Animal Rights

Whistleblowers in the Entertainment Industry Help Expose Animal Abuse on Film Sets: PETA

Animals used in entertainment depend on those who work behind the scenes on movie, television and commercial productions to speak up about abuse.

Film crew prepares to film horse riders at Grayson Highlands State Park, Virginia.
Photo Credit: Virginia State Parks/Flickr

The following is an op-ed from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals president Ingrid Newkirk.

Earlier this year, video footage of a dog being abused on the set of the film "Crazy Alien" went viral. From Beijing to Boston and from London to Los Angeles, people were outraged. But without the courage and resolve of a whistleblower, this abuse would have remained an ugly secret. That's why those who work in the entertainment industry are in a unique position to stop animal abuse on set and should speak up if they see it.

In this case, the witness saw an animal handler torment a German shepherd into a frenzy so that the terrified dog would frantically bark during the filming of a scene meant to depict the animal being abducted by aliens. The dog was then locked in a cage, which was suspended 20 feet in the air by a crane, violently spun around, and then plunged into a frigid, fast-moving river. After five to eight seconds, the director, Chinese filmmaker Hao Ning, yelled, "Cut!" The dog was pulled out of the crate, and the ordeal was repeated again and again. The animal was subjected to this for hours.

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The whistleblower wasn't in a position to stop the abuse but did the next best thing: filmed what was happening and provided PETA with the video footage so it could be released it to the media and the public.

This isn't the first time that someone in the entertainment industry—including script reviewers, casting assistants, set decorators, and people working in craft services—has become an unsung hero. It's thanks to whistleblowers that PETA has been able to expose hideous abuse on movie, television and commercial sets. Video footage of a struggling dog being forced into churning water on the set of "A Dog's Purpose" led to widespread condemnation and the cancellation of the film's premiere. HBO canceled its horseracing series "Luck" after on-set witnesses reported that older, arthritic horses had been forced to participate in the dangerous and deadly racing sequences and three horses had died.

Even movies in revered franchises have put animals at risk: 27 animals died during production of "The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey." More were injured, including one horse whose skin was torn off his leg and another whose feet were tied together for more than three hours because he was deemed "too energetic" for his rider. This came to light only because five different wranglers had the guts to come forward.

In the not-too-distant future, there should be no need for whistleblowers on set, because directors with vision are paving the way for the next generation of high-tech artistry. However, there are some—in this country and many abroad—who still use live animals. They're out of touch with modern filmmaking.

For now, animals used in entertainment depend on those who work behind the scenes on movie, television and commercial productions to speak up about abuse. You don't need any special skills to blow the whistle on wrongdoers—just your eyes, perhaps a cellphone camera, and a conscience.

Ingrid E. Newkirk is president and co-founder of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.