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May 21, 2021
Elle Fanning and Journalist Jessica Wapner Investigate the Dangers of Diet Culture With the Podcast One Click

Narrated by Fanning and written by Wapner, One Click explores the fatal rise of DNP, a diet drug made from an explosive chemical that can be purchased online.

Even with the second season of her Hulu series, The Great, in production, Elle Fanning has been finding herself busy in her rare moments of downtime—climbing into a closet, armed with a microphone, in order to record narration for One Click, a new C13Originals podcast franchise. “I’m excited to get into the podcast world,” Fanning told Vanity Fair. “I hope it grips people.”

One Click is an adaptation of journalist Jessica Wapner’s article “The Deadly Internet Diet Drug That Cooks People Alive,” which was published in the Daily Beast in January 2020. “The very first thing that stood out to me when I first learned about DNP was the heat,” said Wapner, former science editor of Newsweek. When she began investigating 2,4-dinitrophenol, or DNP—a chemical once used in WW I–era explosives that can now be found online sold as a diet drug—she learned that ingesting DNP essentially turned people’s bodies into furnaces. As victims heated up to dangerously high internal temperatures, they would lose weight before dying, having been more or less boiled from the inside. Wapner’s investigation traced the history of DNP, marketed as a miracle weight-loss drug since the early 20th century, through its recent resurgence and a related increase in gruesome deaths amongst young people in the United States and United Kingdom.

The article caught Fanning’s attention, and she reached out to see if Wapner would be interested in adapting it into a podcast. Wapner agreed—“We were so aligned in our thinking and what we wanted to get out of this podcast and convey,” said Fanning—and the pair began pitching what would become One Click, a docuseries that explores how a single click on the internet can change a life forever.

The first season, which premieres on May 20, is a riveting look at the destructive consequences of DNP’s second life as a fat-burning pill, and an exploration of the myriad societal reasons a dangerous chemical that has never been approved by the FDA for use as a drug still remains so enticing and easy to access. Over eight episodes, Wapner and Fanning weave together elements of science journalism, true-crime investigations, and history lessons, with a particular emphasis on sharing the stories of families who lost loved ones to DNP. Many families chose to speak to Wapner, who is writing the podcast, in the hope that sharing stories of their losses will result in a more severe crackdown on DNP sales online. “The honesty and openness and time that they’ve given to us has been incredible,” said Wapner. “And obviously, the podcast wouldn’t be what it is without them.”

Fanning, who is 23, was moved by how many young people fell victim to DNP, struggling with insecurities about their bodies and weight. She was disturbed not only by the sheer accessibility of the drug online, but how its success hinged on a societal obsession with weight loss and achieving a “perfect body” at all costs—a narrative that she saw becoming even more pervasive as the world entered lockdown, around the same time she and Wapner began collaborating on One Click.

“So many more workout ads were appearing on my Instagram or just popping up, like, ‘Get your revenge body back’ or ‘Let’s come out of quarantine looking good and having lost all this weight.’ It’s just like, really?” said Fanning. “Sadly, it’s like they want to keep people insecure because that keeps these industries in business—which is what, to me, needs to be taken down.”

Indeed, One Click’s release feels eerily well-timed to our current moment, as the world leaves lockdown and heads straight into swimsuit season. As author Jennifer Weiner noted in her recent New York Times op-ed, “The Weight-Loss Industry Is Coming for Our Post-Lockdown Bodies,” social media feeds have recently been flooded with weight-loss ads—for Keto diets, intermittent fasting, fat-shredding supplements.

Fanning and Wapner hope that their podcast will draw stark attention to the dangers of seeking a quick fix to weight loss, in addition to illuminating the history of the diet industry and toxic advertising practices, dating back to the 1930s when DNP was disseminated as a diet drug.

“Diet pills, or these advertisements kind of started because women started in the workplace,” said Fanning. “One of their ads was basically saying, like, ‘Women need to be slim because they’re working in offices now. And if women are big, then you’re going to bump into the desks.’”

“It’s not like it’s gone away,” said Wapner. “It just wears a different costume.”

In addition to narrating each episode, Fanning serves as one of One Click’s executive producers, marking her first venture into the podcast space after launching her production company, Lewellen Pictures, with her sister, Dakota. She stressed that she doesn’t plan to limit herself to any one medium when bringing to life the stories she wants to tell: “We want to lend ourselves to stories that we truly feel an instinctual, gut connection to, which is truly what happened with this podcast. It doesn’t matter that it’s audio and not a TV show. I think that’s what was fun for me…. It’s like, okay, what’s the best way we can tell this story?”

For Wapner, adapting her article into an eight-episode podcast offered a thrilling opportunity to expand on her original reporting and explore new avenues of storytelling around the subject of DNP. One episode will unravel the history of body image and beauty standards (starting in the 1500s and including Lord Byron’s 19th-century celebrity diet); another follows the prosecution of the owner of a website peddling DNP pills, while others will explore how DNP’s modern resurgence was facilitated by its popularity in the bodybuilding industry.

One Click is directed and produced by C13Originals, a Peabody Award–nominated documentary studio division of leading premium podcast studio Cadence13, and Vespucci, a film, TV, and podcast studio that produces fact-based stories from around the world via a consortium of leading journalists. [Source]

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