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The great pandemic of 2020 has exposed many of the challenges that women scientists continue to face as they balance their professional and personal responsibilities. The marriage of Pierre and Marie Curie was described by Henri Poincaré as “not just an exchange of ideas but also an exchange of energy, a sure remedy for the temporary discouragement faced by every researcher”. One of my favorite aspects of their story is the fact that Pierre initially refused the Nobel Prize awarded to him and Henri Becquerel in 1903, insisting on his wife's work also being honored and making her the first woman to receive the prize. This was #HeforShe sponsorship long before the era of the hashtag (https://twitter.com/NobelPrize/status/996287317399736320?s=20).
How disappointing then that “Radioactive”, a movie that claims to be the “incredible true story” of Marie Curie, chose to portray the two-time Nobel laureate (the only one to date) as an over emotional nag ranting at her husband for attending the Nobel ceremony without her. Not only is this disrespectful, it's simply not true. Both attended the ceremony and Pierre, who really did shun the limelight, spent most of his speech giving credit to Marie.
STEM on Stage (@stemonstage) has compiled a long list of the inaccuracies in the movie with sources cited and a viewing guide for parents, educators & students which can be found at www.radioactivefilmreview.com. Particularly troubling is the analogy that Marie Curie is purported to have used to describe radioactivity, comparing it to crushing a grape and turning it into wine. This example is made up science — it's makes no sense and promotes science illiteracy. This is important because the film's producer, Amazon Studios, not only represents this as the “true story” but is also actively marketing this film to schools as educational content.
I'm not a purist when it comes to translating the stories of famous people to the screen. I adored “The Great” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hJGedvRfHYg) which describes itself as a “fictionalized, fun and anachronistic” drama about the life of Catherine the Great. It inspired me to research the real story and that's exactly what Amazon Studios should aim for with “Radioactive”. They might also reconsider the 13+ designation. I'm not a parent but before watching with your kids be aware that there is nudity and some disturbing violence.
Marie Curie put up with a lot of nonsense when she was alive from standard issue misogyny to being the target of xenophobic and attacks by the press because of an affair with a married colleague, attacks which insinuated that she was Jewish, just to add anti-semitism to the toxic mix. The movie's exploration of both the positive and negative effects of the discoveries that she made is worthwhile, but her legacy is too important for her story to be told in this sloppy fashion. “Radioactive” is indeed based on an incredible story, but Amazon cannot claim it to be true, and this regressive storytelling certainly should not be used for educational purposes.