Markkula Center of Applied Ethics

To Exploit or Commemorate: Film and the Challenge of 9/11

By Jessica Silliman

Leslie Connor graduated from Santa Clara University in the mid 1990s and had been working with a large-scale production company for nearly ten years when she began to see a trend develop: films exploiting real world, recent tragedies. Her company was very well established and highly regarded within the production industry, but a recent move had bothered her: The company had agreed to do a trailer for a film about September 11. Although the film itself was nothing more than any other film about past tragedy (Vietnam, World War II, etc.) Leslie felt it was too soon to be capitalizing on the recent tragedy.

"Some people didn't want anything to do with it because they thought it was too grotesque to gain financially from a loss that was so recent," said Leslie. Leslie struggled with the choice of the company, but she didn't know whether to question the company and its choices, or question the industry as a whole and its motivations. She felt that either way her voice would not be heard.

Plus, some of her colleagues agreed with the decision to make the trailer. They felt that the film was not only necessary for the country, but artistically relevant. The movie was helping to advance the country's perception and to expose the realities of the attacks. It was as commemorative as informative and allowed those not living in New York to understand the nature of the tragedy.

"Most people today wouldn't object to a film made about WWII," said Leslie. "In that case they wouldn't accuse filmmakers of capitalizing on people's pain and suffering." But how soon is too soon? Leslie wasn't sure.

Discussion Questions:

  • What do you think are some differences between movies and TV shows that exploit a tragedy and movies and TV shows that appropriately deal with a tragedy?
  • Do you agree or disagree with Leslie's decision not to share her concerns with her colleagues in the company? What, if anything, could she have said?
  • Is this a legitimate claim to take to her boss or is this something Leslie should lean to accept within the company and industry?
  • Given Leslie's disagreement with her company's decision, should she have resigned? Why or why not?

Jessica Silliman was a 2006-07 Hackworth Fellow at The Markkula Center for Applied Ethics.

June 2007

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