[Media Literacy Lesson] Don’t Look Up

Well before COVID and when streamers became first release exhibitors of major Hollywood pictures, star-driven movies such a Don’t Look Up would be a significant box office draw. The likes of Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence coupled with a topical satire about today’s leadership crisis and pseudo-expertise would be creating cultural discourse about who we are and who we need to be. Thus, although in the Top 10 of Netflix, I can’t help but think of the potential dialogue if a traditional theatrical run was in the cards for this must see film about a comet on a collision course with earth and the “meh” attitude towards truth.

Regardless, Don’t Look Up written and directed by Adam McKay (The Big Short, Vice), is most certainly a movie for our times. Like the white mask of Michael Myers in the Halloween series, which acts as a screen in which we can project our shared and individual anxieties, the comet in Don’t Look Up is a metaphor for the cosmic mosaic of our self-destructive tendencies. From climate change, to health-care and education, the comet represents our inability to maneuver in a way that will ensure we coexist with moral consciousness and decency.

Littered with anti-Trump sentiment through a new found comic-duo in Meryl Streep and Jonah Hill playing Donald and Donald Jr charcuteries, filmmaker Adam McKay’s satirical lens captures leadership, policy and citizenship with incredible wit and heart felt emotion. With so much happening (perhaps too much at times), leadership is most certainly at the centre of the film as scientists Randall Mindy (Leonardo DiCaprio) and Kate Dibiasky (Jennifer Lawrence ) share the truth about earth’s impending doom while leaders, journalists and the general public choose not to believe or fully see until it’s too late.

Within a Catholic education context, Don’t Look Up very much speaks to Jesus’ own leadership journey and the need for young people to be effective communicators who can navigate truth through mobilization. For example, the film connects to the efforts of Bishop Broderick Pabillo who has called his Palawan parishioners to elect leaders who best emulate Christ. In his words, ” the goal of leadership is not to grab power but to serve and he did it with humility, selfless love, and compassion.” (Read the article: Look at Jesus’ leadership style, bishop tells Voters).

As both educators and students continue to navigate complex times, Don’t Look Up is a media text that provides for a rich opportunity to reflect on Jesus as a leader and who we are called to be.

For Students Grade 9 -12:

Getting Started (Assessment For Learning):

Set the stage for watching the film by nurturing an opportunity for students to share prior knowledge and/or discover new knowledge as autonomous learners.

Whether in-person or online, have students share their own fears and anxieties. This can be done through a gallery wall (“old fashion” chart paper and idea sharing) or by using digital applications such as Jamboard or Padlet.

This not only provides an opportunity to lean into their vulnerability but cultivates responsible citizenship citizenship in creating a place where students are fully seen and valued.

From this sharing have students research what satire means. Whether individually or in small groups, encourage students to develop and share a definition of satire all while finding/sharing an example. With students sharing, the following CBC News excerpt provides for a fluid understanding of satire:

Action (Assessment As Learning):

Watch the movie as a class.

In watching the movie, the goal should be to nurture a space for safe and active engagement. This means pausing the film, clarifying, building upon key moments etc.

Ask students if they have any questions and encourage whole group dialogue. Movie watching in class should be like when a novel is read aloud. There is a discourse to be had and it’s within this context that assessment as learning takes place. Students are provoked, provided with feedback all while assessment is leveraged to create learning.

Ideally, by the end of the film, students are at a place of reflection where they can show what they know.

Some provocations throughout the film:

  • Which societal divisions exist?
  • What happens when science is not valued or respected?
  • What do you look for in a leader?
  • What role does the media play in our lives?
  • What do you think the difference between “Don’t Look Up and “Just Look Up” is?

The following article features a very compelling interview with writer-director Adam McKay where he speaks to the making of the film: Adam McKay Had To Make The Comedy Of His Satire ‘Don’t Look Up’ Even Wilder To One-Up Crazy Real-World Events – Contenders L.A.

Consolidation (Assessment Of Learning):

In watching the film, have students reflect on the type of leader Jesus was.

  • Who did Jesus help?
  • Who did Jesus “threaten” through his vocation?
  • Who does Jesus call you to be?

Reflect on the following:

How would Jesus navigate the:

  • COVID pandemic
  • World Hunger
  • Political Corruption
  • Health Care inquirers
  • Racial and social injustice

With Don’t Look Up released during the Christmas season and the faith-filled final scene, it’s hard not to examine the movie through a Catholic education lens as it provides a faith-based opportunity to look at our world, who we are and how we can mobilize in the service of what is right and just.

In the spirit of the movie’s character driven posters, students can “show what they know” as they are called to be leaders as part of a “Just Look Up” class campaign. The goal of the “Just Look Up” class campaign is to mobilize student voice and provide all learners with an opportunity to reflect on who they are called to be while sharing what leadership means to them.


When it comes to media literacy, the ultimate goal is to move students from a place of input to active output. Watching a film together, sharing in dialogue and empowering students to “what they know,” leads to transferable learning and media literacy grounded in cultural discourse.

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