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Hillary Clinton Wants Hollywood Stories About Kids and Climate Change

Hillary Clinton Wants Hollywood Stories About Kids and Climate Change

While Hollywood movies like Don’t Look Up and The Day After Tomorrow have used climate change as the inspiration for some high-stakes storytelling, Hillary Clinton would like the entertainment industry to start thinking smaller. A lot smaller. Like, infant or preschooler small. Through the Clinton Foundation’s Too Small to Fail program, an early childhood initiative founded in 2014, the former secretary of state is now encouraging Hollywood writers and producers to embed ideas about young children and climate change in their films and TV shows. 

“There’s now research on this topic, but most people are not aware at all,” Clinton says, of the idea that young children are especially vulnerable to extreme heat, stronger storms and wildfires. “Our hope is that we can help people make the connections between children’s mental and physical health and the impact of climate change.” Too Small to Fail already has some experience enlisting Hollywood as a storytelling ally: The organization advised writers rooms on shows like Orange Is the New Black, Law & Order: Special Victims Unit and This Is Us about incorporating into their scripts the idea that talking, reading and singing to small children can make a significant impact on brain development. 

Now, Too Small to Fail is turning its focus to climate, hosting an event in New York in May with philanthropic, corporate and media leaders and producing a science-based resource for storytellers. In early June, Clinton appeared at the Environmental Media Association Impact Summit in West Hollywood to discuss the issue together with One Day at a Time showrunner Gloria Calderón Kellett and Good Energy founder Anna Jane Joyner. After her panel, Clinton spoke with THR about Too Small to Fail’s efforts, the film and TV projects underway at her own production company, and whether she’d like to add Oscar voter to her long list of civic responsibilities.

Why enlist the entertainment industry in this initiative on kids and climate change?

One of the very first things we did with Too Small to Fail when we started it was to ask ourselves, “How do we reach as many people as possible to let them know they literally can build brain cells by reading, talking and singing to babies and toddlers?” So we went out to Hollywood some years back to ask TV executives, writers, showrunners, producers to incorporate messaging about early childhood development into the storylines of their shows. We asked them to think of ways to model the behaviors we wanted to promote. We had 15 different shows do this. This time, we went back out to talk to the community about the impact of climate change and to raise awareness of the very adverse impact on young children’s healthy development. Little kids aren’t just small adults, they have a much more vulnerable reaction to extreme heat or pollution from wildfires, whatever it might be.

Sometimes when people learn about climate change, it can make them feel despondent or hopeless. Is there a way to share this information where you don’t have that effect?

You’re right that a discussion about climate change at a high level can kind of overwhelm people. But our hope is that by engaging the entertainment community to help us talk about this issue, we can spark people to think about how they can integrate the connection between climate and kids’ health in their own daily lives. We’re hoping that viewers of shows will understand the case that is being made and feel empowered, not discouraged.

Do you think it’s possible for a show or a movie that has a scientifically grounded climate change storyline to still be entertaining?

Yes, I do. You can have a climate change narrative that is factual and entertaining and effectively communicates awareness and information to people. I was a big fan of Madam Secretary, and they incorporated the impact of a superstorm that hits an island nation in the Pacific. Gloria Calderón Kellett was on the panel with me, and she spoke about the way that the show One Day at a Time began incorporating climate change just to raise interest, maybe provoke somebody to dig a little deeper. At another event that we held in New York, I had a chance to speak with Scott Burns, who wrote Extrapolations and Contagion, and his stories are very well done in bringing critical issues like climate change and pandemics to a broad audience. And then of course, there’s always Sesame Street, which does an incredible job of trying to convey needed information.

How are things going at HiddenLight, the production company you founded with your daughter, Chelsea, and Sam Branson? 

We were thrilled when one of our productions, In Her Hands, which was on Netflix, won an Emmy. We’ve got some really great films in the line. At Tribeca, we just premiered The Cranes Call, a film we did with George and Amal Clooney about what’s happening inside Ukraine to the people there because of the brutality of the Russian invasion. We have a film we’re finishing that followed the Texas cases about access to abortion all the way through the Texas Supreme Court, which is so wrenching, so poignant, but tells a story literally every American needs to see. We have a film in production looking at race issues through the 1960s, and we’ve got some commercial projects getting underway both with U.K. and U.S. developers. So, it’s been really exciting. 

Is there a throughline in terms of the projects that HiddenLight wants to produce?

We are particularly focused on women’s stories, both the reason for hope and optimism, but also the alarm bells that are going off about women’s rights being pushed back around the world. We are interested in true-crime stories because they’re always really thrilling, and biographical pictures. 

Participant Media, the company that backed An Inconvenient Truth and a lot of other socially conscious films and shows, shut down this year, and there’s a feeling in the entertainment industry that there is no longer financing available for programming that intends to make a social impact. Do you think there’s anybody who might fill the void that Participant left?

First, I think everybody who loves film owes a debt of gratitude to Participant, which pioneered a model of values-based storytelling. We’re [able] to learn from Participant and others to create new partnerships and models and incentives to meet the moment. While I think there is a void with their ending production, we want to try to find new ways of impactful storytelling at HiddenLight, and I know many others do as well. I don’t think it’s ever been more important to try to tell fact-based, evidence-based stories with impact [than] right now, in our world where there’s so much misinformation and disinformation. We have to try to break through all of that and reach an audience that is really hungry to find the truth.

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In terms of the presidential election, how are you hoping the next few months unfold?

I am all in for President Biden because I think he’s done a good job and I think he has earned the right to be reelected to continue the work he’s doing to better position our country. I know it’s going to be a tough election. They always are, and my only hope is that people take it seriously and turn out to vote because we can’t have a democracy if people sit on the sidelines.

Is it true that you helped get the Howard Stern interview with President Biden booked?

I didn’t do anything other than, I have been interviewed by Howard Stern, and I think a lot of people thought that was a really interesting interview. So I think that might’ve contributed to both sides looking at the possibility of Howard interviewing the president, and I thought it was a terrific interview that they did.

Your Instagram message about the Oscars Barbie movie snubs this year was a real media moment, and you seem to be a pretty engaged movie viewer. Would you ever want to be an Oscar voter?

Well, I like being a voter. I urge everybody I know to vote. I’m currently producing the musical Suffs on Broadway about the final push for women’s suffrage. And while I’ve gone around promoting it, I’ve basically said, “Look what these women went through to get the right to vote. The least we could do is to keep voting.” So whenever I have a chance to vote, I will vote, in any kind of forum.

This story first appeared in the June 2024 Sustainability issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to see the rest of the issue.

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