Hollywood Pushing New Awareness of Drug Abuse 

  Hollywood Pushing New Awareness of Drug Abuse 

Posted by FoM on January 25, 2001 at 06:21:47 PT
By Anthony Breznican, AP Entertainment Writer 
Source: Evansville Courier & Press  

If Hollywood had a message in the last year, it could be found in the 1970s-era rock ’n’ roll movie “Almost Famous.” “Don’t take drugs!” pleads Frances McDormand as a nervous mother who drops off her 15-year-old son at a Black Sabbath concert. “Don’t take drugs! Don’t take drugs!” mocks a chorus of concertgoers. 
From gritty dramas such as “Traffic” and “Requiem for a Dream” to thoughtful comedies such as “Wonder Boys” and “Almost Famous,” some of the better films of 2000 touched on lives and careers ruined by addiction. All of those films received Golden Globe nominations and could fare equally well at the Academy Awards. Many filmmakers say Hollywood has begun escalating its own war on drugs. What’s seen on screen, however, can sometimes seems at odds with a subculture traditionally known for bacchanalian excess. Federal drug-enforcement officials note that Hollywood has a checkered history in depicting drugs’ consequences. “But it looks to us like they’re trying hard to do a better job showing an accurate portrayal of the damage drug abuse does,” said Bob Weiner, spokesman for the White House office of National Drug Control Policy. “There were some positive messages about the need for family involvement and positive work of drug enforcement agents,” he added. “There’s less ambiguity now. With movies like ‘Trainspotting,’ I had trouble telling whether the message was pro or con.” Film-industry analysts say substance abuse is no longer considered glamorous. “It’s kind of out of style, and that makes it time to capitalize on the anti-drug message,” said Robert Bucksbaum of Reel Source Inc., a firm that tracks the box office. No one making a movie wants to be preachy, but many say they have weathered too much damage from drug abuse to stay silent. “I don’t know a single person who hasn’t smoked pot or tried some sort of drug,” said Stephen Gaghan, the “Traffic” screenwriter. “At some point, it becomes hypocritical not to address it.” Gaghan said he initially named a character after a friend as an inside joke but then changed it when he found out the friend had died of a heroin overdose. “There’s a lot of personal experience in this one,” Gaghan said. “I hope it seems truthful.” Benicio Del Toro, who plays a Mexican drug officer who finds he has unwittingly aided a cartel in “Traffic,” said he wanted to create “a conversation piece” about how the U.S. war on drugs doesn’t solve the problem of addiction. “People (in Hollywood) are starting to know the power they have in cutting (drug use) down somewhat. We can show the bigger picture of the problem.” The balance between entertaining and lecturing, however, can be precarious. “Requiem for a Dream,” for example, presented such an unrelentingly grim portrait of four junkies that it was hard for mainstream audiences to endure. “It’s a difficult movie, and my only worry is that not enough people will get to see it,” said “Requiem” star Ellen Burstyn, who plays an aging housewife destroyed by a diet-pill addiction. “People will go to great lengths to avoid reality, and over the years our addictions have changed and become much more lethal. I think that if movies like this encourage people to stay in their reality, we will have done a service.” Such cautionary tales frequently have come from Hollywood — including gritty dramas such as “Lost Weekend” (alcoholism), “The Man with the Golden Arm” (heroin) and “Less Than Zero” (cocaine), and sometimes silly propaganda such as “Reefer Madness.” Those movies typically show drug users coming to no good. “Blow,” scheduled for April release and based on a true story, ends with Johnny Depp’s character doing hard time after flying high for years as the top coke smuggler for Colombia’s Med-ellin cartel — a one-man, $35 billion-a-year conduit. Even comedies such as “Arthur” and the “Cheech & Chong” movies depict their alcohol- and marijuana-dependent protagonists as hopeless bumblers who can’t function in regular life — even though they’re having fun (or think they are). The high-caliber of filmmaking dedicated to recent movies dealing with addiction illustrates how important anti-drug messages have become in the entertainment industry. (“Traffic” was even able to persuade real-life politicians Sens. Orrin Hatch and Barbara Boxer to appear in cameo roles.) Filmmakers say the star power and budgets allocated to such movies are a sign that Hollywood is taking its ability to fight drugs more seriously than ever. “Drugs are a big problem in any society, including Hollywood, and the presence of the problem is not to be denied,” said “Wonder Boys” director Curtis Hanson. “Wonder Boys” plays like a farce, with Michael Douglas as a dope-smoking professor whose professional and personal lives spin out of control over the course of a weekend. “His character avoids dealing with very important issues, and self-medication that he indulges in allows him to not come to grips with it,” Hanson said. “When he comes to realize that, he can make some hard choices and is better for it.” The message is especially poignant, he said, considering the movie co-stars Robert Downey Jr., whose career has been sidetracked yet again by a drug arrest. Downey, also a Golden Globe nominee for a series of guest spots on the Fox comedy “Ally McBeal,” is someone many people can relate to, Hanson said. “The reality is that a lot of people, even outside the entertainment industry, have family members suffering from addiction,” he said. Television, too, has tried to show the ravages of drug abuse. “The West Wing,” which won a record-setting nine Emmys in September, has tackled the subject of substance abuse with the character of White House chief of staff Leo McGarry, who has battled pills and alcohol. “It’s finally coming out of the closet as a health problem, not a criminal problem,” said the show’s creator, Aaron Sorkin. “I think that as people become more aware of that about addiction, they find there are interesting ways to tell stories about it.” Source: Evansville Courier & Press (IN)Author: Anthony Breznican, AP Entertainment WriterPublished: January 24, 2001Copyright: 2001 The Evansville CourierAddress: P. O. Box 268 Evansville, IN 47702-0268Contact: courier Website: Articles:Traffic - Salon Magazine Kicks The Habit 

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Comment #1 posted by FoM on January 25, 2001 at 11:56:26 PT:
News Brief
Lawmaker Uses 'Traffic' To Educate Updated 10:07 AM ET January 25, 2001 Source: Associated PressCopyright: 2000 Associated Press SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) - Here's a traffic ticket a lawmaker might welcome. Rep. Joseph Thompson, an Albuquerque Republican, began distributing free passes Wednesday to his colleagues to see the drug-war drama "Traffic," starring Michael Douglas and his new wife, Catherine Zeta-Jones. "It's terrific," said Thompson, a friend and ally of Gov. Gary Johnson, a critic of the nation's war on drugs. Johnson is promoting a package of drug bills that includes some decriminalization and reduced penalties. The Lindesmith Center-Drug Policy Foundation, a research institute and a key supporter of Johnson's drug efforts, paid for passes to the film. "My understanding is (the movie) does an excellent job of highlighting just how complicated the issue is, and how important it is to have a public debate," said Katharine Huffman, director of the New Mexico Drug Policy Project, an affiliate of the center.
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