Does Hollywood Help or Hurt Public Perception of Pharma?

Published March 9, 2023

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Movies and television shows do more than just dazzle us with their attractive celebrities, special effects, and shiny jewels; they also warp how we see things. The Oscars take place this weekend and that got us thinking: does Hollywood impact how the public views the pharma industry?

Occasionally Hollywood favors big pharma, but often, it poses them as the villain. An example of this is the remake of the Planet of the Apes franchise. The premise of the trilogy is that apes become superior and dominate humans. In the first movie, “Rise of the Planet of the Apes”, it’s revealed that the apes gained their intelligence through exposure to a drug that was meant to cure Alzheimer’s Disease but instead creates a virus deadly to humans. Although the humans blame the lab apes for the pandemic, it’s implied that the flawed drug is at fault.

Another example is Netflix’s action film “Sweet Girl,” starring Jason Momoa. In a more direct approach to “evil pharma” messaging, the plot revolves around Momoa’s quest for revenge against the pharmaceutical company that pulled a drug that would’ve saved his wife’s life.

While movies and shows frequently portray pharma as the antagonist, off-screen, Hollywood strongly supports the industry. Whether we like it or not, celebrities hold power in our western society. During the height of the coronavirus pandemic, when vaccines were first released to the public, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the United States federal government urged people to get vaccinated. Quickly, celebrities like Hugh Jackman, Kerry Washington, Samuel L. Jackson, Dolly Parton, and many others posted photos of themselves receiving the vaccine. Dolly Parton even wore an open-shoulder shirt to her appointment to show that you can get vaccinated in style. While there are no official studies on whether celebrity endorsements increased vaccination rates, it’s evident that many people felt safe to take the plunge because their favorite celebrity did.

Hollywood’s effect on pharma depends on whether people build their beliefs on fact or fiction. The real question is, will the masses choose reality?

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