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Oscar-Nominated Documentary Filmmaker Morgan Spurlock Dies At 53

Morgan Spurlock, the Oscar-nominated documentary filmmaker known for challenging America’s food industry, passed away at 53. Spurlock, famous for eating only McDonald’s for a month to highlight the dangers of fast food, died Thursday in New York from cancer complications, according to a family statement released on Friday. “It was a sad day, as we […]

Morgan Spurlock, the Oscar-nominated documentary filmmaker known for challenging America’s food industry, passed away at 53. Spurlock, famous for eating only McDonald’s for a month to highlight the dangers of fast food, died Thursday in New York from cancer complications, according to a family statement released on Friday.

“It was a sad day, as we said goodbye to my brother Morgan,” said Craig Spurlock, who collaborated on several projects with him. “Morgan gave so much through his art, ideas, and generosity. The world has lost a true creative genius and a special man. I am so proud to have worked together with him.”

Spurlock gained fame in 2004 with his groundbreaking film ‘Super Size Me,’ which was nominated for an Academy Award. The documentary showcased the harmful physical and psychological effects of consuming only McDonald’s food for 30 days, resulting in a 25-pound weight gain, increased cholesterol, and decreased libido. “Everything’s bigger in America,” he stated in the film. “We’ve got the biggest cars, the biggest houses, the biggest companies, the biggest food, and finally: the biggest people.”

In a memorable scene, Spurlock showed children a photo of George Washington, whom none recognized, but they instantly identified the mascots for Wendy’s and McDonald’s. The film grossed over $22 million on a $65,000 budget and preceded Eric Schlosser’s influential “Fast Food Nation,” which criticized the industry for environmental harm and labor issues.

In 2017, Spurlock released “Super Size Me 2: Holy Chicken!” a critical look at an industry processing 9 billion animals annually in America. He examined the financial struggles of chicken farmers and the misleading marketing tactics of fast-food chains. “We’re at an amazing moment in history from a consumer standpoint where consumers are starting to have more and more power,” he told The Associated Press in 2019. “It’s not about return for the shareholders. It’s about return for the consumers.”

Spurlock’s filmmaking style was characterized by zippy graphics, amusing music, and a blend of humor and pathos, reminiscent of Michael Moore. “I wanted to be able to lean into the serious moments. I wanted to be able to breathe in the moments of levity. We want to give you permission to laugh in the places where it’s really hard to laugh,” he told the AP.

After exposing the fast-food and chicken industries, there was a surge in restaurants emphasizing freshness, artisanal methods, farm-to-table dining, and ethically sourced ingredients. However, Spurlock noted that nutritional improvements were minimal. “There has been this massive shift and people say to me, ‘So has the food gotten healthier?’ And I say, ‘Well, the marketing sure has,'” he said.

Spurlock’s work extended beyond food documentaries. He covered subjects such as the boy band One Direction, Comic-Con geeks and fanboys, life in the Henrico County Jail in Virginia, and a global search for Osama bin Laden in “Where in the World is Osama bin Laden?”. In “POM Wonderful Presents: The Greatest Movie Ever Sold,” he explored product placement, marketing, and advertising. “Being aware is half the battle, I think. Literally knowing all the time when you’re being marketed to is a great thing,” he told the AP. “A lot of people don’t realize it. They can’t see the forest for the trees.”

“Super Size Me 2: Holy Chicken!” was set to premiere at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival but was shelved during the #MeToo movement after Spurlock revealed his own history of sexual misconduct. He confessed to being accused of rape in college and settling a sexual harassment case with a female assistant, along with cheating on numerous partners. “I am part of the problem,” he wrote.

“For me, there was a moment of kind of realization – as somebody who is a truth-teller and somebody who has made it a point of trying to do what’s right – of recognizing that I could do better in my own life. We should be able to admit we were wrong,” he told the AP.

Born in Beckley, West Virginia, Spurlock was the son of an English teacher who corrected his work with a red pen. He graduated with a BFA in film from New York University in 1993. He is survived by his two sons, Laken and Kallen; his mother Phyllis Spurlock; his father Ben; his brothers Craig and Barry; and his former spouses Alexandra Jamieson and Sara Bernstein, the mothers of his children.

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Documentary FilmmakerMorgan SpurlockOscar-NominatedTDGThe Daily Guardian