by Adham Ghandour
In 1901 the original Monsanto company was founded and with it began a century of controversy regarding the ethics and morals, that went to into its products and operations. Monsanto is an American multinational company that specializes in agricultural biotechnology and the production of agrochemicals based in Missouri. Monsanto is regarded by many experts as one of the most unethical and inhumane companies to ever function let alone accrue billions of dollars in sales annually. However, many individuals that are part of bigger private and government-run organizations support Monsanto’s downright evil methods because it provides them with a plethora of financial gain. Monsanto’s consistent efforts to cover up the truth behind its corrupt system is evident in its regular changes to documentation or announcements on their websites after that had been found to falsely advertise and make false statements (Fedoroff, 2013). In the film “The World According to Monsanto” by Marie-Monique Robin the evil and corrupt company that is known to be Monsanto, is dissected and thoroughly analyzed with the support of experts from the point of view of those who disagree with Monsanto’s ways as well as that of the people that support Monsanto. Light is shed on the internal operations and real-life personal encounters of individuals with Monsanto and its representatives. Marie- Monique Robin looked at both sides on the topic of corruption in Monsanto’s operations and their attempt at essentially poisoning and unjustly controlling the world’s food production.
The documentary begins showing us farmers explaining the effects that Monsanto products have had on their business some positively and others negatively. To start off the documentary that shows that the director wanted to show both points of view before showing her personal opinion on the matter. The next scene shows Marie-Monique turning on her computer with the presence of diegetic sound coming from the start-up of the tone on a Macintosh computer. The sound of the computer turning on signifies the beginning of Marie-Monique’s extensive research on the topic of interest, which is Monsanto. The tone also sets the mood of the documentary showing that it will be informative and based on real research in support of Marie-Monique’s personal point of view. A reoccurring scene throughout the documentary that is present between cuts is the interviewer positioned on her desk physically surfing the web, in search of information regarding a corrupt company that is gaining power at a dangerously fast rate. The sound of the mouse clicking as she does her research is always there and intensifies the importance of what she is doing and how important it is for her as a documenter as well as a person (Robin, 2008).
Throughout the documentary, Marie-Monique is narrating her thought process making the audience feel like we can read her mind. Every piece of information that she learns or wants to find out, we learn and discover simultaneously. This approach for documentation makes the viewers feel more engaged almost as if they are part of her research team contributing to the research. Early on in the documentary she makes this statement “For 20 years I have traveled the globe and everywhere I have heard about this American Multinational but what I have heard hasn’t always been positive, wanting to know more I surfed the web for months to put the pieces of the puzzle together” (Robin, 2008). The previous quote ensures the idea that the creator of this documentary is truly passionate about this topic and is genuinely interested in educating herself further to justify the negative image that she and many others have towards Monsanto. She understands that many might disagree with her on her personal opinion, but she is doing her job to provide as much credible research and encounters with specialists to prove her point of view on the unethical acts performed by Monsanto. In her narration, she also poses questions that are then answered by a series of different interview approaches including talking heads with people that can relate or are informed enough to provide their experiences or opinions. The questions that are narrated act as sort of an introduction to what is to come up next in the documentary.
Marie-Monique was not afraid to delve into extremely controversial topics that had to do with government organizations and personnel. She took somewhat of a hostile approach when attempting to show all of Monsanto’s wrongdoings. This method does help her prove her personal opinions against Monsanto and satisfies those who share her same belief. In the documentary, she seems to focus a lot on portraying Monsanto as the evil conglomerate that it probably is, but does not keep the balance of Monsanto supporters. Although that is not necessary for her to do, since her stance towards the topic is clear, it does give those who disagree with her reason to say that her studies are potentially biased towards one side. Such claims could cause the credibility and reputation of her documentary to suffer. Marie-Monique spoke openly about the food drug administration (FDA) accepting the production of genetically modified organs (GMOs) as suggested by Monsanto although they did not meet the safety standards. One of her interviews when discussing the FDA situation was conducted with James Maryanski who headed the biotechnology department at that point. In that interview, Maryanski agrees that the FDA’s decision was influenced by politics rather than following real scientific criteria. She also spoke to Dan Glickman who used to be Bill Clinton’s secretary of agriculture, in that interview he mentions that he was given orders not to question the decisions being made regarding GMOs (Robin, 2008). She really went to any extent to prove her points, even if it means that her documentary became extremely controversial.
Another aspect of the film that really brings things into perspective is the inclusion of real-life video recordings of historical events and commercials into the documentary. The footage is shown of George Bush senior on a visit to Monsanto’s research labs in 1987. In the video clip, Monsanto scientists are taking the former vice president through the steps of creating genetically modified organisms. A video like the one mentioned above shows the influence that Monsanto has on society to the point that the vice president of the United States paid them a visit. It amplifies the severity of Monsanto’s reach on the political system and the economy. In the film when transitioning from one topic to the other, Monsanto commercials were put in to serve what I saw to be a strong purpose. The commercial would show an actor that looks like he could not be happier to present a product and talk about all its benefits when in reality it is actually harmful in many different ways both for plants and humans. Directly after showing the commercial the viewer would receive ample research results and interview outcomes that point out all the flaws in the product that was just shown in the commercial. It is a more creative approach to portray an opinion and falsify the opposing one. (Robin,2008)
Marie-Monique Robin traveled across the world to become closer to the areas and individuals affected by Monsanto’s products. Amongst the many places, she visited were cotton farms in India, soybean farms in Indiana and cornfields in Mexico. In each country, she interviewed those directly impacted my Monsanto and allowed them to tell their story from their own point of view. By doing this she is breaking this intangible barrier that often lies between the interviewer and those being interviewed. It helps her show us that she takes pride in the issue she is discussing and will go as far as needed to retrieve sufficient evidence and information to support her argument. By getting up close and personal with the farmers she was able to show the emotions of those affected farmers. Emotions bring out other people’s emotions, which Marie-Monique needed to have the viewers feel to get them to understand the severity of the cause she is documenting and have them side with her (Hindo,2007).
In the film as the interviewer surfs the internet on her computer, she often visits Monsanto’s website and other official Monsanto documentation and shows the statements that the company makes in support of their cause, as she narrates what she sees. In one scene she is looking at the Monsanto website as she narrates and highlights a piece of text that said “Our products provide significant economic benefits to both large- and small-holder growers. In many cases, farmers are able to grow higher-quality and better-yielding crops with fewer inputs and less labour” (Monsanto Company, 2016). She is trying to show the viewers how Monsanto is able to get local farmers to use their products. Farmers have families to support and when promised less cost with more overall profits they will definitely want to give it a try even if they are not sure of the consequences. The fact that she uses the positivity in Monsanto’s statements to further supplement her argument against them is a powerful way to get her messages across to the masses.
As the documentary comes to a close we can hear the audio of a phone call between Marie-Monique Robin and one Cristopher Warner from Monsanto. In the audio we learn that Monsanto had refused to allow Marie-Monique to interview any current employees or directors at Monsanto. Throughout the film, the viewer is flooded with an abundance of knowledge and information that opposes anything that had to with Monsanto as a producer of chemicals and GMOs as well as an establishment. The purpose of it was to raise awareness and really let the horrible acts that Monsanto has executed resonate with the audience. A scientific and fact-based approach was taken by the filmmaker to convince people of the evil power that is Monsanto. A very emotional and human approach was also taken to really shake the viewers emotionally in a way that they can relate in a humane and ethical manner. Marie-Monique scrutinized every aspect of Monsanto to deliver a powerful message to millions of people around the world.
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Hindo, Brian. “Monsanto: Winning the Ground War.” Bloomberg.com. Bloomberg, 6 Dec. 2007. Web. 21 Oct. 2016.
Fedoroff,Nina.”Can We Trust Monsanto with Our Food?” Scientific American. Nature American Inc.,25 July 2013. Web. 21 Oct. 2016.
‘Latest Headlines.” A Sustainable Agriculture Company. Monsanto Company,n.d.Web. 21 Oct.2016.
The World According to Monsanto. Dir. Marie-Monique Robin. Perf. Marie-Monique Robin. National Film Board of Canada,2008.DVD.