FILM: The Battle to Win Personhood Rights for Nonhuman Animals

Film Naro 1

By Tench Phillips, Naro Cinema

 

I live in an interspecies household. We consist of a male and female human, two female canines, and two male felines. Each of us had originally lived solitary lives–some of us having grown up on the streets. We have all been brought together by the forces of fate and destiny, as well as through a shared awareness, intention, curiosity, and choice.

We are now inseparable, and rarely take leave from our nurturing homestead for longer than a day or two. Nevertheless at times we can really get on each other’s nerves. Each one of us has our own species specific agenda and so we can clash with each other. And yet in our living together, we have no option but to confront our biases and prejudices. And when we are able and capable of it, each of us will make the necessary behavioral adjustments and compromises so that we are able to stay together.

Our family’s communal relationship benefits each one of us in different ways. The humans receive a needed grounding into our own animal bodies from the authentic nature spirits who have lived and evolved on this earth over a much longer period than the more recent primates. In return, the nonhuman beings in our family are enriched from an immersion within the human world of self-reflective consciousness, along with our empathy and love. Not to mention what we offer in the way of creature comforts such as food and sanctuary.

In recent years we have trapped quite a few outdoor cats who have lived or had litters near us. After having ‘vetted’ them with the necessary shots and neutering, we have been able to find homes for them and have brought two of them into our own household. We have had to compromise our concerns and have granted their resolve to be outdoors, even though we know that they will occasionally kill small rodents. Yes, ideally cats should remain indoors. But if they have grown up on the streets relying on their hunting skills to stay alive, that ideal is hard to achieve. At least now their necessity for hunting has been mitigated and essentially transformed into a less vicious sport.

We do try to maintain family rules and a code of ethics. That means that the felines can’t stay out all night and risk being in harm’s way. The cats must adjust their nocturnal lifestyles so that they harmonize with the rest of our household. Nevertheless, they are always reminding us that they are their own independent agents and certainly not owned by anyone.

But all conscientious guardians of animals must make hard choices when it comes to our animals’ nutrition. Our family’s carnivores all crave a meat-centric diet that compromises our own ethical and sustainable choices. We try to stay far away from the cruel industrial factory farm system and so our primary food source for our animals is seafood based. Yes, we know that the pet food supplied by industrial fishing is not a much better alternative and we’re always open to better solutions.

We humans have a moral responsibility that comes hand-in-hand with the domination that industrial society exerts over the lives of our fellow creatures. And it’s not just for those adorable pets who we select to live with. It’s a responsibility for all wildlife and for those poor enslaved creatures who we use and exploit for our food and clothing. How can we justify our profound cultural blindness?

Man’s unexamined speciesism is deep-rooted in civilization and is taught within all our institutions. Our ideology of human supremacy is justified within the western religions. Our worldview is so anthropocentric that when we speak of economics, we can’t fathom that every species has their own economy that’s essential for their health and well-being. Each economy is informed by its need for food procurement, reproductive success, safety, shelter, community, and happiness.

As a result of man’s denial of our place in nature, the liberal tradition of our democratic institutions have become hopelessly mired. We have succumbed to 200 years of adjudicated corporate law that has granted corporations the special protection of legal personhood rights. Along with legislation and treaties that have been written by special interests, the corporatists are now plundering the planet and hijacking democracies worldwide for their own benefit.

In stark contrast to the legal precedence of rights for fictitious corporate persons, our judicial system has yet to acknowledge the legal personhood rights for biological animals other than humans. Convenient, huh? By defining nonhuman animals as property and not as persons, animals remain invisible in the eyes of the law and have no inherent rights. Consequently the inhumane corporate food system can imprison and inflict extreme suffering upon billions of farm animals in the pursuit of profits.

Many feel helpless in being able to stop the immense suffering that we have seen on all those Youtube videos. Mainstream media will rarely show the inner workings of the factory food industry. Exposing such inhumane conditions would jeopardize relations with their corporate sponsors. But the food industry is protected by the letter of the law. Our prejudiced legal system has been manipulated by corporate interests to stand reality on its head.

Sheer desperation has led to compassionate actions by groups such as the Animal Liberation Movement. Their tactics include the mass release of caged animals exploited for food and furs, along with the use of undercover video cameras by infiltrators to record criminal activity in factory farms.

To try and snuff out this potent civil rights movement, Big Ag and the pharmaceutical companies that profit from the suffering of animals schemed a plan to employ the corporate lobbying group American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) to write the federal legislation known as the American Enterprise Terrorism Act (AETA). This sledgehammer of a law is used to indict animal rights activists as terrorists and to create a climate of fear for those who would be sympathetic to the cause. Similar bills called ‘Ag-Gag’ laws have been passed on the state level which make it a felony to trespass and photograph the operations of factory farms if it can be shown in a court that they have jeopardized the company’s profits.

Such draconian actions by the corporate state have created the imperative to transform our legal system. On Wednesday, July 6 in our ‘New Non-Fiction Film’ series, we will screen ‘Unlocking The Cage’. This enlightening film documents the work of The Nonhuman Rights Project, a civil rights organization that works to achieve rights for members of species who are intelligent self-conscious beings. Their mission is to change the legal status of nonhuman animals from mere ‘things’ to ‘persons’. The initial species that the lawyers are defending include chimpanzees who are owned as property and enslaved in cages without recourse.

Speaking after the film is Gabriel Walters who is counsel and manager of legislative affairs for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals where he contributes to PETA’s ongoing efforts to pass legislation and win court cases that protect animals. He was part of the legal team that made history with Naruto vs. Slater, the “monkey selfie” case that argued that a macaque should be the owner of a copyright rather than a piece of property himself.

Today much of society no longer perceives animals as automatons but instead as kindred beings who have joy, and suffer, and feel pain. We are slowly confronting the devastation being inflicted on the natural world by fossil fuels and our massive capitalist economy. And knowing that humans live within the web of life, that we’re ultimately killing off ourselves.

The universe is far more alive and intelligent and feeling than the reductive, mechanistic, physicalist view put forward by much of science as well as by traditional western religions. The ancient peoples knew this, but their ideas were supplanted by those of Cartesian dualism and the body-mind split. None too soon, the modern world is waking up to a re-enchantment of nature.

 

Upcoming Film Events at Naro Cinema

 

FRANCOFONIA

Set against the backdrop of the Louvre Museum’s history and artworks, master director Alexander Sokurov (Russian Ark) applies his uniquely personal vision onto staged re-enactments and archives in his new film. It’s a fascinating portrait of two remarkable men—enemies, then collaborators—who shared an alliance to preserve the priceless art of the Louvre Museum under the Nazi Occupation. (90  mins)  Opens Tuesday, June 14. Presented with Chrysler Museum.

 

 

THE MAN WHO KNEW INFINITY

ased on the untold story of one of the greatest minds of his generation, filmmaker Matt Brown charts the incredible life of Srinivasa Ramanujan (played by Dev Patel of Slumdog Millionaire), whose genius for mathematics takes him from the slums of India to Trinity College, Cambridge University in the early 20th-century. With the backing of his mentor and friend G. H. Hardy (Academy Award winner Jeremy Irons), Ramanujan overcomes cultural racism, prejudice, and the rigidity of academia to revolutionize the field of mathematics with his startlingly original theorems, which he attributes to divine inspiration. (108 mins) Opens Wed, June 15.

 

TIME TO CHOOSE

Academy Award-Winning documentary director Charles Ferguson (Inside Job, No End in Sight) turns his lens to address worldwide climate change challenges and solutions in his new film. He takes an in-depth look at the remarkable people working to save our planet. Featuring narration by award-winning actor Oscar Isaac. Shows on Wed, June 22. (97 mins)

 

HOCKNEY

One of the great surviving icons of the 1960s, David Hockney’s career may have started with almost instant success but in private he struggled with his art, relationships, and the tragedy of AIDS. This is a unique look at this unconventional artist who, at seventy-seven, is reaching new peaks of art world popularity. Shows Tuesday, June 28. Presented with Chrysler Museum.

 

HOLY HELL

Just out of college, Will Allen, a young idealist filmmaker, joined a secretive spiritualist community in L.A. led by a charismatic guru. With his camera in hand, he documented 20 years of living inside the cult as an advocate who promoted their movement. But after two decades, he couldn’t deny the unexpected truths revealed about the enlightened leader that they had built their lives around. For the first time, Allen turns the camera on himself and asks fellow ex-cult members to come to terms with their past. Shows on Wed, June 29. (100 mins)

 

UNLOCKING THE CAGE

Animal rights lawyer Steven Wise has the unprecedented challenge to break down the legal wall that separates animals from humans.  Arguing that cognitively complex animals such as chimpanzees, whales, dolphins and elephants have the capacity for limited personhood rights, Steve and his legal team are making history by filing the first lawsuits that seek to transform a chimpanzee from a ‘thing’ with no rights to a ‘person’ with legal protections.  Filmmakers D.A. Pennebaker (Don’t Look Back) and Chris Hegedus (The War Room) have captured a monumental shift in our culture, as the public and judicial system show increasing receptiveness to Steve’s impassioned arguments. (91 mins) Shows Wed, July 6. With speakers and discussion.

 

WEINER

With unrestricted access to former Congressman Anthony Weiner’s New York City mayoral campaign, filmmakers Elyse Steinberg and Josh Kriegman reveal the human story behind the scenes of a high-profile political scandal as it unfolds, and offers an unfiltered look at how much today’s politics is driven by an appetite for spectacle. Shows Wed, July 13. (96 mins)

 

FlickIt! Fridays

The Naro staff girls will take over for the night for a great cult movie from the 80s with a social party and the nonprofit, The Muse will be serving Smartmouth Beer. The film title will not be initially revealed but clues to the title will be given through Facebook and Instagram, and winners will receive prizes. Shows Friday, July 15.

 

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