Blackfish Makes Waves
By Laura Mooney, Arts Editor
Death and mistreatment are not the first words that come to mind when one thinks of the oceanic playground SeaWorld, however with the release of the growingly popular documentary entitled Blackfish, things have been changing for the famous water park. Blackfish investigates what daily life is like for the captive orcas at SeaWorld once the glamour vanishes, the doors have closed, and the public leaves for the day, and exactly what it is that goes on behind those doors is leaving viewers of the film speechless and outraged.
The film follows the life of one specific orca named Tilikum, a male who is currently living in captivity in SeaWorld Orlando. While Tilikum at first was thought of to be one the most intelligent, well-trained and cooperative creatures to ever be brought to SeaWorld, the film showcases the now famous incidents where Tilikum finally snapped and it resulted in the deaths of two capable orca trainers, and one SeaWorld visitor. While SeaWorld tried to pass off the incidents as mere mistakes, Blackfish is making sure that the public is aware of each and every detail that led to Tilikum’s outbursts. From his heartbreaking kidnap from his pod at only two years old, to his 29 years in captivity, the story of Tilikum’s life is a hard one to watch, but it is a tale that director Gabriela Cowperthwaite knew had to be told. While she had originally set out to make a film exploring how humans relate to large predators, once she read the stories about the deaths occurring at SeaWorld, Cowperthwaite knew she had something interesting. Through interviews with past SeaWorld trainers and animal behaviourists, Cowperthwaite explored the mistreatment that Tilikum and the other orcas all experienced at the hands of the trainers who merely thought they were “doing their jobs.”
The film was released at the Sundance film festival in January of 2013, and was immediately picked up for a more wide spread release. While director Cowperthwaite knew her controversial documentary would attract attention, it seems to be rapidly approaching a fame that even she did not dream of. Thanks to its wide spread release in US theatres and its current availability on Netflix, Blackfish has developed a strong and dedicated following determined to spread the word of the film, and make SeaWorld accountable for its indiscretions, and it seems to be working quite well.
Since the film’s release, SeaWorld has seen a massive drop in attendance, and a mass cancellation of bands, including The Barenaked Ladies, and Heart, who were supposed to play at the park later this year. The park owners are denying that these events are in correlation with the release of the film, but SeaWorld stock has dropped nearly 25 percent, and one of the directors of SeaWorld, David D’ Alessandro, sold off nearly $1.3 million of his own personal stock in the company, as though he knew the company was in trouble. There has also been an increase in protestors that have taken up residence outside of the SeaWorld gates, armed with signs informing the public of what was shown to them in the film.
While the forces against SeaWorld seem to have the upper hand at the moment, the CEOs at SeaWorld are by no means taking the battle lying down. In interviews with CNN and multiple news sources, executives at SeaWorld have called Blackfish’s accounts of their treatment of the orcas inaccurate propaganda. They go on to state that the deaths were nothing more than miscalculations on the behalf of the trainers, but they have yet to release a comment about the death of the visitor. Despite their attempts however, only time will tell how much the public believes their defence, or if the company will be able to recover from this serious blow.
Although the film is a tough one to sit through, and some of the images will stay with you for the rest of your life, Blackfish is clearly an important example of the power that a small independent film can have when the subject matter is presented in the right way, and the motivation for change is present. While the film may not have convinced everyone, the fact that it has opened up the once closed doors to a respected company is an achievement all on its own, and its success will hopefully continue to grow.