Behind the Glitz, Is Anyone Watching Out for Hollywood’s Animal Actors?
Sitting in a darkened movie theater, watching the credits roll at the end of a movie, you’ve probably noticed the American Humane Association statement near the very end that reads, “No animal was harmed during the making of this movie.”
That’s a relief. In the midst of the madness of movie making, thank goodness someone’s keeping an eye on the animals, right?
Wrong. According to a bombshell of an investigative report by The Hollywood Reporter, that credit these days is rather meaningless. According to some of its own employees, the AHA is now reportedly much too “buddy buddy” with the industry it’s supposed to be overseeing.
The result, says reporter Gary Baum, is that AHA isn’t doing its job anymore. The AHA is supposed to be the organization that monitors animal treatment in movie and television productions. It has been doing that job since 1939, when movie makers on the set of Jesse James forced a horse to plunge off a cliff to its death, all in the name of movie realism.
These days, AHA reportedly distorts the ratings it gives to films, refuses to publicly acknowledge incidents harming animals, downplays a host of accidents and incidents, and often won’t properly investigate reports of problems.
Six understandably anonymous AHA employees came forward to talk with The Hollywood Reporter out of concern for entertainment industry animal welfare. Baum reports that these employees have “lost hope in the potential for meaningful reform unless outside pressure is brought to bear.”
After conducting these interviews and reviewing a raft of e-mails, incident logs, audit reports and meeting minutes, Baum appears to have substantiated a real, very distressing problem.
Yes, Animals Were Harmed While Making Your Favorite Movies
Here’s just a sampling of animal accidents and incidents that occurred in the making of movies and television shows in the recent past:
- The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (2012, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer movie) – A reported 27 animals, including sheep and goats, died of dehydration or drowning at the New Zealand farm at which they were being housed during production.
- Life of Pi (2012, 20th Century Fox movie) – King, the Bengal tiger used in many of the non-CGI animal sequences of this movie, “damn near drowned” according to an internal e-mail from AHA’s Gina Johnson. “I think this goes without saying but DON’T MENTION IT TO ANYONE, ESPECIALLY THE OFFICE! I have down-played the f*** out of it,” she wrote.
- Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003, Disney movie) – Failure to take any precautions before setting off underwater explosions caused the deaths of dozens of fish and squids.
- There Will Be Blood (2007, Paramount Vantage movie) – Days after someone anonymously reported to AHA that horses on set in Texas weren’t getting water and that conditions were “very dry, hot dusty and windy,” several horses died of colic, commonly caused by heatstroke.
- Failure to Launch (2006, Paramount movie) – A handler dropped a chipmunk, stepped on it and killed it. AHA’s rep noted for this incident: “Lesson learned: Don’t carry the chipmunk on your shoulder.” AHA reportedly later described this incident by saying the chipmunk was in the trainer’s pocket when he tripped and fell.
- Everlasting Courage (2012, Hallmark cable TV movie) – A horse’s hindquarter was impaled when a “runaway” wagon lost control on set and snapped a crossbar. The horse, named Glass, had to be euthanized due to extreme blood loss. No investigation conducted.
- Luck (2010-2012, HBO cable series) – Four horses died during the run of this now infamous horse racing show starring Dustin Hoffman. Persistent allegations made the rounds that the horses were too old, underfed and possibly drugged up. The show was finally cancelled a day after a horse reared back, flipped over, hit her head and had to be put down.
- Eight Below (2006, Disney dog sledding movie) – A trainer punched a dog “harshly” five times in the diaphragm to break up a dog fight.
Despite these terrible and often avoidable occurrences, many of these movies and shows received the coveted “no animal was harmed” credit from the AHA. How is this possible? The employees who were willing to talk say they know why it happens. The AHA’s leadership is starstruck.
What the Anonymous AHA Staffers Reported
“The general issue at play is that the AHA is funded…by the entertainment industry that it’s covering,” Baum told NPR. “So you have a situation where the industry is bankrolling its regulator.” Remember that the AHA isn’t a governmental entity. It’s accountable only to the entertainment industry, not to the public.
“The AHA does not explain why the films get the ratings they do to hide the fact that they do not give them accurately across the board and that special relationships may be taken into account,” one AHA employee told Baum. “Management pressures postproduction to give good reviews. Even [for] relationships that aren’t special yet [but] might be in the future, and they don’t want to rock the boat.”
“[M]y sources have told me there’s a desire to bend over backwards whenever possible to look at any situation from the industry’s point of view,” Baum told NPR, “to look at incidents as unpreventable accidents, to assign monitors and apply their guidelines in sometimes lax ways; to basically view themselves, the AHA, as a collaborator rather than an independent force, first and foremost, advocating for animal welfare.”
Another employee says: ”Reps are only ‘good’ if they’re not making any waves. Reps who get complaints from a trainer are pulled from a set. The ones who stand up for the animals’ welfare are labeled as troublemakers.”
Baum’s full investigative report is disturbing but necessary reading for anyone concerned about animal welfare issues.
You might be surprised to learn that in deciding whether to award a movie or television show the “no animals were harmed” credit, the AHA does not consider incidents that hurt or endanger animals when filming is on hiatus, when the harm is not “intentional,” or if harm occurs in any off-camera context.
That’s a jarringly loose form of animal protection, AHA. How about a little less rubbing elbows with the Hollywood hoi polloi and a little more looking out for the animals you’re there to protect?
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