- Following Morgan Spurlock’s confession of sexual misconduct in the wake of the #MeToo movement, his latest movie “Super Size Me 2: Holy Chicken!” is in limbo.
- The movie’s distributor, YouTube Red, has pulled the movie and it’s unknown if it will ever be released.
- The sequel to Spurlock’s landmark debut that looked at the dangers of fast food focuses this time on the poultry industry, which has manipulated customers and left farmers in debt.
- One farmer in the movie spoke out to Business Insider about his frustration that the movie may never be seen by the public.
With the end credits rolling on the big screen behind him, Morgan Spurlock took the stage after the world premiere of “Super Size Me 2: Holy Chicken!” during the Toronto International Film Festival last September, and flashed his patented wide smile as he took in the loud applause from the audience.
It was the launch of another project from Spurlock that would attract audiences beyond die-hard documentary lovers. A big reason was the title recognition he had. 14 years after making “Super Size Me,” the movie that launched his career and redefined the fast-food industry, Spurlock had unveiled the rare documentary sequel.
This time taking on the poultry industry, or as he called it “Big Chicken” (Tyson, Perdue, Pilgrim’s, Koch Foods), “Super Size Me 2” follows Spurlock as he shows audiences the dirty side of the multibillion-dollar industry by starting his own chicken sandwich franchise, called Holy Chicken!, and revealing all the tricks used to make us think that the chicken we get – from the super market to a fast food chain – is “natural.”
From showing what really defines a “free range” chicken, to how some chains actually paint marks on cooked chicken breasts to make them look “grilled,” to showing how chicken farmers are being short-changed by Big Chicken, the movie is as eye-opening about the food we eat as the first “Super Size Me.”
Always the showman, Spurlock came to TIFF with two of the farmers highlighted in the movie, one of whom was Jonathan Buttram. Buttram provided Spurlock with the chickens for his Holy Chicken! chicken sandwich “chain.” He also brought a Holy Chicken! food truck for TIFF audiences, filled with chicken sandwiches for everyone (Spurlock promised that the truck would also tour the country with the movie, once it was in theatres). It all paid off. Before the festival ended, Spurlock scored a deal with YouTube Red, reported to be around $US3.5 million, that included not just a streaming deal but also a theatrical release.
But the dream of releasing a documentary that was as impactful as the 2004 original faded away when three months after that successful “Super Size Me 2” world premiere, and at the height of the #MeToo Movement, Spurlock sent out a tweet that read “I am Part of the Problem,” along with a link to a letter via TwitLonger, in which he confessed to numerous acts of sexual misconduct in his past. According to his letter, a woman once accused him of rape in college, he detailed a workplace sexual harassment claim he settled, and admitted he’d been unfaithful to past wives and girlfriends.
“If I’m going [to] truly represent myself as someone who has built a career on finding the truth, then it’s time for me to be truthful as well,” Spurlock wrote.
Days later, YouTube announced it would not release “Super Size Me 2” and Spurlock stepped down as head of his production company, Warrior Poets.
Since Spurlock left the public eye, Warrior Poets has come under fire as seven former employees told Jezebel that the company had a “fratty, boys’ club” culture. It’s unclear if the numerous upcoming projects Spurlock and Warrior Poets was involved in – ranging from a docuseries with LeBron James to a biopic on legendary Hollywood agent Sue Mengers – will come to fruition.
And what about “Super Size Me 2?” The documentary is in many ways collateral damage following Spurlock’s confession, collecting dust on a shelf somewhere and no longer a tool for the people who needed it to be seen by audiences the most: the dozens of farmers who have brought lawsuits against Big Chicken.
Farmers are playing a rigged game
The chicken sandwich has become the most popular item on the menu anywhere you go today. It’s almost guaranteed you’ll find a grilled or crispy (you never see the word “fried”) chicken sandwich on any menu (sometimes both) – especially in the food chain industry. In “Super Size Me 2,” Spurlock shows its popularity with incredible clarity as he navigates not just the growing process of the chickens, but also the marketing muscle behind making the chicken sandwich so popular.
This popularity has led to huge profits for the poultry industry, but the farmers who are growing the chickens aren’t getting much of the rewards. As “Super Size Me 2” highlights, in one instance Tyson used a tournament system in which the company gave farmers a certain amount of chickens per year, and then paid by the performance of those chickens (i.e., size of the bird, and the amount produced).
“Because [Tyson] controls all of the factors that go into influencing how much chicken gets produced and the health of the chickens and the ability of the chickens, Tyson manipulates it and influences how much the growers get paid in a way that is anti-competitive and against the law,” claims David Muraskin, a lawyer for the public interest law firm Public Justice, which is one of the firms representing farmer Charles Morris. Morris is in “Super Size Me 2,” and is also part of a lawsuit in Kentucky against Tyson.
“We won’t comment on pending litigation,” Tyson spokesman Worth Sparkman told Business Insider. “We will note that Tyson Foods has a poultry farmer advisory council as well as a Contract Poultry Farmers’ Bill of Rights, which includes the right to information detailing how much farmers are paid. Both are part of our commitment to promote transparency and communications with the independent farmers who grow chickens for us. Additional information about how farmers are paid is readily available on our website.”
Morris, along with Jonathan Buttram, are both big parts in “Super Size Me 2.” Buttram, who declined to comment for this story, was the only farmer Spurlock could find who agreed to grow chickens for Holy Chicken! In the movie, Morris paints a grim picture of the farmers who are millions of dollars in debt due to the tournament system. Both men were with Spurlock at TIFF, were introduced on stage at the world premiere, and did press with Spurlock the days that followed.
“I set out ten years ago with a cause to help the consumer because all of them have been deceived,” Buttram told Business Insider the day after the TIFF premiere, sitting beside Spurlock and Morris. “The chickens are being mistreated and the growers are definitely being mistreated.”
“We need Morgan, we really do,” Morris added. “What he’s done is instrumental in helping us.”
But then came Spurlock’s shocking announcement, which caught almost everyone involved in the movie off guard – Morris and his attorneys, especially.
Why ‘Super Size Me 2’ would have mattered
Currently, the lawsuit Morris and 19 other farmers filed in Kentucky against Tyson has been in the discovery phase since 2016, which is uncharacteristically long, according to Morris’ attorneys. Though “Super Size Me 2” wouldn’t have been able to speed up the wheels of justice, many involved in the suit believe at the very least “Super Size Me 2” would have put a huge spotlight on the issue.
“The understanding of how food is produced, especially in these factory farms that the movie shows, I wanted the public to know about that because when the public knows about something and they see a wrong they try to right it,” said J. Dudley Butler of Butler Farm & Ranch Law Group, lead attorney in the Morris case.
You have to look no further than the impact of the first “Super Size Me” movie to confirm Butler’s theory.
In 2004, when Spurlock, then an unknown filmmaker, released “Super Size Me” – in which he went on a McDonald’s only diet for one month – he had no idea the ramifications it would cause in the fast-food industry. The movie didn’t just show the director’s health begin to deteriorate before our eyes thanks to his new diet, but also the crafty ways the fast-food industry makes some patrons eat its food to a level that causes obesity. The movie became a must-see, grossing over $US20 million at the box office worldwide (on a $US65,000 budget). But the national outcry following the release became a major factor in the chains ditching super-size options on the menu and implementing healthier items like salads and, you guessed it, “healthier” chicken.
The biggest reason “Super Size Me” was so effective was because it simplified what was wrong with fast food in America. Morris and his lawyers hoped “Super Size Me 2” would do the same.
“It’s complex so there’s no bite size way to describe it,” Muraskin said of the plight of the chicken farmers. “You need something like a movie to get people to engage and take a step back and get the full story.”
But when Spurlock sent out his confession, that hope to educate the public was lost. Morris learned about what Spurlock did and the eventual backing out by YouTube through his attorneys. Butler said he learned about it from another farmer he’s representing. Muraskin learned about it through the news. All three men told Business Insider that Spurlock never contacted them before or after his tweet.
“I’m going to be honest, I feel like I’ve been let down,” Morris said when asked how he felt about not being contacted by Spurlock directly. “I had 10 farmers come up to my house and we had a link to the movie and I showed it to them and everyone just loved it. They were so excited it was coming out. If it were me, I would call you up and say, ‘Hey, I screwed up.’ I would tell you what’s going to happen.”
“I applaud anyone who tells the truth, especially in the world today,” Butler said of Spurlock’s confession. “But the problem is when the people backed out who were to release the movie it hurt the consumers but it hurt the poultry growers a lot worse. I hate to see that. Now that the waters have calmed I hope they would go ahead and move forward with showing the movie to the public.”
Business Insider contacted YouTube about the release status of “Super Size Me 2” and a spokeswoman sent the same statement it made in December following Spurlock’s tweet: “We feel for all the women impacted by the statements made by Morgan Spurlock. In light of this situation, we have decided not to distribute ‘Super Size Me 2’ on YouTube Red.”
But that hasn’t stopped Morris from single-handedly trying to get the movie out to the public. The farmer told Business Insider he has tried numerous times to contact YouTube since the company announced it was pulling the movie. He wants to see if the site would be interested in selling the movie to him.
“We can mortgage everything we got and buy the rights,” Morris said. “I want it to come out, and not for me but for every chicken farmer in America. It needs to be seen. This is not about Morgan Spurlock, this is about the industry and us farmers and how we’re being treated.”
Morris said he has never received a response from YouTube.
What happens now?
According to numerous sources, Spurlock has reclaimed the rights to “Super Size Me 2” from YouTube but people close to the movie say there are no current plans on how (or if) it will ever be released. Spurlock declined to comment for this story.
Like the farmers in the movie, practically everyone involved was not told that Spurlock was going to release his confession and since have been left wondering if the movie will ever see the light of day. There’s also frustration from some who feel that the people who risked everything to go on camera for Spurlock have now been abandoned.
“Learning about the cruelty and hardship inflicted not only on the chickens, but the chicken farming community, as well as the deceptive marketing tactics used on consumers was a huge motivator for us in producing this film,” Jess Calder, a partner at Snoot Entertainment, which was one of the financiers and producers on “Super Size Me 2,” said in a statement to Business Insider. “The chicken farmers who worked with us risked their livelihood to give us a glimpse into the vicious cycle of the chicken industry, hoping that their courage might help lead to change once the public had the opportunity to see the way chicken farmers are manipulated and forced into a cycle of debt. We hope that for the sake of the brave farmers and their families, this film can still find a distributor.”
Business Insider reached out to numerous independent film insiders and asked if they thought “Super Size Me 2” would ever be seen by general audiences. They all believed it would, including Thom Powers, the head documentary programmer at the Toronto International Film Festival, who was responsible for the movie’s world premiere at TIFF.
“I felt that ‘Super Size Me 2’ was his best film,” Powers said of Spurlock. “It was poised to start a really important conversation around what we eat and expanded the conversation from ‘Super Size Me’ 1.”
“A strong possibility for the future of the film is on a digital platform,” Powers said. “People can watch it and weigh the merits of the film on their own terms, it deserves that.”
But for now, the way Morris sees it, “Big Chicken” dodged a major bullet.
“I’m sure Tyson threw a big party when they heard what happened,” Morris said.
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