rupaul’s Drag Race. (Watch on HBO, Netflix, and Paramount+, respectively.) If you’re into fashion, these are three more competition-style recs from Zezo. The first two have featured subtle green themes and sustainability-focused contestants — while Drag Race (one of my favorite shows of all time) has done some wonderfully campy climate change-themed challenges.
Abbott Elementary. (Watch on Hulu.) The beloved ABC series about Philly public school teachers has incorporated many climate mentions — something the show’s creator and star Quinta Brunson has said is intentional. “I love that that’s been a part of her approach,” Joyner says. “I also think it’s a little bit indicative of how younger writers and showrunners are approaching it. It’s just such a more integrated part of our lives.”
One Day at a Time. (Watch on Netflix.) This drama-comedy follows a Cuban American family in L.A.; Penelope, a newly single veteran, raises her two teenage kids with the help of her own mother. Again, climate mentions show up in a show geared toward young people. Joyner notes a particular scene “where one of the characters dresses up as Greta Thunberg and the other one’s a melting iceberg, and they get into this funny conversation with the grandmother. It’s a wonderful moment.”
Weeds. (Watch on Hulu or Amazon Freevee.) Sam Rubin calls this show the first example of climate-related storytelling he can remember. When a suburban mother begins growing and selling marijuana to support her family after her husband’s death, hijinks ensue — including the purchase of an EV. “She’s worried that people are gonna be like, ‘What is this woman doing in the middle of the night?’” Rubin says. “She realizes that her drug dealer friend has an electric car, because it’s quiet and it doesn’t make noise.”
Madam Secretary. (Watch on Netflix.) One of Rubin’s favorite shows, this political thriller includes plotlines about climate refugees, managed retreat, and other geopolitical realities. Joyner also consulted on the show in 2018 — and a character in the episode “The New Normal” is loosely based on her.
Additional recs from readers
The Rational Life. (Watch on Netflix.) If you’re down with subtitles (or if you speak Chinese), reader Karen Love recommends this series about a 30-something woman in Shanghai, her love life, and her career in the EV industry. “Last year, I went through a phase of watching Chinese series on Netflix,” Love says, “and I was startled that the first two that I saw had mention of climate change.” (The other was Meteor Garden — a YA rom-com that, despite its climate mentions, Love says she doesn’t necessarily recommend. “Even I couldn’t finish it and I have a high tolerance for vapid storylines,” she jokes.)
Queer Eye. (Watch on Netflix.) OK, this one’s actually from me — one more for the reality TV lovers among us! The latest season of this classic makeover show based an episode (“Sowing the Seeds”) on a young man named Michael who works on a community farm in New Orleans and is hoping to get accepted into an environmental law program. And, fun fact, he was nominated for the show by his boss at Recirculating Farms, Marianne Cufone, who was featured on our 2017 Grist 50 list!
— Claire Elise Thompson
A parting shot
If the Cannes Film Festival has taken over your feed of late, know that the festival isn’t just for hot debuts and runway looks. (Although the runway looks have been giving — here’s director Martin Scorsese with some of the well-dressed stars of Killers of the Flower Moon, one of the most anticipated premieres.) Last week, the Hollywood Reporter hosted a panel on the carbon costs of production. And the festival’s director also said that he would consider letting climate demonstrators onto the red carpet.