When it Comes to the Animal Rights Movement, Movies Matter…..for Better or for Worse
While the pro-vegan Netflix documentary What the Health came under fire from some in the medical field, there’s no denying its power to create a dialogue about the American health crisis and the things that the movie got right.
Time magazine, for instance, pointed out that it underlines several aspects of the American food system that are often criticized, such as processed meat and the amount of antibiotics used in agriculture, which is linked to growing health issues.
And it shines a spotlight on the financial relationships between food industry companies and national public health groups. Overall, it seems to have resonated enough with viewers that they are eating more plants, and that gets two thumbs up from Friends of Animals. And we’re hearing about it firsthand.
“I would say that the business at all of our five locations is up around 25 percent,” said Mike Behrend, executive chef, Green Vegetarian Restaurant Group in Texas. “Many new customers are coming in after seeing What the Health.”
Behrend explained that while the film didn’t have much new information for those in the plant-based community, it did expose the money trail that has influenced the American diet for decades. The film also emphasized the link between meat and dairy consumption and the most life-threatening diseases.
“Many of our new converts have expressed the feeling that they have been duped their entire lives so that certain industries can thrive,” he said. Carissa Celliccicci, owner of the vegan eatery The Stand Juice Company in Connecticut, said customers have been coming in talking about the movie and she references it often.
She added that the movies Fat Sick and Nearly Dead are pushing people into juicing too. Izzy Jacobus, a nutrition counselor/health and wellness coach at New York-based Brooklyn Nurse Practitioners, which promotes a multi-faceted, plant-based approach to healthcare, has also reported a substantial increase in business since the release of What the Health.
Unfortunately, not all movies reach their potential to invoke change and advance the animal rights movement, as Friends of Animals has recently experienced.
INCONVENIENT TRUTH SEQUEL: TRUTH TO POWER
For instance, after seeing the Inconvenient Truth Sequel: Truth to Power, we think it would be more appropriate to call it the Inconvenient Half Truth perhaps. At Friends of Animals, we laud Al Gore for his passionate work on climate change—arguably one of the most pressing issues of our time.
But in his efforts to give a voice to the “truths” of the climate movement—that our climate is changing due to human activity—he only focuses on a shift to clean energy as the best way to solve the crisis, and that’s not the whole truth. For the climate movement to reach a tipping point, you have to address the fact that animal agriculture emits at least 18 percent of greenhouse gas emissions measured in carbon dioxide.
And in the United States the primary greenhouse gases emitted by animal farms, methane and nitrous oxide, have 20 times and 300 times the global warming potential of carbon dioxide. That’s startling when you consider that 115 million pigs and 33 million cows are raised and slaughtered in the U.S. every year.
And where was the discussion about human overpopulation? Humans are the most overpopulated animals on the planet. The carbon legacy and greenhouse gas impact of an extra child is almost 20 times more important than some of the environmentally sensitive practices people might employ their entire lives. And industrialized countries’ energy consumption levels take a larger toll on the environment.
To be clear, Friends of Animals is not anti-children; it is pro family planning and voluntarily reducing the number of children we have. In the film Gore discusses the powerful utility and mining lobbyists fighting against solar development and lament President Trump’s decision to withdraw the United States from the Paris Climate Agreement.
While those are real obstacles in the fight for a sustainable future, there is nothing that can stop people from choosing a plant-based diet or having smaller families. They are achievable call to actions, choices that leave people feeling empowered. A combination of plant-based diets, smaller families and renewable energy is the trifecta of climate change to propel us into a sustainable future. And that’s the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
Trophy, a documentary that explores the commodification of threatened and endangered African species, which has opened at select theaters nationwide and will air on CNN in early 2018, is enough to have Cecil the Lion rolling over in his grave.
While the directors should be commended for putting the issue in the spotlight, it feels more like an attempt by the trophy hunting industry to save face following the public backlash after the tragic death of Cecil the lion at the hands of an American trophy hunter in Zimbabwe in 2015. And it’s no wonder, since the movie’s narrative unfolds after the directors attend the Safari Club International’s (SCI) annual hunter’s convention.
They drank the Kool-Aid.
To appease the public, the trophy hunting industry claims that without it there would be no money in Africa for conservation. In the movie, wellheeled American trophy hunters are the unsung heroes whose money is helping to save Africa’s magnificent animals from the bad-guys—local poachers driving these animals to extinction. It’s hard to stomach the hypocrisy—American trophy hunters think their money makes killing ok.
The idea that it doesn’t is not broached by directors who promise to tell both sides of the story with critical examination. The movie never considers that legal trophy hunting is one of the reasons that Africa’s Big Five face extinction in the first place and that legal trophy hunting fuels poaching.
The movie doesn’t discuss a study that reveals only a measly three percent of the $200 million SCI officials claim it brings into remote areas of Africa actually goes back to the local communities for conservation or development. Without the involvement of local people in conservation, it is impossible to reduce poaching, reduce human-animal conflict or to reduce agricultural encroachment on wildlife habitat.
Not to mention the gold standard of conservation, reintroduction of species into the wild. Viewers never see one example of this.
The movie also never addresses the economic benefits of wildlife watching safaris, which provide employment for local populations. In the Okavango in Botswana, safari tourism created 39 times the number of jobs than big game hunting. It neglects to mention how trophy hunting can exacerbate human\lion conflict because it interferes with lions’ social dynamic, an issue documented by conservationist Brent Stapelkamp who studied Cecil for over a decade as part of the Hwange Lion Research Project.
Instead, viewers hear from a smug hunter posing for a photo over a dead lion, “No bureaucrat can keep me from my trophy.” Perhaps all of these things would have complicated the overall narrative too much because they recognize that for the wild things in Trophy, life doesn’t have a price.
THE BLACKFISH ‘EFFECT’
The moviemakers of Trophy are hoping it becomes the next Blackfish, the documentary that showed the horrors of life in captivity for orcas. While that seems impossible, movies that shed light on industries that exploit animals will always have the potential to have the Blackfish “effect,” and that’s good news for animals. It’s hard to deny the role Blackfish had in corporate policy change at SeaWorld. In December 2014, about a year and a half after the film’s July 2013 theatrical premiere, the stock price of SeaWorld had already declined by 60 percent. In March of 2016, the company announced that it will officially end its orca breeding program and end orca shows at all of its theme parks. While Friends of Animals won’t be satisfied until all orcas in captivity are moved to seaside sanctuaries, we look forward to the next movie that will propagate new activism for animals.