Tribeca: Michael Douglas Calls for Presidential Candidates to Talk Nuclear Weapons

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Michael Douglas

The actor is working on a doc about a San Fernando Valley family who grew up near a Boeing plant which had a nuclear accident in the 1950s. "[It] basically poisoned the whole neighborhood. The whole family has thyroid cancer," says Douglas.

Michael Douglas is ready for the presidential candidates to start talking about nuclear weapons.

At a 2016 Tribeca Film Festival discussion before the immersive closing-night film the bomb, Douglas said the world is “on the advent of a new Cold War advancement in nuclear weapons — the U.S. is talking about a trillion dollars to spend, the Russians have their new missiles out,” he explained. “It’s just very difficult to believe. … Maybe, just maybe, we can look at a new generation to look at what I think is the most serious issue that we have on the planet right now.”

Even more so, “we’ve got elections coming up this year. Once we get through these primaries and once more attention is brought to just how this arms race is continuing now, there should be a huge discussion coming this fall,” said the actor and longtime advocate of nuclear non-proliferation. “It looks like it’s gonna be [Donald] Trump and Hillary Clinton, with diametrically different opinions on this important issue — one who wants to nuke ‘em, and somebody else.”

Command & Control director Robert Kenner added, “If Donald Trump is the Republican nominee, I think there will be more discussion on nuclear weapons because he is the best argument for abolition that we can make.”

As seen in action flicks like Pacific Rim and Independence Day, Hollywood tends to portray nuclear weapons onscreen as the ultimate and necessary arsenal, and Douglas said that won’t change anytime soon. “Not in Hollywood — we’re based on a business of balances, commerce with filmmaking. Commerce has to win out,” said the actor. “Any movie where the message gets ahead of the drama … unless you’re doing documentaries, you can’t get ahead of yourself. They’re not interested.”

Still, Douglas said he’s working on a documentary “about a young man living in the San Fernando Valley who grew up near a Boeing plant which had a nuclear accident in the 1950s and basically poisoned the whole neighborhood. The whole family has thyroid cancer.”

The panel — also featuring Command & Control author Eric Schlosser, Emma Belcher of the MacArthur Foundation and the bomb filmmaker Smriti Keshari — discussed that nuclear weapons and climate change are the two most important global issues, and because of the visual proof of climate change that’s emerged, the world has begun responding with urgency.

“The terrifying thing about the nuclear issue is … you’re really gonna have to wait for a dirty bomb. It’s gonna make 9/11, Paris, Brussels, everything a miniscule amount before the amount of people who are going to be killed [by a nuclear bomb],” said Douglas. “The only optimism I see, is of these two major issues, the two most important in the world, we can eliminate nuclear weapons. It’s really easy. … We as humans can do something about it — we actually can, it’s within our grasp.”

Douglas began his activism against nuclear weapons after making The China Syndrome, James Bridges’ 1979 film co-starring Jane Fonda and Jack Lemmon about a cover-up of safety hazards at a nuclear power plant. To prepare for its finale, the shoot included consultations with General Electric quality assurance experts who “gave us a breakdown of the most logical accident that might happen at a power plant,” the actor and producer recalled. “That power plant was the ultimate villain — it’s a horror picture.

“Thirteen days after the movie came out, Three Mile Island happened in Pennsylvania,” said Douglas, as news outlets ran split-screen footage of the real-life tragedy and the film. “It was an epiphany for me, the closest thing to a religious experience I might have ever had.” 

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