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Four big takeaways from National Geographic's new 'Fauci' documentary

National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director Dr. Anthony Fauci

When I first saw the preview of National Geographic's documentary about Anthony Fauci, I was confused. My assumption was that the documentary was made to profile his role in the COVID-19 pandemic response as that's how he became a household name. How did the filmmakers know they would need to get footage of Fauci at the very beginning of the pandemic, when no one knew yet what it would become?

The answer is: They didn't. This film was never intended to be about this pandemic at all. The profile of Anthony Fauci was planned by award-winning filmmakers John Hoffman and Janet Tobias in 2018 and they began filming in the fall of 2019, several months before anyone had even heard of SARS-CoV-2. The filmmakers originally planned to highlight Fauci as a lesser-known public servant, focusing primarily on his work throughout the AIDS pandemic.

What they ended up with is parallel stories of Fauci's AIDS work and Fauci's COVID response, and their "lesser-known" subject becoming a superstar during the making of the film. In fact, the press release for the film included the following, which is an unusual disclaimer but one the filmmakers felt necessary in the current climate: "Dr. Fauci had no creative control over the film. He was not paid for his participation, nor does he have any financial interest in the film's release."


Fauci | Official Trailer | National Geographic Documentary Filmswww.youtube.com

The film flips back and forth in time from the '80s and '90s to the past two years, showing us the work of a much younger Fauci beside his current, impressively spry, 80-year-old self. Here's what stood out most to me:

The man is the epitome of a dedicated public servant.

Regardless of what the whackadoodle conspiracy theorists think, Fauci's dedication to his work is unparalleled. While he is paid well—at $418,000/year he makes more than the president—his salary is not outrageous for a doctor who has been working for decades, and seeing him in his home, it's clear he's not living an opulent lifestyle. He says he feels a "very deep sense of responsibility" in his work, which is clear when you see his career play out in this film.

He's not afraid to tell the truth.

Fauci is a tough cookie in the best way. He knows he's "the bad guy" to a certain subset of the population. "I represent something that's uncomfortable for them," he says in the documentary. "It's called the truth."

President George W. Bush told filmmakers that when Fauci meets with you, you know he's going to lay out the facts no matter how they might affect the politics. "Tony Fauci doesn't come into the Oval Office to make you look good," he laughed.

During the first year of the COVID pandemic, Fauci found himself in the unique position of having to fact-check the president in real time. He also faced resistance from within. The film actually opens with Fauci on the phone being told that the White House had declined TV spots about COVID vaccine development because the president wanted to focus on the economy. When the filmmakers asked Fauci about his meetings with the president early in the pandemic, he gently laughed and said, "Yikes." That pretty much sums things up.

Fauci has served under six presidents and always with the goal of keeping the science at the forefront. As a government employee, he has to deal with policy, but as we see behind the scenes in his work with the AIDS crisis as well as the COVID pandemic, he doesn't care about politics. He cares about science—and he cares about people.

His empathy is what makes him effective in his work.

What was most striking in seeing Fauci's career play out is how often he talks about putting himself in other people's shoes and seeing things from their perspective. When AIDS activists protested the National Institutes of Health's handling of AIDS treatment, he didn't dismiss them. He listened. He went to activist meetings and dialogued with them. He thoughtfully explained what they were wrong about, and also thoughtfully acknowledged what they were right about.

"My weapon, in addition to the science, is speaking to the American people," he says. People who saw him as an enemy grew to admire him. In fact, one AIDS activist who had led protests outside the NIH during the AIDS crisis said he has been regularly checking in with Fauci to see how he's doing with the vitriol and threats he's received during the COVID pandemic. (Fauci is a level-headed guy, but we see him drop an angry f-bomb when his daughters were being threatened.)

As a disease specialist, Fauci is brilliant. But he has an intuitive finger on the pulse of human nature as well, which makes him ideally suited to the work he does.

Fauci hasn't changed. Our society has.

Seeing certain people call for Fauci to be fired and accusing him of lying, covering up research, causing the pandemic or [fill-in-conspiratorial-Tucker-Carlson-talking-point-here] feels utterly ridiculous. The man is 80 years old and has dedicated his entire life to fighting and treating infectious diseases. The idea that he would somehow suddenly become some kind of evil player in a global conspiracy to control the masses or whatever inane idea people have come up with is ludicrous.

Fauci was vilified early in the AIDS pandemic, but it was nothing compared to what he's experienced with COVID-19. "The whole atmosphere strains your concept of what normality is," he says in the doc. Our divisiveness can't continue if we hope to be prepared for the next pandemic, he says. It just won't work. And we have a common enemy—the virus—which should be uniting us.

That goes for Americans as well as our global society.

"When you have a global pandemic, you need a global solution," says Fauci. "To think you can just take care of yourself ... is just folly."

As the film shows, we got there with AIDS. The life-saving AIDS cocktail was developed in the United States, $15 billion was invested by the second Bush administration to distribute the medicines to vulnerable populations across Africa, and Democrats and Republicans united to back the investment.

Much of the success of AIDS treatment is owed to Dr. Fauci. And I am 100% sure that history will be much fairer to him than many Americans have been during this pandemic.

"It's always the sustained investment in science that rises to the occasion," says Fauci. Again, always putting the spotlight back on the science.

"Fauci" can be seen by all Disney+ subscribers on October 6, and you can read more about the making of the film here. Definitely worth a watch.

Joy

1991 blooper clip of Robin Williams and Elmo is a wholesome nugget of comedic genius

Robin Williams is still bringing smiles to faces after all these years.

Robin Williams and Elmo (Kevin Clash) bloopers.

The late Robin Williams could make picking out socks funny, so pairing him with the fuzzy red monster Elmo was bound to be pure wholesome gold. Honestly, how the puppeteer, Kevin Clash, didn’t completely break character and bust out laughing is a miracle. In this short outtake clip, you get to see Williams crack a few jokes in his signature style while Elmo tries desperately to keep it together.

Williams has been a household name since what seems like the beginning of time, and before his death in 2014, he would make frequent appearances on "Sesame Street." The late actor played so many roles that if you were ask 10 different people what their favorite was, you’d likely get 10 different answers. But for the kids who spent their childhoods watching PBS, they got to see him being silly with his favorite monsters and a giant yellow canary. At least I think Big Bird is a canary.

When he stopped by "Sesame Street" for the special “Big Bird's Birthday or Let Me Eat Cake” in 1991, he was there to show Elmo all of the wonderful things you could do with a stick. Williams turns the stick into a hockey stick and a baton before losing his composure and walking off camera. The entire time, Elmo looks enthralled … if puppets can look enthralled. He’s definitely paying attention before slumping over at the realization that Williams goofed a line. But the actor comes back to continue the scene before Elmo slinks down inside his box after getting Williams’ name wrong, which causes his human co-star to take his stick and leave.

The little blooper reel is so cute and pure that it makes you feel good for a few minutes. For an additional boost of serotonin, check out this other (perfectly executed) clip about conflict that Williams did with the two-headed monster. He certainly had a way of engaging his audience, so it makes sense that even after all of these years, he's still greatly missed.

Democracy

Appalachian mom's speech on Kentucky's proposed abortion ban is a must-hear for everyone

Danielle Kirk is speaking up for those often overlooked in our cultural debates.

Canva, courtesy of Danielle Kirk

Appalachian mom gives passionate speech.

Many people felt a gut punch when the Supreme Court issued its decision on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which overturned the decades-old Roe v. Wade decision that protected a woman's right to an abortion. However, for some this was a call to action.

Danielle Kirk, 27, a mom of two and an activist on TikTok, used her voice in an attempt to educate the people that make decisions in her small town. Kirk lives in Kentucky where a trigger law came into effect immediately after Roe v. Wade was overturned. Being a former foster child, she knew she had to say something. Kirk spoke exclusively with Upworthy about why she decided to speak up.

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Memories of childhood get lodged in the brain, emerging when you least expect.

There are certain pleasurable sights, smells, sounds and tastes that fade into the rear-view mirror as we grow from being children to adults. But on a rare occasion, we’ll come across them again and it's like a portion of our brain that’s been hidden for years expresses itself, creating a huge jolt of joy.

It’s wonderful to experience this type of nostalgia but it often leaves a bittersweet feeling because we know there are countless more sensations that may never come into our consciousness again.

Nostalgia is fleeting and that's a good thing because it’s best not to live in the past. But it does remind us that the wonderful feeling of freedom, creativity and fun from our childhood can still be experienced as we age.

A Reddit user by the name of agentMICHAELscarnTLM posed a question to the online forum that dredged up countless memories and experiences that many had long forgotten. He asked a simple question, “What’s something you can bring up right now to unlock some childhood nostalgia for the rest of us?”

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