An Animal Rights Documentary Won an Oscar. Seriously.
Last week I had the pleasure of interviewing Ric O’Barry for a story I wrote about SeaWorld for Elephant Journal—an interview I secured on the same day, but hours before Ric told his story to Anderson Cooper and Larry King.
The evening before the Oscars, I also had the honor to attend a fundraiser for Earth Island Institute, which funds and promotes Ric’s work saving dolphins from slaughter and captivity.
Ric told me on both occasions that he planned to say something if The Cove won an Oscar. After all, the Academy Awards are not only the most watched television program in the world, but also the most watched show in Japan.
After two hours of watching people accept awards for films I couldn’t care less about, it was time for the Best Documentary category to be announced. Food, Inc. looked like a lock. It had been all over the media for the past six months, had media darling Michael Pollan as its star, even Oprah and Katie Couric were talking about it, and it was not an animal rights documentary film—more of a human interest film.
And then, just like that, Matt Damon (who told the TV show Entertainment Tonight that SeaWorld should be shut down) announced “The Cove!”
I watched as producer Fisher Stevens, Paula Dupre Pesmen, director Louie Psihoyos and Ric O’Barry made it up on stage. I noticed Ric was holding a rolled-up poster in his hand, and my elation turned to anticipation as I wondered what he was going to say. Then, Ric dropped the poster. Oh, no. But picked it up again. As Fisher gave his speech, and Louie stepped to the microphone, Ric unraveled a sign that said “Text Dolphin To 44144…” and then the music played, and they cut away to the audience. God forbid the Oscar viewers be exposed to what is actually in the film that just won an Oscar! Ugh.
Still, it’s remarkable that a documentary about the use of animals received this recognition, when so many other animal rights films have been overlooked. The Cove follows a team of activists, filmmakers and freedivers as they try to expose a hidden cove in Taiji, Japan. This cove holds a deep, dark secret. 2,500 dolphins a year are slaughtered for meat in Taiji and captured for aquariums around the world. The hunt starts annually on September 1, and continues through the end of March. Through espionage, hidden cameras and other capers, The Cove exposes the slaughter to the world, as well as the mercury that poisons the dolphin meat consumed in Japan.
In a statement sent in his newsletter this morning, Ric said “This has never been about winning awards. Our job is to end the slaughter and stop the poisoning. And now our work in Japan begins anew. We must focus like a laser on getting The Cove and our message to the Japanese people.
“But there are threats on the horizon. Officials in Japan are threatening repercussions against university and community groups that dare to show The Cove. Dolphin-killing fishermen’s unions are threatening lawsuits against theaters that show the film. There are even some signs that I could face arrest in Japan, even though I’ve broken no laws whatsoever.
“We wont give in to this pressure. Instead, I am making plans to spend months in Japan with our Save Japan Dolphins Team. I want to be wherever we can find an audience. Our message will particularly resonate with young people, to whom we need to reach out with the dangers of mercury-contaminated dolphin meat and the slaughter of dolphins they love as much as we do.
“Japan has 126 million people; only 600 have seen The Cove so far. Those who saw it were shocked and dismayed that this slaughter was happening in their country. We need to enlist their help and the help of millions of their fellow citizens to stop the Japanese government from issuing 23,000 permits annually to slaughter dolphins. We need to seize on the momentum now to pursue an end to the slaughter, once and for all!”
You can help by sending a clear message to Japan’s Minister of State for Consumer Affairs and Food Safety that the sale of mercury-laden dolphin meat must end now: Sign the petition.
Ric O’Barry and Earth Island Institute are trying to recruit a group of 1000 people to arrive in Taiji, Japan starting September 1 to pressure the Japanese government and create media attention. Please let Earth Island know if you wish to join.
Just like all non-profits, they need your financial support to bring Ric to Taiji. Please consider making a donation.