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A Civil War is coming to America.

A civil war is coming to America. I don’t mean the one the media keeps forecasting. I mean the movie “Civil War” by writer-director Alex Garland. It premiered at SXSW in Austin and is opening in theaters April 11, 2024. As pop culture moments like this do, it will spark conversation. For those who want to strengthen the social norm of disagreeing without violence in our civic spaces, this movie offers a springboard to important conversations. Here’s how to use the movie and its themes strategically.

© Miller Avenue Productions LLC/ A24

See it. Yes, you can read reviews like this one by Roger Ebert or the Hollywood Reporter. Spoiler alerts galore. But you should see it for yourself so that when you are talking about it, you know what you are talking about. Mind you, many of the people you may talk about this with may or may not have done the same, relying on social media posts to fuel their opinions.

Use the space it opens up to consider our future and therefore our actions today. Dystopic films like “Civil War” offer us contrasting visions for the future. If we don’t want to end up here, what do we need to do today to build a different future? People are more open to act after seeing something like this.

Be ready for an emotional conversation. People who see movies like “Civil War” will likely experience “cinematic realism,” which means that it will be real enough that people will become emotionally invested as if what is happening is real. People make most decisions about what they believe based on emotions. Offer them a way to reflect on their emotions and what it means for what they believe and therefore want to do.

Connect this movie to other pop culture moments where a character is practicing the preferred behavior. Grab clips from movies and TV shows where characters are role modeling the preferred behavior so you can see more of it. Try not to over-index on “The West Wing.” Too obvious.

Shape the reactions to the movie. “The Invisible War” was a harrowing documentary about the tens of thousands of sexual assaults that take place every year within the U.S. military. Within days of seeing the film, then Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta announced a significant change in the way reported rapes are investigated in the military. What’s more, he said that the film was responsible, in part, for his decision. What reaction do you want people to have to “Civil War”? How can you shape that reaction?

Credit: A24

Offer concrete actions to avoid this future reality. Whether you have your own or want to use this opportunity to showcase other organizations, there are many resources available to help leaders reinforce that violence is not the answer to solve social conflicts. Over Zero and Pen has a guide that is election-oriented but works on related issues that recommends to “emphasize individuals’ agency and the many actions underway” to keep us from the reality we see in “Civil War.” This will engender hope, one of the most powerful emotions we have, and offers an antidote to helplessness that the movie might trigger. Starts With Us offers a Polarization Detox Challenge. Horizons Project offers resources to call in those we disagree with rather than cancel them.

Engage with the media on the themes raised in the movie. Movies like this can jump from culture pages to news sections. Anticipate this. If you have expertise on these topics, be ready if the media calls. You also can be proactive and connect the movie and the buzz its getting to important facts and resources you want to highlight. Use this as the opportunity to make research or recommendations relevant.

Manage the movie’s downsides. A movie like this can reinforce the norm that violence is inevitable and may even be the right thing to do to save what people perceive as important and under threat. Right now, we want to de-normalize violence in civic spaces. This movie might do the exact opposite. Counter this by offering moral moments where characters in the film reject violence. What are alternative behaviors that are more productive than what we are seeing on screen?

Movies like “Civil War” give audiences a safe space where they can explore something scary without actually being in harm’s way. This will give rise to all sorts of questions about who we are as humans and how we can live together across lines of difference without turning on each other. When people open their minds to explore these questions, it offers a meaningful opportunity to engage with them. People will be talking about this movie. Is it strategic for you to be part of the conversation?

This entry was posted on Monday, April 8, 2024 at 09:54 am and is filed under Coalition, connection and network building and Frame, narrative and message development. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.