Celebrities are often castigated for stepping into the political arena, but that hasn’t stopped many from putting their names and reputations on the line in an effort to support vital social, environmental, and global causes. Perhaps no A-lister has done more in this regard than Leonardo DiCaprio.
The Oscar winner’s foundation has been the tip of his spear in his fight against climate change—a mission that’s included a 2007 documentary (The 11th Hour), a forthcoming non-fiction Netflix series produced with his The Revenant director Alejandro González Iñárritu, as well as countless appearances at the UN, global environmental summits, and protest marches (such as the 2014 one he joined in NYC). And, as evidenced by a new IMAX documentary out this Friday, he’s now being joined in that enterprise by a fellow Oscar-winning Hollywood luminary increasingly compelled to take political stands: Jennifer Lawrence.
Directed by Toni Myers and narrated by Lawrence, A Beautiful Planet is a rapturous 46-minute portrait of Earth from the perspective of the stars, all of it shot by the crew of the International Space Station—an orbiting, solar-powered home to a collection of astronauts hailing from, among other countries, America, Russia, Italy, and Japan. From this cramped zero-gravity locale, where passengers sleep in floating cots, exercise for hours a day in order to maintain muscle strength, drink out of pouches, and work as a team to keep the facility organized and operating smoothly, the planet below provides an endless array of visual wonders. Be it hurricanes forming as menacing funnels, clouds streaking across the surface, or radiant lights emanating from major metropolitan regions, the film affords an unprecedented larger-than-life view of our home in all of its rapturous, terrifying glory.
There’s an underlying method behind this aesthetic magnificence: namely, to call attention to the planet’s evolving make-up thanks to climate change.
In panoramas of the drought-plagued California coast, of smoke cascading out of the burning Amazon rainforest, or of the shrinking arctic glaciers, A Beautiful Planet highlights the ways in which pollution, greenhouse gases, and fossil fuels are altering Earth’s composition—and thus threatening our magnificent, vulnerable world. Meanwhile, its portrait of multinational men and women coming together for a unified endeavor aboard the International Space Station suggests a hopeful way forward for humanity, one in which cooperation might help us overcome the sorts of barriers that are most starkly visualized by an aerial shot of Korea, where the South is awash in light and, directly across the border, the North is engulfed in darkness.
A Beautiful Planet compellingly marries its sensory splendor to a we’re-all-in-this-together, save-the-planet social agenda. And as such, it functions as yet another high-profile example of Lawrence’s mounting interest in taking stands on issues about which she’s passionate.
Lawrence’s political activism began in earnest in 2014, when her private accounts were hacked and her nude photos were leaked online to the likes of Reddit, Twitter, and Tumblr. In response, she vigorously slammed this crime as emblematic of our contemporary exploitation-happy culture (especially when it comes to women). As she told Vanity Fair later that year, “It is not a scandal. It is a sex crime. It is a sexual violation…Just the fact that somebody can be sexually exploited and violated, and the first thought that crosses somebody’s mind is to make a profit from it. It’s so beyond me. I just can’t imagine being that detached from humanity. I can’t imagine being that thoughtless and careless and so empty inside.”
Then, in the wake of the Sony email hacking scandal—wherein The Daily Beast revealed that she had been compensated less than her male co-stars on American Hustle—Lawrence candidly addressed Hollywood’s stark wage gap. In a lengthy online letter, she confessed that, though she might have been partly to blame for that disparity (simply by not negotiating as strongly as Christian Bale, Bradley Cooper, and Jeremy Renner), she also suspected she, and women in general, had been conditioned to behave in a manner that put them in positions of weakness vis-à-vis their male counterparts. While Lawrence caught considerable flak for her desire to openly engage with the matter, it further established that the actress (who was only 24 at the time) was comfortable using her stature to confront hot-button topics of equality, discrimination, and abuse.
No surprise, then, that the news item on everyone’s mind—this fall’s presidential election, and the role Donald Trump may play in our nation’s future—was also a subject about which Lawrence was happy to discuss.
Speaking with Vogue last November, Lawrence didn’t sugarcoat her opinion of the potential Republican nominee, asserting, “My view on the election is pretty cut-and-dried: If Donald Trump is president of the United States, it will be the end of the world. And he’s also the best thing to happen to the Democrats ever.” Of course, every other public figure has by this point commented on the stunning candidacy of the NYC real estate blowhard. Yet even so, few command the spotlight quite like Lawrence—and, as a result, have as much to possibly lose by doing so.
Whether such proclamations are emblematic of a deliberate shift to be more outspoken, or are merely indicative of a young woman feeling confident about who she is and what she believes, they reveal Lawrence’s desire to wield her power for principled means. Consequently, A Beautiful Planet is not only a stirring, IMAX-sized celebration-cum-cautionary-tale about Earth and its in-need-of-protection fragility (lest we’re forced to find distant new worlds to inhabit), but also another step forward in its narrator’s evolution into one of Hollywood’s most forceful—and influential—liberal voices.