Socially-Charged Genre Films
Welcome to the 'SDG-Tackling Genre Film List'!
From sci-fi thrillers to epic fantasies, we believe that genre films that explore themes related to the United Nations 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) have the power to inspire social change and world transformation.
So with the intent of igniting change one film at a time, Rachelle Chartrand (MPP President) and Gabrielle Rutman (MPP Director of Development) have compiled a list of 17 genre films that tackle each of the SDGs and encourage audiences to think critically about the world around them.
For example, while the doom and gloom of THE HUNGER GAMES was once appealing, it is now the human relationships between the characters, and the sacrifices and commitments they made to each other during difficult times that makes the film stand out as a socially-charged genre film. THE HUNGER GAMES reminds us today that even when it feels like the sky is falling, love and hope will always persist and cannot be taken away.
So grab some popcorn, sit back, and enjoy a diverse selection of films that inspire us to create reel-world impact and our personal connection to them!
To learn more about the UN SDGs, click here.
SDG 1: No Poverty - SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE (2008)
"SLUMDOG MILLIONAIRE is one of my all-time favourite films. I taught ESL in India a few years ago, and could never quite articulate the diversities and extremities of this fascinating country, which this film captured perfectly. Living in India affected my life profoundly. I lived in what felt like the Taj Mahal, when outside my door were children, like Jamal, Salim and Latika, begging for food and performing for money. It was overwhelming, and I felt helpless.
Films like this not only help us experience another culture for a short time, but a high-stakes crime story like this can help build empathy to what extreme poverty means for children, the complex issues surrounding their situations, horrendous forces at play and the tragedies it can all lead to. But it also shows us the power of love, and how this alone can motivate and inspire one to overcome even the most hopeless of situations."
SDG 2: Zero Hunger - INTERSETLLAR (2014)
"I first watched INTERSTELLAR years ago because of its exploration of theoretical physics and astrophysics - wormholes, blackholes, advanced AI; what's not to love?!!
But in researching a film for SDG 2, I realized how perfect it is as a cautionary tale of how we could be taking two steps forward and three steps back in tackling Zero Hunger.
Out of all the social issues that face us today, the fact that there are people that do not have enough food to eat is absolutely ridiculous. There is more than enough food and resources to feed everyone, so the challenge here is more moral and ethical vs. primal. But what INTERSTELLAR shows us is that there could, in the not too distant future, be a point of no return when it comes to our beautiful planet being able to provide the food needed for our civilization to survive.
So in addition to finding a way to redistribute the abundance of food we have (on a local and international basis) immediately, this film inspired me to look into how we can tackle this issue long term. Leaving the planet should not be a Plan A or B!"
SDG 3: Good Health and Well-Being - US (2019)
"How does growing up in an environment of love, or in its absence, impact who we become? In the haunting thriller US, Jordan Peele explores identity, mental health and our fear of the 'other' when Adelaide remembers a traumatic incident at a beach she visited in childhood and reality as she knows it starts to unravel."
SDG 4: Quality Education - HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER'S STONE (2001)
"As a former teacher, the issue of Quality Education is close to my heart. I've taught science, math and ESL, locally and abroad, in traditional and non-traditional settings, and have worked with youth from all socio-economic backgrounds as well as youth with a variety of learning, development and behavioural challenges.
What I loved about the HARRY POTTER films, in particular the first one, was how it showed the power education can have in changing the trajectory of one's life, no matter their background; whether it was the magic the kids learned in class that would literally save their lives later, or the impact strong relationships with teachers and classmates can have on a youth. Like Harry, not every child has a loving, nurturing, supportive homelife, but done right, schools can provide those necessities and so much more. "
SDG 5: Gender Equality - HIDDEN FIGURES (2016)
"Science and math continue to be passions of mine so I decided to include films that deal with plots rooted in grounded science and math as its own genre!
Since films about science (especially physics) and/or math starring female leads are a rarity, I really wanted to include HIDDEN FIGURES on our SDG Genre Films list. And upon watching it again, I felt those old desires to pursue a career in physics rise up again. It really is such an exhilarating film in that way!"
SDG 6: Clean Water & Sanitation - DARK WATERS (2019)
"Watching DARK WATERS just reaffirmed to me the power genre storytelling holds for educating audiences about important social issues. This legal thriller tells the very unsettling and upsetting true story of how one tenacious lawyer took on DuPont for knowingly poisoning citizens in West Virginia through its drinking water. The investigation ended up opening a Pandora's Box of contamination controversies and conspiracies involving DuPont (and its billion dollar generating Teflon!).
Of course, the case was covered by the media, and there have been legal and financial repercussions, but the film DARK WATERS gives us an opportunity to experience the story on an emotional level through the characters (the lawyer, his family and most importantly, the victims) as well as be educated on a variety of legal and political (and scientific!) elements in an engaging way that keeps you on the edge of your seat."
SDG 7: Affordable and Clean Energy - THERE WILL BE BLOOD (2007)
"With an iconic performance from the phenomenal Daniel Day-Lewis, and brilliant direction from my fave PT Anderson, (not to mention the perfection of all the creatives), THERE WILL BE BLOOD explores the themes of greed, corruption, money and power, which are often explored in films about the oil industry, in masterpiece form.
What makes this story so powerful is that it truly is a cautionary tale, an epic tragedy, about a man who lost his soul, destroying himself and the lives of those around him, because of his obsession with oil. This story doesn't explore the environmental importance of SDG 7; it shows the dangers of lost humanity as long as our world is dependent on a resource that is limited, non-renewable, geo-dependent and lucrative for those who mine it."
SDG 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth - PARASITE (2019)
"Goal 8 aims to improve decent work conditions and economic growth. The story in PARASITE brings attention this need by showing how wealth disparities can impact and threaten families and their livelihood and motivate people to act in ways they might not always act, building empathy and awareness in audiences.
PARASITE tells a brutal and highly entertaining story about wealth disparity and inequality through the lens of a Korean lower-class family working undercover for an upper class family in order to survive."
SDG 9: Industry, Innovation and Infrastructure - THE IMPOSSIBLE (2012)
"THE IMPOSSIBLE is an evocative survival film about a family separated as a result of the 2004 Tsunami, which severely devastated industry and infastructure in Indonesia, Thailand, Sri Lanka and India.
It is based on a true story about The Belons, who survived the disaster and decided to leverage socially-charged storytelling to share their experience with the world. While the THE IMPOSSIBLE is a powerful story about tenacity and persevering through incredible odds, it also left me wondering about what perspectives were left out of the story?
What was surviving the Tsunami like for locals with less financial resources or privilege than the protagonists? Sometimes the questions left unanswered by films like THE IMPOSSIBLE can be just as insightful in sparking curiosity and expanding awareness!"
SDG 10: Reduced Inequality - AVATAR (2009)
"AVATAR explores multiple themes that produce inequality, such as colonialism, imperialism, militarism and destruction of the planet. Set in the fictional world of Pandora, the film shows how harmful actions that are seen as justifiable in the best interest of humanity, can actually be an act of violence against Indigenous people, threatening their symbiotic relationship to the earth instead of learning from it."
SDG 11: Sustainable Cities and Communities - CITY OF GOD (2002)
"Easily one of the rawest, most authentic, most chilling epic tales of gang life, CITY OF GOD (CIDADE de DEUS) shows, in an unapologetic way, what life growing up in slums can be like, and the violence that festers and grows. City of God (Cidade de Deus) is the name of the favela (a slum) where the story is set. It is a suburb of Rio de Janeiro that was created by the government in a systematic move to 'cleanse' the city of the slums, and became a breeding ground for violence and corruption. Some of the film was shot there but what is most interesting is that only one of the actors ever had any acting experience before, which only intensifies the authentic exploration of the film's themes."
SDG 12: Responsible Consumption and Production - SYRIANA (2005)
"SYRIANA takes a fascinating and upsetting look at the political and corporate corruption that results from and fuels (pun intended) the world's dependence on oil and the race for dominance to control its production, specifically in the Middle East. Told through multiple storylines (and with enthralling performances the only thing more riveting than the film is discovering in the end that the story is factual. SYRIANA is an excellent example of how a genre film (political thriller) can take you on an emotional and entertaining journey of escapism while educating you on a critical issue that documentaries are just not able to do."
SDG 13: Climate Action - MOTHER! (2017)
"Climate action is a perfect example of how all the SDGs are interconnected. If Climate Action is prioritized, the other SDGs will be positively impacted as a result. MOTHER is an original take on the familiar reality of climate change and destruction, each character in the story reflecting the darker side of human nature, and its power to destroy the planet."
SDG 14: Life Below Water - Aquamarine (2006)
"AQUAMARINE is a great example of how curiosity and imagination can be a catalyst for change. When we think about stories that are moving and meaningful, it can feel wrong to pick a story that is light, uplifting and free of explicit conflict. AQUAMARINE was one of my favourite movies growing up, because of the awe and curiosity it instilled in me instead of fear, sparking a love and curiosity for the ocean. "
SDG 15: Life on Land - Wall-E (2008)
"As the last robot left on futuristic earth, Wall-E (Waste Allocation Load-Lifter: Earth-Class) has developed a personality and is feeling lonely until he is introduced to Eve (Extraterrestrial Vegetation Evaluator (EVE). When a ship comes to earth to pick up Eve, Wall-e decides to join and embarks on an adventure in the space cruise-ship which carries the people of earth. The film WALL-E also explores what society could potentially look like if actions contributing to climate change don’t change and the earth becomes uninhabitable.
The critical questions WALL-E asks are balanced through the lens of an endearing and unexpected robot love story, showing that films can be heart-warming and fun while simultaneously sparking deeper conversation."
SDG 16: Peace Justice and Strong Institutions - CHAINED
"SDG 16 covers many of the most dangerous issues on the World's To Do List (ex. violence against children, discriminatory laws, terrorism, just institutions, etc.).
With its masterfully crafted script and raw, authentic performances, CHAINED explores toxic masculinity’s role in perpetuating the cycles of abuse, bullying and violence. The film shows an African American boy’s journey towards breaking these cycles, as his father, a police officer with shady connections, seeks redemption for his abusive ways."
SDG 17: Partnerships for the Goals - THE INTERNATIONAL (2009)
"THE INTERNATIONAL, a political spy thriller, perfectly explores what can go horribly wrong when international banks are left unchecked, and how challenging it can be to expose highly unethical and criminal activity, even when global government organizations are involved, and we have passionate individuals determined to see justice served.
The film is also a perfect example of the power of wrapping a fictional narrative around important real-life issues and high concept content vs. nonfiction formats like news exposés and documentaries. We know that even though this is a fictional story, many of the themes explored (corruption, extortion, greed, etc.) and events portrayed (espionage, arms dealing, banking scandals, assassinations) could and do happen, and so we are able to be ignited emotionally through the characters while learning something vital. Out of all the SDG targets, the ones for SDG 17 very well might be the most challenging to achieve, but THE INTERNATIONAL shows why we must."