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!); Apocalypse Now included the slaughter of an ox, and horses were often badly hurt in many Westerns and had to be euthanised as a result. Consequently, the the American Humane Association (AHA) was called in by directors to ensure that animals were protected during shooting. 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.
But apparently, the AHA isn’t doing its job. 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, including sheep and goats that perished from dehydration during a hiatus in filming at an unmonitored New Zealand farm where they were being housed and trained. A trainer, John Smythe, told the Hollywood Reporter that AHA’s management refused to investigate when he raised a complaint, though they had a representative on set.
It seems the AHA is corrupt to the core, and has awarded the “No Animals Were Harmed” accreditation to not only The Life of Pi and The Hobbit, but also to films and TV shows on which animals were injured during production. It justifies this on the grounds that the animals weren’t intentionally harmed or the incidents happened off camera!
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 no precautions to protect marine life when they set off special-effects explosions in the ocean.
–A giraffe died on Sony’s 2011 Zookeeper set
And guess what? All of these productions had AHA monitors on set.
The fate of animals in film is, of course, even worse in foreign countries like Korea, where director Park Chan-wook shows the hero of Oldboy biting a live octopus to pieces as it struggles, tentacles pushing against his face and wrapping around his wrist until it dies. There’s no CGI or fakery involved–getting that shot meant the actor had to eat no less than four live octopuses in a row. It was 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, and in the behind-the-scenes video below, he apologizes to one of them before a take. It’s a kind sentiment, but still a horrible way for any animal to die.
But Park Chan-wook isn’t the only director to demand animal cruelty on set: acclaimed films like Jean-Luc Godard’s Weekend have deliberately killed animals for ‘dramatic effect’, as have not-so-acclaimed movies like John Waters’ Pink Flamingos (which crushed two chickens to death). And they 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. In fact, AHA actively defends the use of great apes in film and television productions despite expert testimony indicating that great apes cannot be trained for entertainment without subjecting them to physical abuse”.
As Angelica Houston points out in the video above, there is nothing glamorous about showbiz for animals. 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’ and the ‘carrot’ works less effectively than ‘the stick’. 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. 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, which establishes only minimal guidelines for animal care, and social animals such as primates, elephants, and wolves are often forced to live alone, causing them severe psychological stress and anxiety.
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