Say this for the makers of United 93: They seem to be doing right by the victims’ families. As EW’s Missy Schwartz notes in the magazine’s new issue, Universal has secured the blessings of the families, and has scheduled a premiere at the opening night (April 25) of the fifth annual TriBeCa Film Festival, the fest near Ground Zero that began in 2002 as an effort to bring business and tourism back to Lower Manhattan in the wake of 9/11. Now, Universal has announced that it’s giving 10 percent of the grosses from the opening weekend of United 93’s theatrical release (April 28) to the fund drive to build the memorial to the Flight 93 passengers at the crash site in Pennsylvania.
Will that 10 percent be enough to inoculate the filmmakers from charges of exploiting a recent tragedy for profit? I doubt it. Comparisons have been made to Schindler’s List (some of whose profits Steven Spielberg spent recording the oral histories of Holocaust survivors for educational purposes), but the Holocaust, while historically recent, is still distant enough for some perspective. In contrast, Ground Zero is still a gaping wound, and 9/11 feels like yesterday for many of us, particularly New Yorkers. That includes me – like many of you, I’m not ready to see United 93.
I’m sure it will be well-made, given director Paul Greengrass’ previous success at turning a historical tragedy into a compelling docudrama (Bloody Sunday). I’m willing to take the filmmakers’ statements of good intentions at face value, and the approval of the families suggests that the film will be tastefully made. Greengrass and Universal have a right to tell whatever story they want, and they have right to profit from their work. But I’m going to be exercising my right to sit this one out.