The release of Steven Spielberg’s “Jaws” in 1975 had a massive effect on popular culture, establishing the concept of the Hollywood summer blockbuster and remaining a prime target for parody to this day. One of its more unfortunate legacies, however, is how its depiction of the great white shark as a ferocious man-eating animal has endured, leading to increased hunting against the species for decades. And it’s a legacy that the director himself isn’t proud of at all.
“I truly and to this day regret the decimation of the shark population because of the book and the film,” the “Fabelmans” director said during a recent interview on the BBC Radio 4 show “Desert Island Discs” (via Entertainment Weekly). “I really, truly regret that.”
On “Desert Island Discs,” host Lauren Laverne asks guests to choose eight recordings, a book, and a luxury item with which to be stranded on a deserted island. Asked what would happen if sharks circled him on the desert island, Spielberg said, “That’s one of the things I still fear. Not to get eaten by a shark, but that sharks are somehow mad at me for the feeding frenzy of crazy sports fishermen that happened after 1975.”
“Jaws” was based on the book of the same name by author Peter Benchley, who loosely based the plot on an incident in 1916 where a great white shark attacked swimmers along the Jersey Shore, resulting in four deaths. In real life, great whites can kill humans, but it happens rarely, generally less than 10 times a year globally. Some research has shown that the depiction of the species in the film and movie, as essentially a horror film monster, contributed to increased hunting and killing of the species.
“You didn’t have to have a fancy boat or gear,” Florida Program for Shark Research George Burgess told the BBC in 2015. “An average Joe could catch big fish, and there was no remorse, since there was this mindset that they were man-killers.”
Benchley also expressed regret for the real-world impact of “Jaws,” and how it popularized false beliefs about sharks. The author, who died in 2006, spent the later years of his life publishing nonfiction work about sharks and advocating for the conservation of their population.
Spielberg is currently in contention for Best Director at the Oscars for his film “The Fabelmans,” starring Michelle Williams, Paul Dano, Seth Rogen, and Gabriel LaBelle. The film is currently in theaters and can be rented on VOD platforms.
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