Washington (CNN)A video of a maskless woman having a tantrum on an airplane — threatening to call the police because she is being forced to sit next to a man she presumes is unvaccinated — has gone extraordinarily viral on social media.
One TikTok post of the video, which was filmed from the perspective of a seated plane passenger, had more than 35 million views as of Friday. One Facebook post had more than 24 million views. Posts on Twitter and YouTube generated at least hundreds of thousands of additional views.
The comments on these social media posts show that a significant number of viewers believe the video depicts a real-life incident, like the anti-mask plane tantrums that have gone viral during the pandemic. And some conservatives have deployed this new video for political purposes, using it to make a point about out-of-control, irrational or hypocritical vaccinated people.
Facts First: The viral video is a staged scene from a professional film. The tantrum-throwing woman is an actor, as is the supposed pilot who challenges her at the end of the video. The video was produced by a man known as Prince Ea, an entertainer and creator of online content who has a history of using authentic-sounding titles about hot-button social issues to get people to watch his scripted footage.
Prince Ea added a vague three-word disclaimer, “For entertainment purposes,” to his initial Nov. 1 Facebook post of the plane tantrum video — under the title “SHE MUST HAVE BEEN HAVING A BAD DAY.” But through at least November 11, he kept posting additional versions of the video, under titles like “WHEN THE PILOT CAME OUT” and “WHEN SHE ASKED FOR HIS VACCINE CARD,” that included no disclaimer.
In addition, Prince Ea added the “for entertainment purposes” tag to his own post, not to the video itself, and subsequent viewer comments on the post demonstrate that those three words were either not direct enough or not visible enough to convey to all viewers that the footage was staged. Also, the “for entertainment purposes” tag is not even visible to all viewers of the initial Facebook post — for example, to people who are sent a direct link.
And the tag does not appear at all on the TikTok video, which was posted by a user named Anjelo Tavera.
About a week and a half after Prince Ea’s initial post of the video, after it had already received 24 million views, Facebook added a fact-check warning — saying that independent fact-checkers had found that the video is “missing context and could mislead people.” No such official warning appears on TikTok.
Proof the video is staged
Here’s how we know for sure that the video isn’t from a real-life flight.
A photo of the cast in costume: As the Twitter account @HoaxEye pointed out, a 2021 video titled “Covid Flight” is listed on the Internet Movie Database (IMDb) website. A man named Jamie Hull-Greenwood is listed as the director of “Covid Flight.” Prince Ea is listed as the executive producer.
After seeing Hull-Greenwood’s name on the IMDb page, we looked up his Instagram page. And there was definitive proof that the viral video was staged.
On October 27, Hull-Greenwood posted three photos of a “micro short” shoot he said he was doing on an airplane “for Prince Ea.” And one of these Hull-Greenwood photos was of the actors who can be seen in the viral video — as they posed, in costume, inside a plane that looks identical to the one in the viral video. “Great cast, another great shoot,” Hull-Greenwood wrote in his caption.
Hull-Greenwood removed public access to his Instagram account after CNN and others inquired about the viral video, so the photos of the shoot are no longer visible.
Confirmation from the plane company: A British company that rents out a Boeing 737 trainer plane for film shoots and training purposes confirmed that the video was taken on their plane.
Andrew Easton, founding director of J.A.R.E. Airline Training Partnership, told CNN that the footage “is definitely the result of filming by our friends from JPC Film,” a company Hull-Greenwood works with. Easton said in an email that a JPC Film viral video published last year, titled “Flight Attendant Teaches Racist Passenger a Lesson,” had been shot on the same plane. Easton didn’t say so himself, but that video was also a Prince Ea production.
Other than Easton, nobody connected to the video — Hull-Greenwood; Prince Ea; the actor who played the tantrum-thrower and the actor who played the pilot; the film company involved — responded to CNN’s requests for comment.
Used as a political tool
The viral video seemed suspicious to many viewers even before debunkings were posted by @HoaxEye and the magazines Rolling Stone and Newsweek. The people in the video speak in a conspicuously theatrical manner, the video features dramatic background music, and it features a cinematic climax: the supposed pilot proclaims “there will be no discrimination on my aircraft”, declares “we should respect each other” whether vaccinated or unvaccinated, and then firmly asks the woman to “please exit the aircraft.”
Still, many other viewers took the video as authentic. And it was quickly deployed for political purposes.
Turning Point USA, the right-wing student group, posted it on YouTube last Saturday with the title “WATCH: Woman FREAKS OUT Over Unvaccinated Passenger On Plane”; this Turning Point post alone had more than 227,000 views as of Wednesday.
Also last Saturday, conservative commentator Brandon Tatum posted an extended YouTube commentary about the video in which he began with the words “just when you thought they couldn’t get any crazier”; Tatum’s video had more than 184,000 views as of Thursday.
Turning Point USA deleted its YouTube post of the viral video on Wednesday night, shortly after CNN informed the group that the video was staged and that we were planning an article. A spokesperson, Andrew Kolvet, said deletion was “an easy call” given that the footage turned out to be inauthentic. Tatum did not immediately respond to a request for comment we sent through his website.
Where the video came from
We can’t say for sure why the staged video was made. But viral videos can both generate advertising revenue and help creators like Prince Ea build bigger online followings, which can allow them to earn even more cash in the future. Prince Ea, who has 18 million followers on Facebook and just under 6 million on YouTube, has made a practice of this kind of video — repeatedly producing scripted short video content that appears designed to go viral with the help of titles that sound like they are about real-life scenes.
For example, two other Prince Ea videos are titled “Racist Lady Gets Covid-19. What Happens Next Will Shock you!” and “ANGRY MAN ATTACKS DOCTOR, WHAT HAPPENS NEXT WILL SHOCK YOU.”
The actual content of those previous Prince Ea videos, however, appears at least somewhat more transparently fictional and more professional than the content of this new plane video. This one was filmed in a manner that mimics the look of actual viral videos — many of them of anti-mask tantrums — filmed this year by actual plane passengers.