Imagine swimming in the ocean with a group of friends. The cool breeze blows on your face with a hint of salt on your tongue but you feel the sun beating down on your skin and you know you will need to rub some cool aloe vera gel on later to sooth those burns that you are almost certain you will have later. Regardless, you are still having a wonderful time and feel in complete bliss with the life you were lucky enough to be experiencing; and then, it happens. You see all of your friends and family being dragged down by an unseen force, not resurfacing any time soon as far as you can tell and then that same unstoppable tug happens to you as well. You look around at all of the faces under the water, even though it’s hard to make them all out, you can tell they’re terrified and fear for their lives. You look down and see huge creatures that are taking your friends and family and grinding them up into bite sized (to them at least) pieces and shed your last tear as you fade into the dark oblivion, never to experience that bliss that you were just experiencing mere moments prior.
This is the reality that 2 trillion fish experience every year as well as millions of dolphins, whales, sharks, sea turtles and more; all as a result of industrialized fishing. Joaquin Phoenix’s 2005 documentary film Earthlings, the film, that inspired hundreds of thousand if not millions of people to go vegan, should be preserved in The National Film Registry because it shows the struggle that, not just fish, but all nonhuman animals must go through this same historical oppression, if they are unfortunate enough to find themselves worthy of needless exploitation. Even the famous 71 year old Austrian philosopher Peter Singer once stated, “If I could make everyone in the world see one film, I’d make them see EARTHLINGS.” This film is not just culturally and historically significant to Singer, this film has continued to inspire a movement of compassion in thousands of activists all over the country and knocked down several dominoes that will lead to Animal Liberation.
This film, that made it to the top 100 most influential documentaries, begins with puppy mills and animal shelters and the horrifying truth that both of these ironically codependent industries produce. In puppy mills, dogs are kept in wire cages where they are forced to feel excruciating pain standing or lying down with no bedding. Many of these force bred dogs find their way into crowded shelters where there are promptly gassed with carbon monoxide. Like many of the examples, the exposure of these issues that this movie brought led to social change which even led to recent legislation. AR 485 would essentially ban the existence of puppy mills, meaning that the only place to obtain an animal companion would be to go to an animal shelter and adopt one, reducing the amount of euthanizations and saving the state $250 million dollars a year according to state assemblyman Patrick O’Donnell. Earthlings should not be given all or even most of the credit for this legislation, but it does have a huge role in shedding light to a subject that very little people knew about and once they did, good people acted and made physical change, a pattern that we will see frequently in consequence of this movie.
Overcoming that last challenge was a walk in the park compared to the difficulties that animal agriculture puts us and mostly the animals through. Earthlings created glass walls in slaughterhouses and factory farms more than any prior method of exposure, whether that be books, articles, or even films. It did not hesitate to attack religious institution’s perception of “humane slaughter”. As this shameless film progresses, we begin to witness conditions in a kosher slaughterhouse. A cow is loaded up into a machine so that they can be spun onto their backs and have their throats slit so that they can die a slow painful death aspirating on their own blood. This is just one of the plentiful examples that the film provides to show the unnecessary use of farm animals and all nonhumans for that matter in our endless cycle of exploitation. To many, watching this cow flail on the floor with almost half of his head cut off, can be the most painful two minutes of that person’s life; and they’re not even the ones experiencing the pain and suffering that the individuals were experiencing. It is because the aesthetics were so spectacularly captured that this film triggered the evolutionarily developed emotion called empathy that led to the change that we have now and the extreme change still yet to come. This is precisely why this movie is so important to preserve.
So to put it bluntly, we need this film to be preserved because it gets people that are morally asleep to wake up. In Berkeley and all over the country, there is a movement forming to completely end the needless exploitation of animals permanently and it can only be done through strenuous activism and compelling pieces of work like Earthlings. Animal agriculture’s days are numbered as millions of new people go vegan every year, and the more general idea of animal exploitation is also fading as people draw more and more parallels between their dogs and cats and the animals they see in captivity or on their plates. Once one watches this film and realizes where their food comes from should not have a “graphic warning” label on it, then the message will speak for itself. “Never Again” is a phrase used by countless Jewish organizations when talking about the Holocaust, once we have complete and total Animal Liberation, this film could be used as a tool to help us never forget that our treatment of animals should never be violent, unjust, or exploitative ever again and every animals deserves a life that is happy, safe, and free.