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Canadian officials respond to furor over Bird Box’s use of footage from Montreal train tragedy: ‘If I were a Netflix shareholder, I’d be worried'

By Josh Weiss
Sarah Paulson Bird Box Netflix

Netflix is not out of the woods yet for using actual footage of the 2013 Lac-Mégantic rail tragedy in its meme-worthy horror film Bird Box.

According to The Hollywood Reporter, the Canadian government is now seeking financial damages from the streaming giant, which has issued an apology while also stating that the footage (meant to underscore the movie's apocalyptic setting) would remain in the film currently streaming on the site.

Members of Canada's Parliament, including Pierre Nantel of Québec, voted on Wednesday for Netflix to remove all footage of the train crash as well as pay the Québec city of Lac-Mégantic, where the train crash occurred.

"The Québec government asked Netflix two weeks ago to remove these images of the Lac-Mégantic disaster, which cost 47 lives, and Netflix just refused," Nantel tells SYFY WIRE. "It would be so simple to cut out those 10 seconds from Bird Box. This is not complicated. Instead, Netflix is doing an expert job of destroying its own reputation, in Canada and elsewhere. If I were a Netflix shareholder, I'd be worried."

Before the vote even took place, Netflix's public policy director, Corie Wright, affirmed that the company could not alter content already on its service. While Netflix declined to comment for this story, you can read Wright's letter to Nathalie Roy, Quebec's Minister of Culture and Communications (and provided to SYFY WIRE), below.

Netflix Bird Box letter

"Lac-Mégantic disagrees with the use of real video footage or images from human tragedies for fiction purposes," the town's city manager, Marie-Claude Arguin, tells SYFY WIRE. "Those images are the representation of our city’s worst day in history, a day from which we are still working hard to recover from. The 2013 train derailment resulted in a human tragedy that cannot be taken lightly. This is why the mayor of Lac-Mégantic believes that the film production industry should initiate a serious ethical reflection on the use of footage taken from real tragic human events for fiction entertainment purposes. Using the images or videos of some people’s worst living nightmare for pure fiction entertainment is simply unethical and to a certain degree lacks respect and judgment."

Bird Box was the second offering from Netflix to come under fire for using footage from the disaster, which left almost 50 people dead and decimated a large amount of property in downtown Quebec. The first film was Travelers, whose production company immediately apologized and promised to remove the offending video clip; part of the show is shot in Canada.

The footage was purchased via a stock video vendor known as Pond 5.

"Netflix needs to understand that Québec is not some ordinary domestic market," adds Nantel. "We are a different nation -- a bubble of France in North America. Netflix needs to respect that. Treating us like Wyoming is a bad strategy for any company, let alone a broadcaster ... Netflix needs to realize these are images of a real human tragedy, and the suffering of real people: peoples' neighbours, friends, and family. I am sure that Sandra Bullock, and director Susanne Bier, would prefer to have these images removed. I call on Netflix once again to have some respect, and remove these images."

Despite garnering 45 million views during its first week on Netflix, Bird Box also inspired a dangerous challenge in which participants would attempt to carry on with their lives while blindfolded. A young woman in Layton, Utah, was later involved in a car accident during the "Bird Box challenge," but luckily, no one was hurt.

Amid concerns about public safety, YouTube decided to ban all videos containing life-threatening acts like the Bird Box and Tide Pod challenges.

Based on the novel by Josh Malerman and directed by Susanne Bier, Bird Box stars Sandra Bullock as a woman attempting to survive in a world terrorized by unseen monsters that cause people to commit suicide. Trevante Rhodes, Sarah Paulson, John Malkovich, Rosa Salazar, Jackie Weaver, and B.D. Wong all co-star.