9/11 depictions: cathartic or exploitive?
A wave of movies and documentaries emerge that some say are insensitive
In New York, "The Producers" is getting some competition as the most sought-after theater ticket.Skip to next paragraph
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Nightly, crowds are jamming into the foyer of an off-Broadway theater that, just 6 months ago, had been contemplating permanently closing its curtains because of poor returns. The Flea Theater's production, "The Guys," is hardly a merry evening's entertainment like Mel Brooks' blockbuster musical. It's a somber remembrance of eight firemen who died inside the Twin Towers on Sept. 11. Based on a fire chief's memories, the play was written by a professor of journalism who helped the firefighter pen eulogies for his men.
The show's brisk business can be attributed, in part, to the names on the theater's marquee - up until recently, Bill Murray and Sigourney Weaver. But, for many New Yorkers, "The Guys" is an opportunity for cathartic reflection on last Fall's events.
Storytelling - including dramatizations and documentaries - has long been part of how societies move on after significant events - like the Holocaust and the World Wars.
Now, just six months after 9/11, "The Guys" is one of a few projects, which include movies and documentaries in different stages of production, to tell jolting stories of the attack and its outcome. But there is little agreement on how the US should move forward after a shared national experience that has affected so many people in so many different ways.
While "The Guys" has been widely praised, a few critics feel that other media representations are arriving too soon. The process of grieving is still under way, they say, and these depictions of recent episodes will hamper the healing process - especially for the victims' friends and families. Worse, some feel that they're meant as ratings grabbers.
Advocates of the narratives argue that these accounts can be a way for society to face an emotionally complex series of events head-on. They are in favor of contemplating Sept. 11 in news and entertainment as long as it's done thoughtfully, especially since the country moved from the attack to the counterattack so quickly.
"When did you grieve?" friends from overseas asked Anne Nelson, who wrote the "The Guys." "We've pretty much extinguished our public grieving process," she says. "We think we're pretty good about moving on."
The depictions of recent incidents that Americans may soon see include:
A documentary airing Sunday on CBS that will feature previously unseen footage taken at the World Trade Center.
A reality TV series slated for ABC that will follow the military as it fights terrorism around the world.
A movie reportedly underway by Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon called "All the Heroes Are Dead" that will tell the story of a security guard who died helping others escape the World Trade Center. It comes after reports in January that a number of made-for-TV movies are in also the works, including one from CBS about Flight 93, which crashed in Pennsylvania.