Collapsed Baltimore bridge not featured in Obama-produced movie

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Social media users are claiming a 2023 film linked to Barack and Michelle Obama depicted the collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge months before a cargo ship hit the structure in March 2024. This is false; "Leave the World Behind" was filmed in the US state of New York and never shows the Baltimore bridge.

"For those of you that don't know... The Francis Scott Key bridge is the same bridge that was shown in the Netflix movie 'Leave the World Behind,'" says a March 27, 2024 post on Facebook.

"The production company is owned by the Obamas. Open your eyes people."

<span>Screenshot from Facebook taken April 2, 2024</span>
Screenshot from Facebook taken April 2, 2024

The post includes an image of a person looking out a window at the Francis Scott Key Bridge submerged in the Patapsco River.

Similar claims -- including many posts recycling the same language -- rocketed across Facebook and other platforms, such as Instagram, X and TikTok. Derrick Evans, a Republican congressional candidate who pleaded guilty to charges related to the January 6, 2021 attack on the US Capitol, amplified them.

<span>Screenshot from X taken April 2, 2024</span>
Screenshot from X taken April 2, 2024

A massive cleanup effort is underway after a Singapore-flagged cargo ship that lost power and propulsion veered into one of the Key Bridge's support columns on March 26. The crew issued a mayday call and dropped its anchors in a last-ditch effort to avoid disaster, but the structure collapsed within seconds, leaving six of an eight-man construction unit presumed dead and blocking one of the busiest US commercial harbors.

Authorities have repeatedly said there is no indication the ship's collision was intentional or connected to terrorism, but conspiracy theories have still sought to blame everything from Israel to corporate diversity initiatives.

AFP previously debunked claims that the Obamas were behind the bridge collapse because of their involvement with the movie "Leave The World Behind." Higher Ground Productions, the company they founded in 2018, executive produced the 2023 apocalyptic thriller.

The image circulating online is not a scene from the Netflix production, but a digital fabrication.

Reverse image searches uncovered the original picture on the stock photo website Freepik (archived here). It is listed as a "Premium AI Image" and shows a person looking out on a city skyline.

The photo of the Francis Scott Key Bridge featured in the version circulating online, meanwhile, was posted to Facebook on March 26, 2024 by the Harford County, Maryland Volunteer Fire and EMS Association (archived here).

<span>Screenshot from Freepik taken April 2, 2024</span>
Screenshot from Freepik taken April 2, 2024
<span>Screenshot from Facebook taken April 3, 2024</span>
Screenshot from Facebook taken April 3, 2024

'Leave The World Behind'

There is no scene in "Leave The World Behind" that shows the Francis Scott Key Bridge.

The fictional film -- starring Julia Roberts, Mahershala Ali, and Ethan Hawke -- is about a family vacation "upended when two strangers arrive at night, seeking refuge from a cyberattack that grows more terrifying by the minute," according to its synopsis (archived here).

The house at the center of the film is located in Old Westbury, New York, according to Netflix (archived here).

In one scene, a tanker named White Lion barrels into a beach full of people (archived here). Another moment shows a pileup of self-driving cars near a bridge, and a third depicts smoke billowing from what appears to be the New York City skyline (archived here and here).

However, according to media reports and Atlas of Wonders, an online reference for filming locations, the ocean shot was captured at Sunken Meadow State Park Beach on Long Island, New York (archived here and here).

The car-crash scene was filmed near the Jones Bay Bridge, also on Long Island. The bridge in the smoky depiction of the New York City skyline appears to be the George Washington Bridge connecting the city to the state of New Jersey.

The movie is also not the Obamas' original creation. It is an adaptation of a 2020 novel of the same name by Rumaan Alam, whom the Obamas are listed alongside as executive producers.

Addressing other conspiracy theories about the Obamas' involvement with the disaster film, director Sam Esmail told entertainment website Collider: "President Obama really came on a couple of months before we started shooting, so the script had basically been written and done" (archived here).

"He obviously gave notes on the script, but the bones of the story and the sequences were already written," Esmail said, adding that claims that Barack Obama was "signaling" through the film are "pretty wrong."

The former Democratic president's feedback focused on trying to portray the book and its themes, Esmail said. The book was on Obama's recommended reading list in 2021 (archived here).

AFP has previously debunked other misinformation about the Baltimore bridge herehere and here.