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Winter 2013-14 - Act•ionLine

by EDITA BIRNKRANT | Winter 2013-14

Animals in Entertainment

 Hollywood’s betrayal of Great Apes

Hollywood’s insistence on using animals as “actors” has serious long-term impact for their welfare by subjecting them to conditions that humans would never tolerate.  When will movie-makers finally get the message?

The new Martin Scorsese film, The Wolf of Wall Street, starring Leonardo DiCaprio, features a young chimpanzee dressed in a suit roller-skating through an office and treated as a pet of DiCaprio’s character, a law-breaking stockbroker.

In real life, DiCaprio runs a foundation dedicated to “protecting Earth’s last wild places and fostering a harmonious relationship between humanity and the natural world,” and surely Scorsese is aware of CGI (Computer Generated Imagery) used to create animals in films.  Both of these powerful Hollywood stars should know better, yet have enabled and supported the hideous industry that pimps out great apes and other wild animals for use in film as animal “actors.”  

The Primarily Primates sanctuary in Texas, which Friends of Animal manages and operates, cares for many chimpanzees used in entertainment who were discarded once they got too old to control.  Stephen Tello, the sanctuary’s executive director, says, “Every young chimp you see in any type of entertainment was pulled from their mothers prematurely.  Sometimes chimps stay with their families their entire lives.”

In 1986 five chimpanzee stars of the popular film Project X, were brought to Primarily Primates after a lawsuit against the film’s producers alleged abuse and mistreatment of the chimps by their trainers.  Bob Barker, who led the crusade, also blasted the American Humane Association, which defended the trainers, denied the abuse, and outrageously gave their “No Animals Were Harmed” seal of approval for the film.  Two of the chimps, Willie, the star of the film, and Okko, are still alive and cared for 27 years later at the sanctuary.

Stephen explains, “When they’re training the chimps, the only contact they want is chimp to trainer, keeping the young chimps apart.  The long term damage that is done results in negative and neurotic behaviors and an inability to socially interact with other chimps.”  Willie, star of the Project X film, still runs away in fear when he sees cameras.  Another chimp, Harry, exhibited neurotic behaviors like rocking and clutching.

Stephen recalls revealing conversations he had with the chimp trainer from Project X who detailed physical force he regularly used to handle and train the chimps through fear, domination and repetitive hand signals chimps were forced to respond to, dictating behaviors or movements.

Chance the Chimpanzee

Pam Rosaire, of the notorious Rosaire family of animal circus trainers, owns and trains Chance, the chimp in The Wolf of Wall Street.  Pam boasts of a living made teaching dangerous “trick-riding” stunts to chimps on horseback in circus shows, using them in commercials, films and events, and even claims to have breast-fed a newborn chimp in 1979.  Pam currently owns six chimpanzees — once they turn 8 years old, they can no longer be used in show business, so young ones must be continually acquired.

I spoke at length with Pam via telephone.

Chance is a third-generation captive-born chimp, taken from his mother at infancy.

Now 4 years old, Chance was 7 months old when Pam purchased him from a couple who bought him from a breeder in Missouri for $65,000 but soon decided they could not keep him.  Missouri allows breeding and selling of chimps.

Pam started making money off of Chance immediately by taking him to agencies and booking him for commercials, events, and now, a Hollywood film.

Pam told me it took her three weeks to teach Chance to roller skate — something required of his role in the film.  “He’s very trained and does what he’s told and does it right.”  Pam says, “I’ve raised all my chimps from little babies.  I’ve been working with chimps since I’m 7 years old.”

Turning a Chimpanzee Into an “Actor”

Pam elaborated on how she gets rambunctious young chimps to “do what they’re told.”

“I’m the matriarch and they do what I tell them to do.  I make them listen.  They’re very childlike.  If they don’t listen, I make them sit down and do a time out.  That’s the worst thing for a chimp, to force him to sit still in a chair alone until he listens.  Chimps are very fidgety, so sitting still in a chair is something they don’t like.”  Pam said it only took about one hour on the set to film Chance’s scenes with DiCaprio.

Bob Ingersoll, a primatologist who appears in the documentary Project Nim, was disgusted that a real chimp was used in the film and said that with current computer graphics technology, “No animals need to be exploited in films, ever again.”  Bob explains Pam’s method of training.  “What she’s doing is withholding affection and reassurance, something you’d never do to an infant.  It’s wrong and creates long term psychological damage.  Chimps don’t naturally withhold affection and reassurance like that long term; they have a tiff and get over it quickly. That’s how she trains him--withholding the emotion and affection.”

No Animals Were Harmed?

The American Humane Association verified that their safety representatives were on the set of The Wolf of Wall Street and that “all animals were treated humanely.”  What does that really mean?  Essentially, their disclaimer is a sham, and most people are unaware that AHA is funded by the Screen Actors Guild — a glaring conflict of interest.   AHA’s flimsy basis for judging the treatment of animals on films only entails the actual filming that happens in front of them, not the lengthy training, housing or living conditions of animals, nor do they have an opinion on infant chimps being taken from their mothers prematurely. 

The only way to truly ensure that “no animals are harmed” is to end the misery of using them in films, television or commercials — something easily achievable with available technology.  The public must use their power to boycott films that use great apes and other animals, and in this way, we can put breeders and trainers out of business.  We must communicate to Hollywood that we’re not buying what they’re selling if it includes animal abuse.

EDITA BIRNKRANT

Act•ionLine Winter 2013-14

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