The use of animals in movies has become such a common occurrence that many people often forget that the animals are actually actors. In movies such as Marley and Me and Homeward Bound, animals are even the main characters. In the past, many animal actors were placed in high-risk scenarios, simply to produce crowd-pleasing movie scenes. Tragically, some of these animals passed away during the filming of these movies. While standards for animal actors have changed, it’s important to examine how they have changed, and how they can continue to improve.
Cinema’s Death Toll
Despite movie magic and special effects offering safe and flexible options for directors, animals have often been put in harm’s way for the sake of “good cinema.” The on-screen abuse of animals in movies such as Apocalypse Now and The Wild Bunch was all too real and, quite frankly, all too unnecessary. Hollywood has a bloody history when it comes to animals harmed during filming—so bloody that unconfirmed rumors surrounding animal death tolls in films such as Milo and Otis are enough to taint one’s enjoyment of a film.
The American Humane Association (AH) is an organization that regulates the use of animal actors in films. Founded in 1877, AH began to work with the film industry after the deaths of numerous animals. As a way to notify the public of the movie’s cruelty-free status, AH created the well-known “no animals were harmed in the making of this picture“ line for movies to utilize in film credits. While AH is responsible for creating the many guidelines for the proper treatment of animal actors, several activities have gone under the organization’s radar.
For example, following the filming of the popular movie Life of Pi, AH attempted to cover up a near-death experience for the tiger involved in the movie. AH has also been accused of failing to protect a number of animals used during the 2012 filming of The Hobbit. Most notably, in 2017, TMZ released footage of a German Shepherd being forced into rushing water by directors of A Dog’s Purpose. AH announced that the organization representative stationed on the film’s set had been suspended. While a later investigation by AH concluded that the footage had been deliberately edited and that proper safety measures were in place during filming, the footage is still greatly troubling. Additionally, such footage serves as a reminder that we must continually improve the treatment of animal actors, who don’t have the voice to speak for themselves.
The Role of the Audience
While American Humane may or may not be held accountable for failure to proactively address these issues, it is important for audience members to understand how they can help remedy the situation. One proposed method has been to not watch or promote the movies of studios that have knowingly harmed animals in the past. Another proposed method has been for audience members to inform their friends not to watch movies that use animals. Overall, though, the biggest role of the audience is to research these films and spread the word about alleged and confirmed animal cruelty during filming.