We are used to watch illnesses in the series and films we are used to watching. Some people think that this is disgusting or unpleasant but the real issue is: how these movies affect people’s ideas, about health and illnesses?
Kate Langrall Folb, the director of Hollywood, Health & society, knows all about the viewers’ perception of health issues in films. The main goal of her organisation is to provide accurate and timely information about public health to the entertainment industry professionals.
Goals of HH&S
Hollywood, Health & Society is involved with all the people that are related to the process of making series and movies content. They are able to give basic information, basic information via e-mail or face-to-face
For example, the producers of ‘How to get away with murder’ have recently called HH&S to ask them about a scene that they wanted to create. This was about two guys that were tested for AIDS. They asked Kate if the way in wich they were showing the testing process was well represented. ‘We saw a tweet from a boy that said, “Hey, I think that this is interesting: last night in How to get away with murder they showed a scene where two boys made the test for AIDS. I got nervous and I realized that I needed to be tested. So next morning I went immediately to the clinic and I told the nurse that I was inspired by this show to get tested. The nurse told me that I was the fifth boy that came that morning for that reason, and that they were only open for just an hour”. That episode reached 30 million people, so could you ever imagine what would be happening in all the clinics all around the country?’
Why do you think it’s important for young people to watch diseases as real as possible?
Kate: ‘We know from our research and that of others that people learn and even model their behaviour after what they see on TV. With health, it’s important that depictions are as accurate as possible so that audiences are not misled.’
What could be the consequences of diseases such as cancer, AIDS or others were being romantised to make them more attractive on the screen?
Kate: ’This still happens. The danger is that viewers may misunderstand the gravity of certain illnesses and not take them seriously. They may also misunderstand how to protect themselves from certain infectious diseases, or may not seek treatment.’
Do you think that students are aware of the effect of these scenes depending on how they are shown?
Kate: ‘Whenever I tell people what I do for a living they say “Oh I never knew there was an organization that did that!” I think people don’t realize the thought and research that go behind creating an effective storyline. They get wrapped up in the story and the drama – which is what we want! We don’t want viewers to feel like they are being “taught” something while they’re watching their favourite shows.’
What do you think is the best way to show diseases in a healthy way?
Kate: ‘Depending on the disease, it is important to be as accurate as possible. Or at the very least, do not be grossly inaccurate’.
Do you think that people are insensitive to this kind of diseases if they get used to seeing them in series and movies?
Kate: ‘If they are shown accurately, then we can never see enough.’
What is so bad about media hiding these illnesses?
Kate: ‘There are certain health issues that get more attention than others, like addiction and mental health, but most illnesses and health topics are addressed at some point. I think in the US it’s a matter of the kind of show, and whether a storyline on a certain illness would fit’.
Finally, Kate declares that series and fiction productions could be a big tool to teach the audience about health: ‘While a doctor can attend 30-40 people in a 12-hour workday, a show can teach how to do a breast self-examination, how to prevent obesity or how to improve our health habits for more than 15 million people a week.’
If you like to have more information about Hollywood Health & Society organisation, enter on their webpage.
Text: Carmen Moya Tárraga, pictures: © Getty Images, Return Dates