Blackfish review (Sheffield Doc/Fest)

Blackfish green light

A horrifying, heartbreaking eye-opener about human inhumanity to other intelligent and emotional beings who share our planet.
I’m “biast” (pro): I am convinced of the higher intelligence of marine mammals

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

This is fact: When we kidnap human beings in infanthood, raise them in captivity, and force them to work for their supper, this is called slavery. When the imprisoned and enslaved fight back and hurt or kill their captors, we don’t see that as anything unexpected, or a crime.

This is fact: SeaWorld has, for four decades, kidnapped intelligent, emotional, social beings away from their mothers in infanthood, held them in inhumane conditions that include sensory deprivation and immobilization, deliberately turned them against their fellow captees, tortured them, withheld food from them as punishment, and forced them to perform “tricks” for the entertainment of paying audiences kept ignorant about the conditions these beings are kept in.

This is fact: Tilikum, who was captured in the wild at the age of approximately two, is a 32-year-old orca who has been involved in the deaths of three people. There have been numerous additional “accidents” between orcas and humans that did not result in anyone’s death that SeaWorld does not want you to know about, and these “accidents” are not about trainers making mistakes.

This is fact: Orcas have never been known to hurt humans or seriously hurt other orcas in the wild.

This is Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s horrific, heartbreaking documentary Blackfish. It is justice for Tilikum, who has surely been driven insane or psychotic by years of abuse at the hands of human beings. It is justice for experienced trainer Dawn Brancheau, the most recent of Tilikum’s victims, whom SeaWorld blamed for her own death at Tilikum’s hands (fins?). Cowperthwaite interviews former SeaWorld trainers to underscore how they receive almost no training or preparation before entering pools with large, dangerous, smart creatures who are far from their natural environment and social support. (This is fact: SeaWorld won’t hire anyone to be a trainer who actually knows anything about orcas in the wild.) Cowperthwaite shares video of SeaWorld employees telling visitors outright lies about orca biology — like how they live longer in captivity than in the wild, which is utterly false — because lies are what SeaWorld has given the trainers to say.

This is fact: I am ashamed that I ever visited SeaWorld. It was many years ago, and I was ignorant. I will never do so again.

“When you look into their eyes, you know somebody is home,” one former trainer says here of the orcas. A hunter who used to kidnap orca babies from the ocean says that it is “the worst thing that I’ve ever done.” Science says orcas have emotional lives and a sense of self, perhaps even beyond our own, a function of how they interact with other orcas in the wild — they may have a sense of community that exceeds our own.

This is fact: This movie will break your heart. Like how smart, desperate orcas in the wild will attempt to trick human hunters, adults without babies trying to draw the hunters away. Like what a mother orca in a pool will do when her baby is taken away — oh my god, the pain on display is bloodcurdling.

This is us. This is what humans do. We are monsters. I hate us after this movie.

This is my opinion, and not anything that Cowperthwaite says in Blackfish, but I don’t see how there is any other conclusion that can be drawn. That flopped-over top fin on captive orcas


is not normal. It is not healthy. It is a sign of distress, of pain, of subjugation. And we should see it the same way we see photos of naked shaved-headed people in Auschwitz,


as a symptom of inhumane barbarism, of humanity being the worst that it can be.

Basically: Fuck SeaWorld. They put humans in mortal danger and enslave thinking, feeling beings. For money.

(SeaWorld declined to be interviewed for this film.)

It’s said that all that is required for evil to flourish is for good people to do nothing. But in this case, doing nothing is a good start. Do not patronize SeaWorld. If we stop showing up to see orcas doing degrading tricks for us, SeaWorld will stop putting on their cruel circus.

viewed during the 20th Sheffield Doc/Fest

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