In her recent UK Times piece, Alice Miles calls Slumdog Millionaire "Poverty Porn" and yesterday guests on NPR's Talk of the Nation discussed whether these types of films exploit, distort or glorify the poorest people on the planet. Apparently, tours of Mumbai slums are experiencing a boon since Slumdog Millionaire won eight Academy Awards -- more evidence that this film created an emotional connection between Western audiences and the characters it depicts. Whether the film is exploitative or educational, what really matters is that this film has focused attention on the poverty that's so prevalent in this part of the world. This creates a unique opportunity to leverage the extraordinary success of this Best Picture winner into action -- to help improve the living conditions of the world's urban poor. Can this feel-good movie of the year also end up doing good? Popular culture has proved an awesome agent of change throughout history -- from Upton Sinclair's The Jungle and labor reform to Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth and global warming, media can shock, educate and, yes, even entertain people into taking action for a compelling cause. OneWorld Health launched a campaign the day after the Academy Awards, with the goal of challenging Americans to channel their enthusiasm and energy for Slumdog Millionaire into supporting nonprofit organizations like ours that help the millions who die from curable diseases. "Poverty Porn" is catchy, and if that's the way some want to frame continued Western interest in Slumdog Millionaire, let's have that conversation ... as long as it ends with a call for meaningful action and involves writing checks to help improve living conditions for the world's poor.
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