Bird Box starring Sandra Bullock became one of the highest-viewed Netflix movies at the time of its release in 2018. The movie not only brought in the numbers for Netflix but also sparked a major controversy. One of the stock footage used in the film featured scenes from the deadly train tragedy that took place in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, in 2013. These scenes showed the aftermath of the train crash and Netflix was forced to remove them after pressure from Canadian officials.
Bird Box first premiered at the AFI Fest in 2018 before a limited release in theaters. Within 28 days of its streaming release, the film became the most-watched film on Netflix. The reviews were mixed, but its massive success spawned a spin-off sequel, Bird Box Barcelona, in 2023.
Netflix Was Forced To Remove Scenes Of A Tragedy From Sandra Bullock’s Bird Box
In Bird Box, Sandra Bullock played Malorie Hayes who has to protect her two children from alien entities, which cause people to commit suicide if they look at them. The post-apocalyptic thriller was based on the 2014 novel of the same name by Josh Malerman. Upon release, a few raised objections to the film using footage from the aftermath of the Lac-Mégantic train crash.
The crash killed an estimated 47 people in 2013 after a freight train derailed in the Lac-Mégantic town in Quebec. Netflix acquired the clip from a stock-footage house, Pond5, and used it in Bird Box as well as in the third season of Travelers. Canadian officials asked the streaming platform to remove the footage from the film, but it refused to delete it from Bird Box.
There was an outcry on social media, calling the scenes in the film offensive to the people affected by the tragedy. Nathalie Roy, Quebec culture and communications minister, sent an open letter to Reed Hastings, the then-CEO of Netflix, asking them to cut the clip.
Utilisation d’images de la tragédie de @VLacMegantic par @Netflix et ses partenaires: voici l’intégralité de la lettre que j’ai envoyée hier à son PDG @ReedHastings.@Netflix_CA #Netflix #LacMegantic #MCC #PolQc #AssNat pic.twitter.com/jaWRbdhRuZ
— Nathalie Roy (@NathalieRoyPres) January 19, 2019
The streaming giant finally budged to the sentiments of the people and removed the clip from the film. A spokesman for the company shared with Variety via email, “Netflix and the filmmakers of ‘Bird Box’ have decided to replace the clip. We’re sorry for any pain caused to the Lac-Mégantic community.” Roy welcomed Netflix’s move and shared that the gesture was expected out of respect for the victims and their close ones. Roy tweeted (translated from French on her X):
“This gesture was expected out of respect for the victims of this horrific drama, their loved ones and the entire community of #LacMégantic. This result shows that by being in solidarity and by putting our efforts together, anything is possible.”
The edited version of the film appeared on the streaming platform a few weeks later. The footage was replaced with a scene from an older U.S. TV series. The footage was earlier removed from Travelers and Carrie Mudd, president of Peacock Alley Entertainment who produced the series, apologized (via CBC). It remains unknown if Sandra Bullock was aware of this controversy in her film.
Stock Footage House Addressed The Controversy In Bird Box
The footage used in Bird Box by Netflix came from Pond5 and the stock footage house issued a statement to BuzzFeed News clarifying its stance. They revealed that the footage was taken out of context and used in entertainment programs. They apologized for the oversight and promised that they would reach out to their customers who bought any related clips to make them aware of its sensitive nature. Pond5 spokesperson Tina Witoshkin told BuzzFeed News:
“It has recently come to our attention that our footage depicting the Lac-Mégantic rail disaster was taken out of context and used in entertainment programming. We deeply regret that this happened and sincerely apologize to anyone who was offended, especially the victims and their families.”
Netflix also came under fire for reportedly using footage of a Belgium train crash that killed 19 people (via BBC). The footage was used in the 2017 film, Death Note, a live-action adaptation of the Japanese anime of the same name.