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Netflix refuses to remove real Canadian disaster footage from “Bird Box,” despite outcry

Footage of the 2013 Lac-Mégantic rail disaster appear in “Bird Box,” as part of the film’s world-building, and the mayor of the Quebec town is not happy about it.

Netflix refuses to remove real Canadian disaster footage from “Bird Box,” despite outcry
[Photo: courtesy of Netflix]

It was a tragic accident with mass casualties. Now it’s being used as stock disaster footage in the dystopian movie Bird Box. And Netflix has no plans to remove it.

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The Sandra Bullock-starring sci-fi streamer is an undisputed hit, spawning culture-saturating memes and racking up a staggering 80 million viewers in its first four weeks. At least one of those viewers, however, noticed that some of the world-building footage intended to convey the level of chaos in the film’s reality looked familiar. This footage comes from the 2013 Lac-Mégantic rail disaster, a Canadian tragedy in which an unattended freight train carrying crude oil derailed and exploded, destroying a large swath of the city and taking 47 lives.

Once Lac-Mégantic Mayor Julie Morin became aware that footage of the disaster was being used this way–first on the Netflix series Travelers and later on Bird Box–she called upon the company to remove it.

“We find that it’s really a lack of respect,” Morin told Canadian press on Tuesday. “It’s hard enough for our citizens to see these images when they are used normally and respectfully on the news. Just imagine, to have them used as fiction, as if they were invented.”

Peacock Alley Entertainment, the company behind the series Travelers, quickly apologized for using the footage and vowed to replace it. However, as far as Bird Box goes, Netflix is leaving the footage in the film.

According to The New York Times, the footage came from a stock agency called Pond5, which has a library of over 14 million video clips depicting military conflicts, natural disasters, and fictional scenes. The CEO of Pond5 has since apologized for the way the footage was used, saying “We didn’t do all we could on our end to make sure that people understood the sensitive nature of the content, because what happened is not appropriate.”

After a spokesman from Netflix called Morin on Thursday morning to let her know the company would not be removing the footage from the film, Morin said in a statement that she is satisfied Netflix has “committed to reflect with their partners on the use of images so that this situation is not repeated.”

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Being vigilant not to repeat the mistake is a productive step forward; however, it must be cold comfort to anyone affected by the Lac-Mégantic rail disaster seeing it used to amplify Sandra Bullock’s fictional sense of danger. And it’s hard not to wonder what Netflix’s reaction would be if instead of Lac Megantic, Quebec, the tragedy had taken place in Sausalito, Calif.

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