'Super Size Me' turns to TV
By Claudia Parsons | May 17, 2005
NEW YORK (Reuters) - The man who made a hit movie out of eating McDonald's fast food for a month has filmed a "fundamentalist Christian" man living as a Muslim to find out what it's like to face the prejudice that many Muslims in America deal with since Sept. 11.
The experiment is part of "Super Size Me" Director Morgan Spurlock's new reality TV show "30 Days," which places people in a variety of unfamiliar circumstances for 30 days.
Spurlock made his name with the Oscar-nominated documentary "Super Size Me," about the impact on his health of a month's diet of McDonald's burgers, shakes, chicken nuggets and soda.
In one episode of the new TV show, a conservative straight man tries living with a gay roommate. In another, a mother turns to binge-drinking to send a warning to her daughter. Spurlock puts himself to the test by living on minimum wage.
The show starts on the FX television network on June 15.
"One of my favorite episodes is ... what's it like to be a Muslim in America ... who is seen every day as a threat to our freedom simply because of their color, their race, their religion," Spurlock told Reuters in an interview on Monday.
"(It's) something we deal with every day in America, and we hear about it with terrorism threats every day," he said.
"We took a fundamentalist Christian from my home state of West Virginia, somebody who is very pro-war, pro-'us versus them,' that when you hear Muslim the only thing he thinks of is a guy standing on a mountain with an AK-47," Spurlock said.
The man leaves his wife and children at home and goes to live with a Muslim family in Dearborn, Michigan, home to one of the largest Muslim populations in the United States.
"He dresses as a Muslim, eats as a Muslim, he prays five time a day, he studies the Koran daily, he learns to speak Arabic, he works with an imam, a Muslim cleric, to learn the history of Islam, what are the five pillars, why are they important."
"And the transformation this guy goes through in 30 days is miraculous, it's incredible," Spurlock said.
LIFE ON MINIMUM WAGE
The documentary maker, who has visited more than 100 schools as part of his campaign to improve school food programs, says the television show is driven by the desire to make people think about society's problems.
"It's not one of those shows where anybody wins a million dollars, nobody gets voted off," said Spurlock, who is promoting "Don't Eat This Book," his new book expanding on "Super Size Me."
He said the success of the film, which played in 65 countries, had opened doors for him to tackle other issues. In "30 Days" he takes on the first challenge himself.
"The question is, what's it like to live on minimum wage in America, what is it really like to try to survive on $5.15 an hour, which is a ridiculous sum of money to try to live on," Spurlock said.
He and his fiancée moved to Columbus, Ohio, found jobs and an apartment and made the best of it.
"I was working two jobs, I was working on average 16 or 17 hours a day," Spurlock said. "On my best day I made $91.75, which is terrible."
They spent $35 a week on groceries. But he said they ate well due to the skills of his fiancée, Alex Jamieson, a chef who is about to publish a book of her vegan detox diet that Spurlock used to return to normal after "Super Size Me."
For anybody tempted to scoff at a man who puts himself through a month of poverty after his first film made some $30 million, Spurlock insists his bank account remains far from super-sized.
"If only the industry worked like that," he said. "I personally haven't even made close to that. I haven't even made a million dollars."