I have long been an avid film lover. My tastes range from the epic classics of Cecil B. Demille to the schlock and abundance of an Avengers or Man of Steel, and everything in between. I am also an animal lover. Throughout Hollywood’s storied past, many the picture has existed with the near final lines on the credits stating “No animals were harmed in the making of this film”, a line of certification from the American Humane Association (AHA). This line is meant to be an absolute certification of the safety of animals on set, and has represented this ethos since 1940. The AHA website glows in self-congratulatory praise, stating “did you know that American Humane Association’s Los Angeles-based Film & TV Unit is the film and television industry’s only officially-sanctioned animal monitoring program?”
It is with great sadness then that we have a new article coming out from The Hollywood Reporter this morning uncovering what has become a rather sad state of affairs within the AHA’s ranks. The report highlights many incidents of cruel treatment of animals on set, overlooked by AHA officials in effort to create a more cozy relationship with film studios and executives. These AHA reps cast a blind eye at the injuries, and sometimes deaths, of countless animals in film including one film, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, where 27 animals died in the course of filming.
Another incident on the set of Ang Lee’s Life of Pie had the tiger swimming endlessly to the point of near drowning as it struggled to find the edge of the set’s water tank.
From the report:
King’s trainer eventually snagged him with a catch rope and dragged him to one side of the tank, where he scrambled out to safety.
“I think this goes without saying but DON’T MENTION IT TO ANYONE, ESPECIALLY THE OFFICE!” Johnson continued in the email, obtained by The Hollywood Reporter. “I have downplayed the f— out of it.”
Both of these films received certification from the AHA.
During the troubled making of HBO’s Luck, a thought-provoking and well-written show about horse racing by Michael Mann, it became well publicized how many horses on set were dying due to injury. The publicity became so bad for HBO that they eventually pulled the plug and the show never received its full order of episodes. While I missed the show, I understood the reasoning behind shutting down production.
Animals have always had roles to play in film. Where would the terror be in David Mamet’s The Edge had the Grizzly bear not been real? Where would the heart of a Homeward Bound come from if not for the live animals on set. Yet there has always been a trade-off. These animals were only to be used if their safety could be guaranteed. It seems the AHA has lost touch with this deal. Here’s hoping this negative publicity forces some introspection on their part. Hollywood needs its animals but not at the cost of their well-being.