October 13, 2010

Real conflict in Everybody Loves Whales

Behind the scenes as Hollywood meets Alaska

By Joshua SaulThe scene being filmed--a pivotal plot twist in "Everybody Loves Whales," a $30 million movie that recreates a real 1988 event--portrayed a community meeting in Barrow held to decide whether three whales trapped in the ice should be killed and eaten or freed. Barrymore played a Greenpeace activist fighting for the whales' release while the Alaska Native extras professed to like the taste of whale and said they hate being told what to do by white environmentalists from the Lower 48.

When filming began, Barrymore argued with a handsome young whaling captain in a red bandanna and Sorel boots. The press corps pretended to jot notes and take photographs of the confrontation. The extras playing villagers followed the director's instructions to "be a little impolite." When Barrymore's character said it would be wrong to kill the whale and its "babies," the villagers shouted her down. They cheered on the whaling captain as he replied that whales are what he feeds his family, what his whole village feeds its babies.

"What you're saying is ridiculous. You're a white girl. Go back to California. This is Inupiat country," the captain said, drawing the loudest cheers of the scene. But Barrymore's character wasn't finished. You don't need to hunt, she said, not when you all get big stipends from the oil companies and have enough money to buy all the food you need.

"Those stipends last just a few months," the young captain shot back. "We have to hunt. One day that oil's going to run out. And when that happens, who will feed our children? Will you?"

The scene reflected a real conflict between the subsistence lifestyle practiced by some Alaska Natives and the sometimes condescending environmentalism of urban and Outside interests.
Comment:  Sounds like a fine scene in what may be a fine movie. Anytime a movie doesn't portray Natives as all good or bad, that's good.

In this case, the scene presents a reasonably complex clash of values. And to liberals and other Hollywood types, it presents Natives on the wrong side of the issue. That's not something you see every day.

For more on the subject, see Auditions for Everybody Loves Whales and Preview of Everybody Loves Whales.

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