Friends of Ghost Ship fire victims upset by NBC’s dramatization

The exterior of the former Ghost Ship art collective's warehouse taken in early February. Many who were affected by the fire are outraged at NBC's portrayal of it in the drama Chicago Fire. Photo by Abner Hauge

The exterior of the former Ghost Ship art collective's warehouse taken in early February. Many who were affected by the fire are outraged at NBC's portrayal of it in the drama Chicago Fire. Photo by Abner Hauge

Tail Sticks Casting’s call on February 1 read:

“GHOST SHIP” — Seeking Men & Women 20s-30s to play rave party goers. Types can range from edgy/artsy to bohemian.

The call was to film “Deathtrap,” an episode of Chicago Fire, an NBC drama from producer Dick Wolf of Law & Order fame. The episode, set to air on March 1 at 8:00 pm PST, is based on the December 2, 2016 Ghost Ship fire. The fire occurred at a dance party at the Ghost Ship, a commercial warehouse converted without city permits into a live/work artists’ space in the Fruitvale neighborhood of Oakland. In all, 36 people perished in the fire.

According to NBC’s episode description available on IMDB.com, the plot revolves around Chicago law enforcement, fire fighters and hospitals responding to “an old, ill-equipped factory-turned live/work space [which] quickly turns into a firestorm, trapping countless unsuspecting victims.”

Many Oakland arts community members have responded negatively to the prospect of a TV show based on the fire. A petition calling on NBCUniversal CEO Stephen B. Burke to pull the episode out of respect to the fire’s victims was started by artist Sara Huntley on Change.org on February 24. It gained 1,000 supporters in the first day and today has just over 1,900 signatures.

“I knew people affected would be very upset when they learned what was planned to air. The families and friends and victims themselves deserve better than to be made a fictionalized TV show for insensitive gawking. People are grieving, it’s only been 3 months. There is an ongoing investigation,” Huntley wrote via text.

“Not only, does it seem, our subculture was completely mischaracterized by the show in the casting call, and our friends, many of whom who were queer, have been completely eclipsed in this show by a type of hyper-masculinity,” Huntley continued.

Huntley said she’d seen the story on the Modern Luxury website and felt that those clips offer a misleading portrayal of what happened the night of the fire. “In the clips I’ve seen of the show, there are shots of firemen running into the building and heroically rescuing people. This didn’t happen. The firemen didn’t get there in time to help anyone,” she wrote.

Among the signers of the petition was David Last, whose partner Chelsea Faith passed in the fire. His statement on the petition’s page read: “As the partner of one of those killed, I find this absolutely disgusting. If anyone at NBC had been there, staring at that burning building for 11 hours, hoping their wife or husband would come crawling out alive, there is no way this project would go forward.”

“The story is going to air and people all over America who watch TV are going to see this show and research this event. But their personal context will be from the show, not from meeting these people when they were alive, like I did,” said Marcavius, a former Ghost Ship resident and friend of Huntley who declined to give his last name. “My heart is breaking as I say this,” he added.

NBCUniversal representatives have not responded to requests for comment on the petition or their motivations for basing a show episode on the Ghost Ship fire.

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