First Person

Trailer for “The Impossible” tsunami movie: powerful, but off base

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On OxfamBuzzList we mostly review books, blogs, and movies that we want to recommend to our supporters. But every once in a while, we’ll sound the alarm when we think someone’s got it wrong.

A good example: The trailer for “The Impossible,” starring Ewan McGregor and Naomi Watts, sure looks like it may have missed the point of one of the worst humanitarian disasters in history.

The clip shows the fear and chaos that come when a family of white tourists in Thailand are split up by the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and tsunami. The special effects look amazing and terrifying; the movie captures visually what photos from those days attempted to convey. As a mom, my stomach turns when I watch McGregor and Watts’ try to locate their lost children in the chaos, in the midst of their own pain and suffering.

But, after reading Slate’s take on the trailer, I got a little annoyed. Why focus on one white family of tourists visiting the region where the disaster took place? What about the hundreds of thousands of people who died and/or lost their homes and livelihoods when the ground beneath them began to tremble and the very water they rely on came crashing down all around them?

I have a personal stake in this, of course. I came to Oxfam in September 2004. When the tsunami and earthquake hit just after Christmas that December, I was proud and (frankly, relieved) to hear that Oxfam was on the ground and helping survivors in Indonesia, Sri Lanka, India, Thailand and other affected countries. My parents are Sri Lankan immigrants, and I have many, many relatives who still live in the country. For me, it was a point of pride to know that I was working for a place that was partnering with communities, helping them manage their way through the aftermath.

So, yes, maybe I have bias on this topic. And maybe when “The Impossible” is released in December it will prove my suspicions wrong. To do so, it will have to portray the many poor people who lived through the tsunami as more than just a few blurry extras in the background.

Post Script: If you want to read something that portrayed the tsunami through the eyes of those living through it, pick up Indian American author Jhumpa Lahiri’s book of short stories, “Unaccustomed Earth.” She is one of my favorite writers, and her prose is as elegant, I think, as the written word can be.

OxfamBuzzList is a new blog series about the movies, books, blogs, TV shows, music, and more that have Oxfam staff and supporters talking. Please leave a comment, or offer us your own contribution (400 words or less). E-mail Andrea Perera, Oxfam America’s Web Editor, at [email protected]. Facebook Twitter Instagram YouTube Google+