Starring Nan Goldin and directed by Laura Poitras, All the Beauty And The Bloodshed takes on the Sackler family to replace OxyContin

When famous photographer Nan Goldin developed tendonitis in her left wrist in 2014, she was prescribed OxyContin to relieve the pain. She had no idea what she was getting herself into.

Initially, the dose of 40 milligrams was too strong for her. Eventually, in the grip of a three-year addiction, she needed 450 milligrams a day just to keep the withdrawal symptoms under control and stopped at nothing to get the drug, going to the black market to buy more and then switching to Street drugs, eventually an overdose of a mix of heroin and fentanyl.

“I survived the opioid crisis,” she wrote art forum in 2018 after overcoming her addiction. “I narrowly escaped.”

Goldin protested the Sackler family, whose company Purdue Pharma made the drug OxyContin, in 2021.

Goldin protested the Sackler family, whose company Purdue Pharma made the drug OxyContin, in 2021.Credit:AP photo

Many weren’t so lucky. There have been about 500,000 opioid overdose deaths since the crisis began in 1999. It is estimated that 145 people die every day.

Instead of just counting her lucky stars, Goldin decided to do something about it. And since she was Goldin, she wasn’t backward when she came forward. This journey from artist to activist shapes the Oscar-nominated documentary All the beauty and the bloodshed Directed by Laura Poitras, whose previous films include Citizenfour, about Edward Snowden and Risk, about Julian Assange.

“I’m drawn to stories that allow me to speak critically about injustice in America and to show the people who are doing something about it,” says Poitras. “Edward Snowden and Julian Assange fall into that category, and so does Nan.”

The film also delves deep into Goldin’s personal life and art. She was the product of a loveless household in suburban Boston. To be given a camera while attending an alternative school in the 1960s was a revelation.

“I was pretty dumb at the time,” she says from her home in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, puffing on a cigarette. “I was very shy and spoke in whispers. With a camera, I felt like I had a voice. Suddenly I could approach people. Having a camera is a good way to walk through fear.”

And as the film details, Goldin was terrified, brought on by a repressive upbringing that drove her much-loved and unconventional older sister, Barbara, to suicide at age 19. The film is dedicated to her.

“I don’t think I would have rebelled if it weren’t for her death,” says Goldin. “I was a good little girl, but after she died I became a bad girl, which is a much better way to be. It put me on a path that set me free.”

This journey began in Boston in the late ’60s, where she met a group of drag queens and began documenting their lives with her camera. Then, when she moved to downtown Manhattan in the late ’70s, she did the same with residents of the local underground scene. Her candid and intimate images of sex, drugs, and alternative subcultures were controversial and groundbreaking, and she featured them in slideshows accompanied by music ranging from showtunes to the Velvet Underground.

Goldin protests at a'die-in' Guggenheim.

Goldin protests at a ‘die-in’ Guggenheim.Credit:The New York Times

She also turned the lens on herself, capturing on film her own drug use and her horrific physical abuse at the hands of a friend.

Once she started taking OxyContin, her position as one of the most celebrated photographers in the world was secured.

As she gave up her addiction (she takes pains to emphasize that she has sought medically-assisted treatment, “and everyone should have it”), she read Patrick Radden Keefe’s book New Yorker Story about the Sackler family who were responsible for manufacturing and aggressively marketing OxyContin to physicians, who in turn pushed this synthesized opioid onto their patients, assuring them that it was non-addictive.

Goldin recognized the name Sackler immediately. The family was heavily involved in art philanthropy, having galleries, halls, and wings in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Louvre, and other august institutions named after her. She organized a group called PAIN (Prescription Addiction Intervention Now) and hit the Sacklers where they lived.

Laura Poitras (left) and Nancy Goldin at this year's Oscar nominees' luncheon.

Laura Poitras (left) and Nancy Goldin at this year’s Oscar nominees’ luncheon.Credit:AP

The film begins with the group taking on a 2018 protest at the Met, where the Sacklers had a grand piano named in their honor. Goldin and the protesters chant slogans such as “Sackler’s lie! People are dying!” Then they toss into the indoor pond empty pill bottles that have labels with quotes attributed to the family, including “We’re going to make a blizzard of recipes that’ll bury the competition.” Then they all lie motionless the ground and stage a death.

Goldin’s goal was to get these prestigious galleries and museums to remove the Sackler name from their walls and refuse further donations.

“I never thought we would be successful,” she says. “I didn’t go into it because I thought it would work. I just knew I had to do it.”

The group’s actions began to take effect. The first domino to fall was the National Portrait Gallery in London, which turned down a £1million donation from the Sacklers after Goldin said she was withdrawing her work from a planned exhibition. And then they started buckling one by one. Towards the end of the film, the group rushes to the Met upon hearing that the Sackler name has been removed from the same exhibition hall where they began their protests. How did Goldin feel in that moment?

“It was amazing. The Met is the most important museum in New York for me. That’s why I started the actions there. So when they put the name Sackler down, it was a justification for everything we had done. I was just so happy . That’s not often possible in life. It was a great moment.”

Maine's Nicholas Rivers protests outside the Justice Department in Washington.

Maine’s Nicholas Rivers protests outside the Justice Department in Washington. Credit:AP

Perhaps the most haunting and harrowing part of the film is footage of the victims’ families testifying at a hearing last year where members of the Sackler family were on camera and listened to lives being shattered by the loss of a loved one to OxyContin became.

At one point, a recording of a 911 call plays and when a distraught father explains that his 20-year-old son is dead on the floor of their house, the mother can be heard wailing inconsolably in the background. Another parent tells the Sacklers, “I hope every single victim’s face haunts you every waking moment, and your sleeping ones too.”

The Sacklers barely batted an eyelid, seemingly unaffected.

Goldin also testified. But today she regrets listening to the advice of the victims’ attorney and suppressing what she said.


“I wish I had told them how monstrous they are,” she says now. “They left all these bodies everywhere. How can they be so inhuman? I wanted to ask them if they’ve ever had a moment of guilt and regret. I wanted to wake her up. I wanted to go for the carotid artery.”

But actually, Goldin went for the carotid artery. She just did it her way. And she has achieved more than she ever thought possible.

All the beauty and the bloodshed won the Golden Lion at the Venice Film Festival (only the second documentary to win the honor) and was nominated for Best Documentary at this year’s Academy Awards. His rising visibility is already shedding light on the opioid epidemic and Nan Goldin’s remarkable life. Though happy, she says it was hard for her to make the film and dig up a lot of old memories.

“And it’s still hard for me,” she says. “It was very intense and it messed me up a lot. I gave these interviews with the understanding that I would have control over their editing. I’ve worked hard to make sure the film is something I can live with. It’s amazing that Laura allowed me to do that. Laura kept her word and I respect that.”

At the age of 69, Goldin has struggled with a lot and she still has a lot to deal with. On a card found in her sister Barbara’s pocket after her death was a typed quote from Joseph Conrad heart of darkness: “Droll thing, life is – this mysterious arrangement of merciless logic for vain purposes. The best you can hope for from this is some knowledge of yourself — that comes too late — a harvest of indelible regrets.”


Does Goldin feel like she’s overcome her regrets?

“Oh, my own demons are waiting for me when I wake up, trust me,” she says, smiling. “But they’re getting quieter.” She pauses and nods. “You’re getting quieter.”

A cultural guide to going out and making love in the city. Sign up for our Culture Fix newsletter here. Starring Nan Goldin and directed by Laura Poitras, All the Beauty And The Bloodshed takes on the Sackler family to replace OxyContin

Jaclyn Diaz

InternetCloning is an automatic aggregator of the all world’s media. In each content, the hyperlink to the primary source is specified. All trademarks belong to their rightful owners, all materials to their authors. If you are the owner of the content and do not want us to publish your materials, please contact us by email – The content will be deleted within 24 hours.

Related Articles

Back to top button