In this day and age, we are lucky to be given easy access to both entertainment and knowledge. This freedom of information era has opened many eyes, minds, and ultimately hearts to all sorts of realities around the world. Gone are the days of us confined to conventional media.
The power is now in the user’s hands; for when it comes to in-depth investigation and rapid reporting, usually social media, and its user-generated content becomes our mecca. In terms of content or information from a more grassroots level, before the advent of live streaming via social media, you could say… there were documentaries.
In the realm of animal documentaries, Earthlings is considered a must-see. It paved the way for even more people to speak out on an issue that most would usually turn a blind eye to; animal exploitation. Comprised of never-before-seen footage, Shaun Monson has written, produced, and directed “Earthlings” in order to show viewers the daily practices of the largest industries in the world that depend on animals for profit. Early footage of the documentary was meant to go towards a PSA on spaying and neutering pets but ultimately developed into something much bigger.
An environmental activist himself, Monson gathered a devoted (not to mention star-powered) team to work behind the scenes, which included actress/model/animal activist Maggie Q as co-producer and lifelong vegan Joaquin Phoenix as its narrator. The 1-hour 48-minute film premiered in 2005 at the Artivist Film Festival and took home Best Documentary Feature.
Afterward, it scored the Best Content Award at Boston International Film Festival and Best Documentary Film at the San Diego Film Festival. Once banned in theaters, “Earthlings” is now available to be streamed free online.
The one-worded title pretty much explains the theme; all who inhabit the Earth. “It encompasses each and every one of us: warm or cold-blooded, mammal, vertebrate or invertebrate, bird, reptile, amphibian, fish and human alike,” as quoted in the documentary. It is an exposé on how humans have justified using animals (who are considered equal inhabitants of Earth) to their advantage, giving rise to the term “speciesism”; assuming superiority over non-human animals thus leading to their exploitation.
Throughout the documentary, we are exposed to how we (sometimes) unknowingly use and abuse our fellow earthlings. It is broken down into 5 specific parts; pets, food, clothing, entertainment, and scientific research. From the very beginning, Phoenix states that we tend to put aside animals’ wants and needs in order for them to better serve us, humans.
The horrific footage from hidden cameras and undercover investigators shines a light on actions that are purposely hidden from us, such as terrible cage conditions of dogs used for breeding and the dreadful raising and eventual slaughtering of farm animals for our food. Other footage goes as far as revealing shocking details of unknown realities; the harsh transport of India's cows for leather, the live skinning on fur farms, the torturing of timid bulls at a rodeo.
However, the film is also supported by amateur footage of scenes that may seem innocent at first, but on a much deeper level of understanding actually reveal the blatant mistreatment of animals. Such scenes are from circuses, zoos, animal racing and riding, and other commercial exploitation of animals.
These activities may seem harmless at first but are truly devastating once we “make the connection”, which is the main message of the film. It’s either we’ve been taught to normalize the abuse of animals, or we’re so very detached from extreme actions towards them that we are actually conditioned to ignore them.
What we need to realize is that all earthlings are not the same, but equal. Animals feel pain and suffering just like us, which can be seen on the now countless footage on animal use and abuse circling social media. Now that we’ve been enlightened, the question remains; why do some of us still choose to look away when the truth is right in front of our eyes?