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Premiering mere months after the October release of his COVID-19 documentary Totally Under Control, Alex Gibney’s The Crime of the Century takes a close look at the opioid crisis in America. Here, Gibney tells THR why the epidemic deserves our attention.
Why did you first get interested in the opioid crisis?
There was a sense that this was not something that just happened, that there was a series of interlocking crimes here. And that was interesting to me, because it seemed that what was missing about understanding and fixing the opioid crisis was redefining it, so it wasn’t just a natural event like a hurricane or a flood, but that it was a crime. And if there are crimes, then there are people to be held to account, and there’s a way of fixing things so the crimes don’t happen again.
Can you explain the title of the film and why you decided to call it The Crime of the Century?
It just seemed that big. I mean, 500,000 people dead. And when I say the “century,” I mean the 21st century, so I didn’t have to deal with a number of other crimes previous. And also this is very much a crime of this century. In other words, Purdue launches Oxycontin in the late ’90s, but most of the damage done from opioids is in the 2000s, so it seemed appropriate — both the enormity of it and the timing.
Given that you also just released Totally Under Control, a film about America’s response to COVID-19, are there any similarities that you see in the ways that America responded to the pandemic and the opioid epidemic? Do you see those two health crises intersecting in important ways?
One hundred percent. The approach of the Trump administration to the COVID crisis was to pretend it didn’t exist so that it didn’t damage business. When there were some attempts to try to deliver PPE and other ameliorative technologies, there were a series of giveaways to the private sector that were designed to maximize profit instead of good patient outcomes. Both the COVID pandemic and the opioid crisis demand a multidisciplinary coordinated response; all these interrelated issues … demand an integrated response that can’t be met by companies who are focusing not only on their bottom line but on a particular product. I think government has failed us, and they’ve failed us because you’ve given over so much of social policy to the market rather than to a larger, more cohesive understanding of how to run a country for the benefit of our citizens.
Interview edited for length and clarity.
This story first appeared in a June stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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