Animal abuse in films happens more than you think. Here’s why we need to stop the use of animals for entertainment
By Arwa Lodhi
In many popular films, animals play a key role. From the tiger in Life of Pi to Cheetah in Tarzan, some movies just wouldn’t be the same without them. However, these sentient beings may be suffering greatly as a result of their being used for our entertainment.
Decades ago, animals actually were killed for movies! Real rhinos were killed for the old Tarzan films (more than one, in fact! can you even imagine?). Apocalypse Now included the slaughter of an ox. And horses were often badly hurt in many Westerns and had to be put down as a result. Consequently, the the American Humane Association (AHA) was called in by directors to curb animal abuse in films.
The No Animals Were Harmed in the Making of this Film tag was meant to assure viewers of this. However, as this report shows, we can no longer trust the AHA to do their job.
Animal Abuse in Films: How Hollywood Harms Animals
Even a quick investigation reveals that the AHA isn’t living up to its promises to protect animals. The tiger in the Life of Pi was nearly drowned. And the email that expressed concern for the animal’s welfare was suppressed, as you can hear more about in the video above.
A year later, during the filming of Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, a shocking total of 27 animals died. Those included sheep and goats that perished from dehydration during a hiatus in filming at an unmonitored New Zealand farm. They were allegedly being housed and trained there. But one trainer, John Smythe, told the Hollywood Reporter that the animals were being neglected. When he complained about it, AHA’s management refused to investigate – even though they had a representative on set.
It seems the AHA is corrupt to the core. They even awarded the “No Animals Were Harmed” accreditation to to both The Life of Pi and The Hobbit, where animals were abused. But they also did so for many other films and TV shows on which animals were injured during production. The AHA justifies this on the grounds that the animals weren’t intentionally harmed. Or, they claim the incidents happened off camera. What?!
A short list of animal abuse in films
The Hollywood Reporter goes on to list a whole range of horrific animal violence on film:
-A Husky dog was punched repeatedly in its diaphragm on Disney’s 2006 Antarctic sledding movie Eight Below, starring Paul Walker
-A chipmunk was fatally squashed in Paramount’s 2006 Matthew McConaughey-Sarah Jessica Parker romantic comedy Failure to Launch.
-Several dozens of dead fish and squid washed up on shore over four days during the filming of Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl. Crewmembers had taken absolutely zero precautions to protect marine life when they set off special-effects explosions in the ocean.
-A giraffe died for unknown reasons on Sony’s 2011 Zookeeper set
And guess what? All of these productions had AHA monitors on set.
Even worse in Asia?
The fate of animals in film is, of course, even worse in Asian countries like Korea and China. Korean director Park Chan-wook needlessly had the hero of Oldboy biting a live octopus to pieces. The poor, intelligent creature struggled for its life, its tentacles pushing against his face and wrapping around his wrist, writhing in pain. There’s no CGI or fakery involved. Getting that shot ‘right’ meant the actor had to torture no less than four live octopuses in a row. WHY?! There’s no excuse for such animal abuse in films.
It was apparently a problematic requirement for the actor, who happens to be a practicing Buddhist. He explained in interviews that he had to pray for each octopus. In the behind-the-scenes video below, he apologizes to one of them before a take. It’s a kind sentiment, but that’s not enough. It’s still a horrible way for any animal to die.
Asia’s standards for animals on set are lax, or even non-existent. But even Western directors like Jean-Luc Godard and Francis Ford Coppola have deliberately killed animals for ‘dramatic effect’. The same goes for not-so-acclaimed directors like John Waters, who crushed two chickens to death in Pink Flamingos. And got away with it.
Clearly, the AHA’s “No Animals Were Harmed” seal of approval is extremely misleading to filmmakers and audiences alike. According to PETA, “the AHA does not monitor living conditions of animals off set, during pre-production training, or during the premature separation of infants from their mothers. The organization, which is funded by the Screen Actors Guild – the very industry that it is monitoring – rarely, if ever, files formal complaints when animals are mistreated.
But what about ‘animal actors’ in films, like Every Which Way But Loose (featuring an orangutan) or Water for Elephants (with an elephant ‘star’)? Well, you’ll be saddened to learn that these animals undergo what’s basically torture in order to be able to ‘act’. For example, the elephants in the latter film were subjected to electroshocks and stun guns, and were beaten with bull hooks. All in the name of entertainment.
And yet, the AHA actively defends the use of animal ‘actors’ in film and television productions despite expert testimony indicating that “most wild animals cannot be trained for entertainment without subjecting them to physical abuse.” according to PETA.
Not natural performers
As Anjelica Huston points out in the video above, there is nothing glamorous about showbiz for animals. And animal abuse in films is not uncommon. No matter how well they may be trained or how gently they may be treated, the fact is that most are torn away from their mothers as infants, and subjected to abusive training methods.
Remember, it’s not natural for animals to ‘perform.’ The ‘carrot’ works less effectively than ‘the stick,’ meaning animals are bullied into ‘acting’. These animals are then forced to spend most of their lives in small, filthy cages, deprived of everything that is natural and important to them.
What’s more, trainers who supply animals to the entertainment industry are frequently cited by the U.S. Department of Agriculture for violating the federal Animal Welfare Act. The Act establishes only minimal guidelines for animal care. Social animals such as primates, elephants, and wolves are often forced to live alone, causing them severe psychological stress and anxiety.
What you can do
So what can you do, as a consumer of entertainment?
First up, boycott Disney. Not only do most of their films pollute children’s minds with models of negative behaviours, but they’re also one of the biggest culprits for killing and abusing animals on set. In short, Disney is guilty of animal abuse in films on many counts.
Secondly, take to social media. Whenever you see a movie or TV show that has live animals in it, post your disgust on your social media channels, tagging the producers (Netflix, HBO, Fox, etc). Even better, Tweet them or post on their Facebook/Insta pages to ask them why they felt the need to exploit a live animal when so many other options are available.
Avoid films that use real animals. With computer generated images being able to create almost any scene realistically, isn’t it time we eliminated animals from entertainment altogether? We encourage all our readers to vote with their wallets.
Unless the animals in a film are animated or CGI, let’s all avoid lending support to inhumane movie studios that promote the abuse of our four-legged friends.
Main image: Fox 2000 pictures Water for Elephants image: Daily Mail