One would imagine that serving as the narrator of a film would be like serving as any other part in a film – there’s a script, you get it, you study it, possibly memorize it, and deliver it. Sure, said delivery most likely won’t be captured on film and it may be hard to totally grasp what’s going on without visual aid or the involvement of other actors, but it would seem reasonable to assume that you still know what’s going on in the film. After all, you are narrating it.
Turns out, this might not be the case, at least if Kate Mulgrew’s story is to be believed (and, as this is the actress who played beloved Star Trek character Captain Janeway, we’d love to believe her). Earlier this week, a trailer hit the web for a documentary titled The Principle, a science-y (emphasis on the “-y”) feature that sort of dances around its subject matter for a bit (at least, that’s what the trailer does) before revealing what it’s really about, which is actually something totally insane. It’s about geocentrism – the belief that the sun and the other planets and the entire universe revolve around the Earth. Stop laughing! Some people really believe this and they apparently have enough money to make a film about it and employ Mulgrew as their narrator. Wait, wait?
The film’s trailer kicks off with Mulgrew quite boldly stating: “everything we think we know about our universe is wrong.” It’s a sort of general statement, certainly a saucy way to start any kind of reportedly fact-based feature. It’s provocative! It’s catchy! It’s patently wrong! When the trailer arrived back on Monday, the Internet was thrown into an appropriate tailspin. Did Mulgrew really believe this stuff? Well, no.
The actress took to her Facebook page to issue a statement about the film, the nature of her involvement, and the capacity to which she understood the project she was paid to narrate. Mulgrew writes:
“I understand there has been some controversy about my participation in a documentary called THE PRINCIPLE. Let me assure everyone that I completely agree with the eminent physicist Lawrence Krauss, who was himself misrepresented in the film, and who has written a succinct rebuttal in SLATE. I am not a geocentrist, nor am I in any way a proponent of geocentrism. More importantly, I do not subscribe to anything Robert Sungenis has written regarding science and history and, had I known of his involvement, would most certainly have avoided this documentary. I was a voice for hire, and a misinformed one, at that. I apologize for any confusion that my voice on this trailer may have caused. Kate Mulgrew”
It’s clearly good news that Mulgrew is distancing herself from the project – which is built on ideas that are just plain bonkers – but it also calls into question how Mulgrew in particular (and other actors at large) go about picking their projects. How much did Mulgrew know going in? Did she or her team investigate the film, its director Katheryne Thomas (whose only other directorial credit is for something called Scum of the Earth-Sleaze Freak: Behind the Scenes), or some of its largest funders (like Robert Sungenis who famously believes that the Holocaust wasn’t all bad)? Did she even get a script? And what will become of her paycheck?
Plenty of actors and actresses star in projects they might not personally endorse, or ones that they later object to. Back in December of 2012, a number of high profile stars participated in a PSA titled “Demand a Plan,” aimed at reducing gun violence in America. The PSA was well timed – it came after the Sandy Hook violence – and it was moving, thoughtful, and well reasoned. Who wouldn’t want there to be less gun violence? Weeks later, however, a video hit the web that slammed the various “Demand a Plan” celebrities for their apparent hypocrisy, intercutting their PSA segments with violent sequences from their various films. Although the video – titled “Demand a Plan – Demand Celebrities Go Fuck Themselves” – certainly had a catchy (read: hilarious) title and was peppered with random anti-Obama sentiments, it made a solid point. It’s easy to stand up for your beliefs when you’re asked, it’s less snappy when you’re getting paid to do it as part of your job.
As Mulgrew shared, she wasn’t the only one tricked into participating in a project she doesn’t endorse. Over at Slate, Lawrence Krauss shared a bit about his experience finding out he was included in a documentary he vehemently disagreed with. Unlike Mulgrew, however, he didn’t sign on for anything and he suspects the film’s creators used lifted interviews from other sources. He shares:
“I have no recollection of being interviewed for such a film, and of course had I known of its premise I would have refused. So, either the producers used clips of me that were in the public domain, or they bought them from other production companies that I may have given some rights to distribute my interviews to, or they may have interviewed me under false pretenses, in which case I probably signed some release. I simply don’t know.”
Just like Mulgrew, the content of The Principle proved to be a shock to Krauss – but he never signed on for it and didn’t get paid for it. Mulgrew, sadly, did, and her quick and smart response is the only way to pull out of these kind of messes – beyond, of course, knowing what kind of work you’re doing before you actually do it.
[Additional source: Entertainment Weekly]