The Luminaries Review - Into the Weeds - Dwayne Johnson V Monsanto, Directed By Jennifer Baichwal. Mercury Films.
Into the Weeds - The Film Documentary About the historic court case between groundsman Dwayne Johnson V Monsanto (now Bayer) is streaming in Canada on CBC Gem. It will be released in the US on December 8th 2023 along with a DVD to purchase. The film also has a distributor for Italy, dates TBA. See the website for updates as distributors are agreed upon for different territories.
Dwayne Johnson's body looks like a map. He is covered in cancerous lesions and plaques from Non-Hodgkinson's lymphoma, the specific type of cancer caused by Roundup also known in the US as Ranger Pro. Roundup is manufactured by the Monsanto Company, which was acquired by Bayer. For years, Monsanto has subverted science, bullied world-renowned experts and committed fraud in order to cover up the truth about their weedkiller which contains the herbicide glycosphate.
"I used to have flawless skin," says Johnson with wistful sadness. " But that is in the past."
Johnson looks like the actor Morgan Freeman. Tragedy has imbued him with a remarkable air of bravery, grace and stoicism under fire. Nor does he need Hollywood to tell his story. The only person who can tell this story is the man who has lived it.
"You are what you eat, you are what you breathe. That's bigger than me and my story." Dwayne Lee Johnson.
Johnson had been unemployed for a long time when he got the job as a groundsman at Benicia College in California. "He was ecstatic," remembers his mum. All her son wanted was to have a decent job and provide for his wife, whom he met in college and their two young sons. Instead, the job would take away his future and half his life expectancy and lead to years of fear and suffering.
"I'm a quiet cat, " Johnson tells us as he drives along a California freeway, the lesions on his hands clearly visible. He is not used to being in the public eye, and nor has he sought to be, but he feels he must tell his story and share what he knows to the world about pesticides, corporate malevolence and living with cancer that is killing him. Music is a solace to Johnson, affectionately known as Lee by his family and friends. "I'm in a fight with the monster" he raps, " but I didn't die yet..."
In the fifty years since pesticides have become ubiquitous across our earth and used in extraordinary amounts by farmers who look more like spacemen, the corresponding devastation to nature and human health is there for all to see. Glycosphate is everywhere. It's in our food, in the air, in the wildflowers by the allotment that the council sprays without asking our permission.
As the native elder, Ray Owl declares, "It's got to stop. Everything is affected."
All you need to do is open your eyes and see that in many places, nature is no longer present or alive at all. Dwayne Lee Johnson made history when he took Monsanto to court for being responsible for his cancer and won his case in 2018. His lawyers proved that Roundup which contains glyphosate is toxic to humans and causes tumours.
Since 1973, and the introduction of glyphosate, the earth, its fields, hedgerows, gardens and forests have been sprayed with billions of tonnes of pesticides annually. Friends of the Earth are unequivocal about the grim consequences.
"This is driving biodiversity collapse. The use of pesticides doesn't just kill butterflies and pollinating insects such as bees. Every year, 385 million people are poisoned by exposure to pesticides."
The reality of nature's collapse and its impact on human health has been hidden from the public by clever marketing, spin and extraordinary levels of deliberate deception and coverups. Into the Weeds is the documentary that lays it all bare from human suffering to ghostly skeleton trees and fields of GM corn where there is an eerie silence.
"The story of Dwayne Johnson and his terminal cancer, caused by Roundup is gripping, tragic and shocking. It is also a visceral wake-up call to save Mother Earth and life itself before the entire planet is poisoned beyond the point of no return."
In the Weeds is the documentary to watch about the impact of pesticides on biodiversity, food, human health and life itself.
The film directed with a stark, economy of style and coruscating courtroom drama by Jennifer Baichwal feels more like a thriller mixed with cinema verite with a visceral sense of time running out. It tells the epoch-making story of Dwayne Johnson V Monsanto. Johnson is the California groundsman who took Monsanto (Now Bayer) to court for failing to tell him that their weedkiller Roundup which contains glyphosate is carcinogenic to humans and causes cancer.
Dwayne Johnson says that he has no power, and yet he won his David and Goliath battle and made history. Now, many countries, towns and villages across the globe are moving to ban glyphosate, while The British Government defies public opinion and the State of Nature Report and does nothing.
What makes the film compelling is the way it succeeds in showing the profound destruction caused by pesticides through human suffering, the activity of the hives, landscapes and the ancient wisdom and knowledge of the native American elders like Ray Owl.
Into the Weeds succeeds brilliantly in showing our interconnectedness to all living things and the nature of ecosystems as the critical basis for life on earth - why would we poison our own backyard?
Monsanto has known for years that Roundup which contains glycosphate causes T-cell lymphomas.
Johnson was represented by Robert Kennedy Junior's environmental law firm, and his lawyers proved that Monsanto knew Roundup was toxic and that they went out of their way to cover up the truth with stunning levels of corporate malpractice.
This included ghostwriting articles to cover up the science, corrupting government agencies, personally destroying the professional lives of scientists who told the truth and plain old lying.
Into the Weeds moves seamlessly between Wayne Johnson's tragic story and the impact on his family and the testimony of scientists, farmers, plaintiffs and native American elders who are trying to stop pesticides from being used on their native lands. The film is interspersed with the real footage from the landmark court case with thrilling, forensically brilliant legal eagle detective work which uncovers the evidence that Monsanto discredited IARC, the independent Scientific Body that found the Roundup was "probably carcinogenic to humans".
Time and again, Johnson's lawyers uncovered a corporate culture of fraud at Monsanto, where the science could be corrupted or doctored.
The documentary is garlanded in call-to-action protest music that cloaks the tragic proceedings with a deathly pall of corporate malevolence which is 0nly matched by the ghostly skeleton trees in the native American lands.
The musical pied pipers' par excellence are Neil Young with the song Monsanto Years (for which he received a lot of orchestrated hate) to the heartbreaking drawl of Joni Mitchell's song Bad Dreams in which she declares 'The cats' are in the flowerbed, we have poisoned everything," and Johnson raps that he is "in a fight with the monster to a dark, hypnotic beat. Both artists have been sounding the alarm for decades.
Into the Weeds presents the unbiased truth about our earth drenched in pesticides and the culture of convenience with chilling data and ugly facts. When one farmer says, "The pesticide kills everything, except the plant you want," that tells us everything we need to know.
We are living in the 21st Century, and it would be reasonable to expect a job as groundsman not to come with extraordinary health risks. This is not the 19th Century when factory girls died from inhaling dangerous dyes... and yet, pesticides are the new poison threat.
"The job saved me from the bottom," says Dwayne, who is married to Araceli and has two children. Tragically, it would come at a terrible price for the Johnson family. Part of his daily job routine involved spraying the school grounds with Roundup, the weedkiller that contains the pesticide glyphosate. He was told by his superior that it was so safe, he could drink the stuff. One day, he had an accident and got drenched in the pesticide and it soaked through to his skin. Dwayne showered it off and didn't think more about it until several days later, the lesions and plaques began to appear on his body.
Johnson became scared and called Monsanto for help and guidance about Roundup. No one got back to him. He called again. They never called him back.
After stunning the doctors at his local hospital, he was diagnosed with Non-Hodgkinson's Lymphoma and was told his condition was terminal.
The sadness, suffering, loss of beauty as a man and betrayal are laid bare for the audience. This is what pesticides do to a human being. Don't look away. Johnson used to be a pretty boy and liked to look good for the ladies. It is Johnson's powerful and precise testimony that matters. He says, " This is not just a Lee Johnson story. This is bigger than me. This is about the seed, the soil, about the environment."
He continues, " They (Monsanto) knew I was sick and they didn't help me."
" I want the label to be changed. I know we can live without pesticides. How they want to treat the food we eat, that's scary."
The jury awarded Dwayne Lee Johnson $289 million. The amount was later reduced on appeal, to $78 million and then again because the state of California doesn't award damages based on a shortened life expectancy. That law needs to be changed. The point is that he won against Goliath. The verdict stands and thousands of people who have also developed cancer from using Roundup are now suing Bayer, the new owner of Monsanto and its chemical portfolio.
Perhaps the most chilling statement comes from one of Johnson's lawyers at the end of the film. "Will the case change corporate behaviour?"
"No, I don't think so. It will just make them much more careful about what they say in emails. In such cases, the only recourse is litigation."
Given that "biodiversity is the basis for life," that grim pronouncement cannot be allowed to stand. It is time we all act to protect our ancient seeds, food diversity and what goes on outside our gates, in the fields, parks and grass verges to restore our fragile ecosystems before it is too late and to stop poisoning Mother Nature and our food in the name of convenience. Convenient for who? Perhaps more than anything it is time to learn to love weeds.
Into the Weeds - Dwayne Johnson V Monsanto is Available to Stream on CBC Gem Now and in the USA from 8th December 2023. There will also be a DVD version to buy. Check the websites for streaming updates for Europe, the UK, Asia etc.
Resources and Call to Action Ideas
Regeneration International - An international organisation dedicated to regenerative food, farming and land management to feed the world and reduce global warming.
Organic Farmers Association USA - Nonprofit association championing organic and regenerative farming in the USA.
Pesticide Action Network International - A network of more than 600 non-governmental organisations, institutions and individuals in over 90 countries working to replace hazardous pesticides with environmentally safe and socially just alternatives.
The Soil Association - The organic charity that champions soil health and biodiversity throughout the UK and certifies organic food and wine.
Demeter - International movement and certification body for biodynamic food and wine focused on a holistic approach to farming, food and health. Find information on how to source biodynamic food or grow your own.
Pesticide Action Network - Promoting safe alternatives to hazardous pesticides.
Rewilding Britain - How rewilding 30% of the UK could help to restore natural habitats, wild plants, insects and birds. State of Nature Report 2023
Coming this week - An Organic Food Lovers Guide. How to buy and support organic and regenerative food producers and farms to protect the soil, restore biodiversity and provide healthy, nutritional, delicious real food.
The Luminaries Magazine. Copyright All Rights Reserved, October 2023.
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It's 2.5 years since our editor, Alison Jane Reid was Seriously Injured By a Single Dose of the AstraZeneca Vaccine in May 2021. She continues to fight for compensation to cover ongoing medical treatment, rehabilitation and loss of earnings.