A deep dive by The Hollywood Reporter into the shady world of animal protection on movie sets alleges that things in Hollywood are much more unseemly if you look below the surface. THR's Gary Baum investigated the suspect practices and policies that govern animal oversight on movie sets, and the results are not encouraging.
After speaking with six current employees from the American Humane Association, the 136-year-old Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit whose Film & TV unit is responsible for insuring animal safety in movies and television, and reviewing internal documents, Baum alleges the animal safety oversight body awards acceptable safety designations to movies and television shows that do not deserve them. You know the “No Animals Were Harmed” message you see in movie credits, filling your heart with joy knowing the little doggy wasn't seriously hurt? The AHA grants that designation and, as Baum found, it's allegedly sometimes a lie.
Take, for instance, the case of the tiger that almost drowned during the filming of Ang Lee's Oscar-winning 2012 film Life of Pi. Baum opens his story with an email written by Gina Johnson, the AHA monitor assigned to Pi, detailing an incident in which King, the tiger, "nearly drowned." An investigation later revealed that Johnson, who was also in an "intimate relationship" with an executive working on the film, tried to keep the story quiet.
“I think this goes without saying but DON’T MENTION IT TO ANYONE, ESPECIALLY THE OFFICE!” Johnson wrote in an email about the drowning. “I have downplayed the f— out of it." Pi received the "No Animals Were Harmed" distinction.
Baum draws the reader's attention to the inherent conflict of interest at the center of the AHA's Film & TV Unit. The majority of the group's funding comes from a multi-million dollar grant from the Industry Advancement and Cooperative Fund, which is jointly run by the SAG-AFTRA actors’ union and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers. If the producers and actors control the animal safety oversight board, the thinking goes, then perhaps the animal safety oversight board actively wants to appease the producers and actors — by maybe overlooking some serious violations that should otherwise go reported, thereby endangering entire productions.