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Bird Box: Netflix Finally Removes Controversial Footage Following Public Backlash

Despite originally refusing to remove controversial footage included in its flash-in-the-pan horror hit Bird Box, Netflix has now changed its mind.

The Canadian Press confirms that the streamer will remove from Bird Box — which stars Sandra Bullock as a single mother living in a post-apocalyptic world where monsters convince humans to commit suicide if they catch sight of them — footage of the real-life Lac-Mégantic rail disaster that took place in 2013. 

An unnamed spokesperson for the streaming giant released an email statement to the outlet that reads, "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."

For those unaware, the current cut of Bird Box includes footage from a train crash that happened on July 6, 2013 in Lac-Mégantic, Quebec, Canada. That day, a freight train was left unattended; it, along with the many gallons of Bakken Formation crude oil it was transporting, ultimately derailed from the tracks and crashed. Several of the train's cars, of which there were 74, exploded and then caught fire. The accident left 47 people dead, a large portion of Lac-Mégantic's downtown buildings completely destroyed (due to the actual fire itself and to petroleum contamination from the crude oil aboard the train), and most of the city's downtown area ruined and in need of rebuilding. 

Clips of the Lac-Mégantic train tragedy appear within the first few minutes of Bird Box, during the scene in which Malorie (Bullock) and her sister Jessica (Sarah Paulson) are watching the news on television. They see massive explosions and total devastation wracking a town — footage meant in the film to indicate that the world is experiencing a mass suicide epidemic. 

Netflix reportedly obtained the clips from stock footage company Pond5, where individuals can purchase images and clips of all sorts, including those from newscasts that depict sensitive events. Another of the streamer's projects, the sci-fi television show Travelers, also implemented Lac-Mégantic disaster footage, which Travelers' production company Peacock Alley Entertainment stated wasn't intended to "dishonor the tragic events of 2013." Peacock Alley Entertainment head Carrie Mudd apologized in early January and indicated that the company was "already working to replace the footage in the show."

Tina Witoshkin of Pond5 also issued an apology for the use of the footage in Travelers: "We deeply regret that this happened and sincerely apologize to anyone who was offended, especially the victims and their families ... We are contacting all customers who have purchased any related clips to ensure they are aware of the sensitive nature of this footage. Additionally, we're proactively re-auditing content of this nature, while continuing to improve our guidance for usage."

When Netflix was made aware of the situation as it relates to Bird Box, however, the streamer refused to remove the footage. A spokesperson indicated that Netflix would "keep the clip in the movie," and be "looking at ways to do things differently moving forward."

Many were outraged at Netflix's original decision, none more than Lac-Mégantic Mayor Julie Morin and Quebec Culture Minister Nathalie Roy. Morin wrote that the use of the footage and subsequent refusal to take it out of Bird Box after knowing all the facts showed a complete lack of respect for the people of Lac-Mégantic and those affected by the 2013 disaster. 

"It's hard enough for our citizens to see these images when they are used normally and respectfully on the news. Just imagine, to have them used as fiction, as if they were invented," stated Morin.

Roy criticized Netflix CEO Reed Hastings, writing that Netflix was exhibiting a "lack of compassion, empathy, and solidarity" in its decision, and stated that the Quebec government found it unbelievable that Netflix wouldn't remove the clips from Bird Box or think it okay to implement them in the first place. She wrote, "As many Quebecers, our government has trouble understanding how a global giant like Netflix could consider it fine to use such images in this context. From a moral and ethical perspective, that's simply inadmissible."

Now that Netflix is reversing its choice, Morin is satisfied and willing to look past the streamer's initial refusal. 

"Yes, there was a delay, but I think in the end, what's more important for me, is that we have a solution to this situation we felt was important to settle," she stated, further noting that the entertainment industry needs to "reflect on this" and other situations like this to hopefully create a new standard for the use of stock footage in films and television series. 

Added Federal Heritage Minister Pablo Rodriguez, "My heart goes out to the people of Lac-Mégantic. I perfectly understand their dismay at the use of footage of the tragedy. The company has taken the good decision by stepping back and removing this footage from its movie."

According to The Canadian Press, Netflix will remove the footage of the Lac-Mégantic disaster seen in Bird Box within two weeks from the time of this writing — Friday, March 15.