By Santiago Cuevas
Wheeling High School students in December worked with rising film director Jon Whalen to create a study guide for his film “Stink!”
Stink!, a documentary available on Netflix, shows how certain companies aren’t completely revealing what is in their products due to a loophole in the Food and Drug Administration’s rules.
Creating the guide will help teachers around the globe incorporate the film in their classrooms and find resources to use alongside it. During the process of creating the study guide, Wheeling students said they also became more knowledgeable of products that they as consumers are buying.
The collaboration between Whalen and the students was initiated by Tim Piatek, Wheeling’s English and Fine Arts division head, and John Uhrik, an English teacher at the school, through Twitter.
“It’s a really unique opportunity that I don’t think typical high school students have. It is definitely out of the ordinary for first of all, a filmmaker to even respond to regular English teachers, and not only did he respond, but he was also interested with working with our students,” Piatek said.
When Piatek realized that Whalen’s film did not have a study guide to go along with it, he asked if students in his Popular Literature classes could create the guide. Whalen agreed and soon after, students watched the film and created key questions to provoke discussion in all grade levels.
“I think just high school students to interact and engage with a real filmmaker that has a documentary on Netflix right now that is creating a lot of interest around the globe, is pretty cool,” Piatek said.
The film focuses on products that list “fragrance” as an ingredient. The term “fragrance” allows companies to conceal potentially dangerous chemicals used in the items.
Wheeling senior Kevin Rendon said the film made him realize the dangers that are unknowingly in his everyday life. “At this point, I feel like I’m not safe because of it. Still, despite me not feeling safe, I still feel as if these companies don’t care about how these chemicals are harmful, which is kind of stupid,” Rendon said.
Whalen hoped to create this reaction in viewers in order to create change in the FDA’s guidelines. “Often times, we think that if a product is on the shelf, then it’s safe, and that's not always true,” Whalen said.
The idea for the movie stems from an experience Whalen had when buying clothes for his daughters. The clothing contained an awful stench, he said, and he wanted to track down the source. “I guess I was just trying to protect my kids, trying to understand something that just didn’t seem right and just was feeling obligated as a parent to do everything possible to make sure a product they are going to use is safe,” Whalen said.
Whalen said the goal of the film is to simply give consumers insight into what they could potentially be bringing home. “I wanted consumers to know about these loopholes. I wanted retailers to step up and do a better job of curating safer products and taking a lot of the risk out of it for consumers because they’re busy. I wanted regulators to do a better job,” Whalen said.
Some students said they might purchase the products mentioned in the video but plan to pay attention to the ingredients used to make the items.
“I’m probably still going to buy these products but chemicals in them is still something I would really like to know,” Rendon said.
Santiago Cuevas is a senior at Wheeling High School and an editor on the school’s newspaper, The Spokesman.