|The Game Changers|
|Directed by||Louie Psihoyos|
|Produced by||Joseph Pace|
Lewis Hamilton (exec.)
|Written by||Mark Monroe|
The Game Changers is a 2018 documentary film about the benefits of plant-based eating for athletes. It covers multiple success stories of plant-based athletes, references scientific studies, and touches on other arguments for plant-based diets that extend to non-athletes.
It received generally positive reviews by viewers and endorsement by several health organizations, among them the American College of Lifestyle Medicine and the Defense Health Agency, but also received criticism for scientific inaccuracies and a perceived unbalanced support for plant-based nutrition, with several experts accusing it of misinformation and pseudoscience.
The documentary follows former UFC fighter James Wilks who, while recovering from an injury, researches nutrition, and travels the world to discuss his findings with elite athletes who follow plant-based diets.
The Game Changers debuted at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2018, with a second edit released worldwide for a one-day screening in September 2019. The film has over a dozen executive producers, including James Cameron, Pamela Anderson, Rip Esselstyn, Jackie Chan and Brendan Brazier.
On Rotten Tomatoes the film has an approval rating of 70% based on reviews from 10 critics. Several celebrities declared themselves impacted by The Game Changers, with actor Dolph Lundgren and bakery businessman Roger Whiteside deciding to follow a vegan diet after watching it. It was approved by and made with the collaboration of the American College of Lifestyle Medicine, as well as the Defense Health Agency, which officially endorsed it.
Despite its overall reception, the documentary came under heavy criticism not only from sports, science and nutrition sectors, but also from other defenders of plant-based diets. Critics pointed out factual inaccuracies in the information presented, a misleading usage of data taken out of context, and flawed arguments against both meat and dairy in favor of pro-vegan interests. They also attacked the documentary's claims that "meat and dairy industry secretly fund all the studies that demonstrate any benefits to animal products," not only labelling this as a factually incorrect conspiracy theory, but also comparing that, conversely, all the experts and medical professionals partaking in the documentary were also sellers of vegan products (including the film's executive producer, James Cameron, an outspoken vegan who founded plant protein company Verdient Foods).
Addressing the conclusions presented in Game Changers and general tone of the documentary, nutrition PhD Layne Norton stated, "the film used strawman, false dichotomies, cherry picking, and a whole host of other logical fallacies in an attempt to demonize animals products and make vegan diet the solution to the world's problems." However, Men's Health editor Paul Kita would also expand on Wilks's purported intention to present objective facts, commenting that the documentary "presents only one side of the facts, often via controversial sources, grand extrapolations from small studies, and statements that are flat-out misleading." Sports nutrition expert Asker Jeukendrup was quoted as saying, "Game Changers ticks almost all the boxes of pseudoscience, and none of the boxes of science," an opinion echoed by other reviewers.
Those critiques attracted responses from supporters of the documentary, with Dr. Garth Davis accusing Norton particularly of making his analysis "a story line that sounds credible to the lay person ear but truly misrepresents the movie and the science presented in the movie." Viewers asked Norton in Twitter about Davis's article, but he declined to comment, instead suggesting Davis to debate him in person.
On November 21, 2019, Joe Rogan addressed the documentary on his The Joe Rogan Experience podcast, which featured the presence of Chris Kresser, paleolithic diet proponent and co-director of the California Center for Functional Medicine. Both Rogan and Kresser harshly criticized the documentary, with the latter accusing it of scientific dishonesty on the show and writing shortly after a lengthy analysis on his website. Kresser described The Game Changers as being "full of misleading statements, half-truths, flat-out falsehoods, flawed logic, and absurdities."
In order to host a proper debate between the sides, Rogan invited both Kresser and The Game Changers creator James Wilks to the podcast's December 5, 2019 edition. The resultant debate lasted four hours and saw Wilks engaging Kresser's criticisms, eventually making the paleolithic diet advocate concede mistakes about vitamin B12 livestock supply. Notably, Rogan himself stated to have changed his own posture, praising Wilks' defense of his position and even considering taking down the previous episode from his channel. He was quoted as saying, "James knocked it out of the park and defended himself and the film quite spectacularly." Arnold Schwarzenegger, who starred in the documentary as a guest, commended Rogan for "always having an open mind."
Audience reception echoed Schwarzenegger, not only within the vegan community, with some viewers even suggesting to next pit Wilks against another of his critics, Layne Norton. Rogan contacted him leading Norton to give his opinion on the debate, which took the form of a post on his own website. In his answer, Norton admitted that Wilks excelled at preparing for the debate, but argued that he "seemed focussed on destroying Chris rather than defending the film's claims" and "committed an atrocity of logical fallacies and misrepresented key pieces of research to suit his bias."