Netflix’s animal documentaries are doing better than ever, but one that seems to be getting overlooked is The Animal People, produced by activist, and actor, Joaquin Phoenix. The documentary contains archival footage of the group SHAC, ‘Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty’, as well as more recent footage of what they’re doing now. The group succeeded in halting much of the funding Huntingdon received, setting off a huge, and unexpected chain of effects.
SHAC became law enforcements fall back guy. Any activism that broke the law, and involved action against animal cruelty, was blamed on SHAC. As they used in person protest, and the then fairly new internet, to spread information about what was happening in Huntingdon, they were accused of terrorism, laws were rewritten to make their actions illegal, and we were shown ‘what happens when activism rattles the institutions of power’.
The Animal People perfectly displays the injustice of the American justice system. That people fighting as legal as possible to rescue animals from years, or even entire lifetimes, of abuse and torture, were the ones villainised, and imprisoned, shows money is the master controlling the moral opinions of those who could curate the change that so many are asking for.
Where documentaries like Tiger King gloss over the animal cruelty issues, this is one that shows it for exactly what it is. We see animals screaming as they’re tested on, we see how little regard the people working with these animals have for their lives or feelings. It’s difficult to watch, but the only way this will stop is by having it be seen, and having people like those involved in SHAC feel unable to just stand by while it happens.
This isn’t a fun documentary by any means, but its an important one. These people were imprisoned for speaking out on this subject in their youth, and now they’re back, louder than ever. They need to be heard, and supported. If you’re only ever going to watch one documentary focused around animal rights, and animal testing, it should be this one.