Hollywood Is a Surprising Ally to Animals

Copyright © 1997 Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc.

Hollywood is often dismissed as an industry that will do whatever it takes to save a buck and get the job done, no matter who gets hurt. But did you know that, for the most part, they’re actually willing to spend money and even delay a job’s completion to ensure that not even an animal gets hurt.

This is because the majority of films, TV shows, and commercials that use animals are governed by the American Humane organization’s Guidelines for the Safe Use of Animals in Filmed Media. American Humane monitors the TV, film, and commercial productions to ensure that their guidelines are followed. Productions that don’t comply are hit with sanctions.

What’s particularly admirable is that these guidelines don’t just protect traditionally beloved animals like dogs, cats, and horses. They also cover fish and insects and require them to be shielded from harm onscreen and compassionately cared for offscreen.

According to American Humane, insects and arachnids used in Hollywood productions must be housed, fed, and not exposed to environments that are too hot or cold for the species in question. Lighting must be covered by a filter to prevent insects from flying into them and no insect/arachnid can work in an area with poor air quality. As for fish used on set, the guidelines include the following: Live fish cannot be used without approval from American Humane. Productions must employ an expert who’s knowledgeable about the type of fish being used. Fish actors need to receive adequate care, regular feeding, and be kept in water that is appropriate for the species.

Why does American Humane go to these lengths to protect insects and fish? It’s not to avoid a lawsuit, as insects and fish are exempt from animal cruelty laws in most U.S. states, and neither of them is mentioned in the Animal Welfare Act. It’s not to avoid mass protests or negative headlines, as killing a cockroach or injuring a salmon is unlikely to generate such a response. American Humane does it simply because it’s the right thing to do. President and CEO of the organization Robin Ganzert says they “celebrate the human/animal bond. Animals make us better people.”

Here are some examples of major movies and the ways that they ensured the safety and well-being of all creatures:

  • Cast Away: The fish and crab that Chuck Noland (Tom Hanks) speared were computer-generated and animatronic, respectively. In fact, all the fish we see swimming in the water that Noland thrusts his spear into were computer-generated. This ensured that no fish was at risk of being harmed.
  • Men in Black: There’s a memorable scene in which Agent J (Will Smith) steps on cockroaches while taunting the villainous Bug monster. Smith didn’t step on any actual cockroaches. To simulate the squishing of cockroach guts, he stepped on a mustard packet. The cockroaches we saw scurrying around him were safely recovered when filming ended.
  • A River Runs Through It: No hooks were used in the film’s numerous fishing scenes. The fish were kept in a protective pen within the river and under shade. The three deceased fish we see were fish that had previously died in a hatchery. No fish were killed for the film.
  • The Karate Kid: The fly that Mr. Han (Jackie Chan) swats is computer-generated. The young girl we see eating a fried “scorpion” was actually eating a flour-based prop designed to look like one.
  • Harry Potter And The Goblet of Fire: The classroom of Professor Moody (Brendan Gleeson) had many insects on display, including bees, flies, and worms. They all received star treatment. The jars that contained bees and flies had ventilation holes drilled into the bases. An air conditioner was on set and cool air was fed into the bees’ jar. Experts kept an eye on the insects at all times, and only they were allowed to handle them. Insects were also taken out of their jars during long breaks.

Joaquin Phoenix would be proud.

Despite the good work being done, problems do persist. American Humane is limited in time and resources, so there have been many, many instances where animals were used in films without the proper oversight. In years past, the organization has been hit with allegations of negligence (their response).

Many argue that using animals in entertainment at all is a form of unfair exploitation. A solution to this is also being pursued — using CGI animals in place of real ones. This was done in Cast Away, as mentioned before, and also the films Noah and Dumbo. But this technique is by no means ubiquitous, at least not yet.

Although things aren’t perfect, let’s look at the film canister as half full. It is an undeniable benefit that American Humane has saved millions of animals from harm. The organization is using what is arguably the biggest platform in the world, Hollywood, to trumpet the vital message that no living creatures deserve to suffer or die unnecessarily.

Through their action and advocacy, American Humane reshaped Hollywood’s culture from one that wantonly killed and injured animals for the sake of entertainment to one that literally wouldn’t hurt a fly. Maybe this is a sign that global culture can also be positively reshaped in a way that cares for all living creatures. After all, tomorrow is another day!

Writer • Fact man

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