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Documentary Review: Netflix’s ‘Pandemic’ (2020)

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[Warning: spoilers ahead]

Netflix’s Pandemic is a prophecy of the eeriest kind: watching it at present, living life under the exact kind of virus foretold in the documentary series is distressing. Preparedness, research and development were core themes that carried the series. From 2018 to 2019, Pandemic’s production team trotted around the globe and followed the lives of nine individuals — including frontline medical professionals in New York, scientists who travel back and forth from Guatemala, and experts from the World Health Organisation (WHO) in Congo — in fighting seasonal flu, Swine Flu and Ebola. Ordinarily, one would be in awe of the dedication of these experts and have nothing but utmost respect for their efforts. But watching it now, at home, is just depressing. In hindsight, it seems that they were trying to fight a losing battle.

As if that was not disheartening enough, of the nine individuals in the series, one person followed is an anti-vaxxer who relentlessly campaigns against mandatory vaccination in the U.S. state of Oregon. It is obvious that the producers of Pandemic intended to present both sides of the debate, but with anti-vaccination activism spreading like wildfire in the U.S. — not to mention a documentary called Plandemic that was recently banned by YouTube — creators treading down this line should be wary of giving a platform to those disseminating discredited or utterly baseless information.

Nevertheless, what makes Pandemic fascinating as a documentary series is the humanisation of its subjects: we see doctors acknowledging their Muslim and Christian faiths respectively; we see the wife of a scientist telling us how hard it is for her five year-old daughter to not be able to spend time with her father due to his travels back and forth between Lebanon and Egypt; we see a WHO worker telling his son through video call that he might miss his graduation. These sobering reminders of the sacrifices made by frontliners may make viewers think twice before going out for a non-essential cup of coffee.

Pandemic’s arrival on Netflix is timely and gravely important. Informative, factual and educational content is exactly what we need in times like this. COVID-19 may very well be just a trial of what is to come twenty years down the road if we do not play our part. In the meantime, stay at home and wash your hands.

Ong Jie Yee

The author Ong Jie Yee

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