By Alex Distefano
By Scott Snowden
By Anna Merlan
By Steve Almond
By Jena Ardell
By Jon Campbell
By Alan Scherstuhl
By Tessa Stuart
Even animal welfare activists must get tired of playing the nag, judging from their decision to promote Peter Jacksons King Kong remake. On the evening of the movies New York premier, chimpanzee advocates are hoping to move in on Jacksons spotlight to feature their ongoing campaign against the use of great apes in the television and film industries.
The idea is first to applaud Jacksons choice to use only digitally animated apeswhich are stunningly lifelikeand then to challenge the American Humane Associations position that it is ever okay to use real ones for entertainment.
Its not so much how the animals are treated on setsthe only time their welfare is governed by the AHAbut how theyre trained and what happens to them in the decades they can be expected to live after the filming's over. Sarah Baeckler, a primatologist who spent over a year working undercover at one of Hollywoods main facilities for training animal actors, says she witnessed the preferred method of instruction at some training compounds. Baby apes, she says, were punched in the face, kicked, and beaten with broom handles wielded like base ballbats. Becklers observations are documented in a report available through the Chimpanzee Collaboratory.
Were talking about an animal suffering incredibly for a laugh, says Holly Hazard, executive director of the Doris Day Animal League.
But even if the chimps are trained in the most compassionate way possible, the entertainment world is cruel. Apes must be trained young, so they're taken from their mothersa separation primatologist Dr. Jane Goodall calls traumatic. They have a long childhood . . . they are full of the joy of life, she says. But when taken from their mothers they turn into wizened, old-looking little creatures curled up in a corner.
And when the apes turn six or seven (and become too strong to control) their lives really get bad. Activists say that when the film or T.V. series ends, apes are often retired to wretched roadside zoos or research facilities. In an open letter sent to Motion Picture Association of America president Dan Glickman, representatives of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund, the Animal Legal Defense Fund, and about a dozen other nonprofits have asked Glickman to throw his considerable weight behind their cause and declare a moratorium on great apes on the set.
MPAA spokesperson Gayle Osterberg tells the Voice that while it is true that technology is playing an increasing role in reducing the use of live animals on the set, the association cannot dictate specific rules to the studios other than to insist that guidelines set by the AHA are followed. Advocates can still hope.
If the seven major studios took a position against this, says Hazard, then the ad folks might follow and then a sort of general collapse could follow because it would become socially unacceptable.