Leadership in the arts and entertainment can set the tone for our nation’s attitudes, driving American behaviors and altering public perception of important issues.
Entertainment and the arts can support bereaved families in at least three important ways:
1. Change norms. Entertainment and the arts have the ability to shift America’s cultural norms and how people perceive and respond to the death of a loved one. Too often, friends, employers, colleagues and neighbors do not know what to say or do, sometimes avoiding bereaved families entirely. This type of isolation leaves them feeling invisible and ignored. When topics around grief are featured in arts and entertainment, people become more open to talking about it and supporting one another.
2. Shed light on public health risks. Entertainment and the arts have the unparalleled ability to pull heartstrings and portray the complexity of grief, loss and death in all its different forms. Through groundbreaking movies and TV shows, the entertainment industry is increasingly demonstrating that families do not “get over it” or “move on.” Rather, a death becomes part of the family’s life story, often a seminal event that defines life before and life after. The more the public understands about the profound consequences of death on families, the more apt they are to support policies and practices that support the bereaved.
3. Include warning labels. One of the most difficult aspects of coping with a death, regardless of cause and age, is unexpectedly encountering reminders that can send a family member reeling into deep grief for weeks or months to come. To prevent this relapse of deep grief, movies, television and other entertainment productions should be labelled to indicate the presence of a death scene, particularly when a scene is graphic, includes a child and may set off a traumatic reliving of a personal story. For example, when “Saving Private Ryan” was released, filmmakers clearly communicated the emotional dangers of the opening scene for war veterans. Respecting personal experiences and giving families the ability to opt out of painful or difficult scenes enables them to own their experience and safeguard against grief relapse.