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Traffic the movie

Award-Winning "Traffic" Sparks Drug Policy Debate

Soderbergh Film Impresses and Educates Audiences, Critics

Traffic, the hit film directed by Stephen Soderbergh, is playing to packed houses and rave reviews across the country. The movie garnered several Oscar nominations and four wins, in the following categories:

  • Best Director - Stephen Soderbergh
  • Best Supporting Actor - Benicio Del Toro
  • Best Film Editing
  • Best Screenplay Based On Published Material - Stephen Gaghan

Traffic also received five Golden Globe nominations, and was the New York Film Critics choice for best film of the year.

As CSDP President Kevin B. Zeese noted, "The film has moved the debate over drugs from the op-ed pages into the popular culture. Stephen Soderbergh has tapped into the public's unease about what the government is doing." As the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported on March 20, 2001 ( "Popular 'Traffic' Driving Country's Drug Debate"), "'Traffic,' a gritty, Oscar-nominated movie that was shot partially with a hand-held camera, is having more impact on the debate over drug policy than any public official, including President Bush."

The Washington Post reports that Traffic has had an influence on politicians (some of whom did cameo appearances in the film). In a hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committe on March 14, 2001, Chairman Senator Orrin Hatch is reported by the Post to have said, "That movie just brought it home to me that we've got to do more." And in fact, Senators Hatch and Leahy are cosponsors, along with Senators Biden, DeWine and Thurmond, of S.304, which Reuters reports would add "$2.7 billion in spending over the next three years to increase the scope of drug treatment programs in prisons and jails and to expand drug testing throughout the criminal justice system".

Critics are blown away. "'What makes the film more than a powerful thriller is its unflinching contemplation of human frailty,' wrote Stephen Holden of The New York Times, one of many critics who have praised the movie. 'The film understands the sheer, brutal force of human desire.'" In an article by Alison Leigh Cowan and Christopher Wren in the New York Times ("'Traffic' Captures Much of Drug World, People"), a panel of drug users, cops and policy experts were gathered together to comment on the film. There was general agreement on the movie's realism and impact, in fact "Michael Garland, 56, a 30-year veteran of the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, said that not since 'The French Connection' in 1971 has a movie so captured the challenges that drug trafficking poses for law enforcement."

The movie is actually based on a series from the BBC called "Traffik", which was highly acclaimed. Some have argued that this American version is somewhat wimpy by comparison. To quote one Canadian review, "At the end of the BBC mini, viewers were ready to accept tough talk on why drug enforcement policies fail. Indeed, how they can't work. In the American movie, (Michael) Douglas cuts his stuff with so much posturing that the truth becomes a casualty. The main political punch is pulled."

Still the movie has a tremendous impact. As Salim Muwakkil, senior editor at In These Times, wrote in an op-ed published by the Chicago Tribune Jan. 11, 2001 (Can 'Traffic' Loosen Drug-Policy Gridlock?), "Like 'Guess Who's Coming To Dinner' helped us absorb the inevitability of integration in 1967, like 1969's 'Easy Rider' ratified the death of the hippie ethic, 'Traffic' lays bare the futility of a destructive war on drugs that has gridlocked our culture in the logic of law enforcement."

Follow this link to play a web-based "Win The War" drug war game at, and get a chance to win a free Traffic DVD or video.

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copyright © 2001, Common Sense for Drug Policy,
Kevin B. Zeese, President -- Mike Gray, Chairman -- Robert E. Field, Co-Chairman & Executive Director -- Melvin R. Allen, Director -- Doug McVay, Editor & Research Director
Updated: Thursday, 09-Jul-2009 17:55:29 PDT   ~   Accessed: 15745 times
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