In 2014, DeWayne “Lee” Johnson, a 42-year-old groundskeeper for a public school district in Northern California, broke out in a mysterious rash. Shortly before, a tank of RoundUp, the most widely-used herbicide in the United States for the last two decades, had spilled on Johnson at work, dousing his clothes and skin. With the rash came blisters and other symptoms that didn’t heal, but got worse with time. Doctors diagnosed a terminal form of non-Hodkins lymphoma.
Johnson tried calling RoundUp’s maker, the US chemical giant Monsanto, for information, but received no response. Had he heard back from them, Johnson later told Time Magazine, he would likely never have sued Monsanto. But sue he did, in a trial fast-tracked because of his failing health. Johnson won a staggering $289 million judgement against the company, later whittled down on appeal. Along the way, Johnson became the public face of thousands of the chemical company’s alleged victims who are seeking redress.
Johnson’s story spoke to director Jennifer Baichwal, who persuaded the publicity-weary plaintiff to allow her to document his experience taking on a company so powerful he will not say its name for fear he could be charged with slander. “I’m just a regular guy from a small town called Vallejo in the California Bay Area,” Johnson said, “who happened to seek the truth about my failing health and found answers.”
As staggering as the financial damages were, Baichwal’s film delves into the eye-opening corporate documents and emails that came to light in court. They revealed a massive, orchestrated corporate campaign to hide the health and environmental risks of RoundUp, to the extent of creating bogus studies and going after scientists whose studies linked the herbicide to cancer. RoundUp’s active ingredient, glyphosate is now widely present in US groundwater across the country.
Screening followed by a talkback with director Jennifer Baichwal and protagonist Dewayne "Lee" Johnson, moderated by Tim Whitehouse, Executive Director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER)