No Animals Were Harmed in the Making of this Blog Post

By: Samantha Snyder

While it is almost certain that everyone has seen a film starring an animal actor, maybe not everyone has taken note to the “No Animals Were Harmed” End Credit Disclaimer,[1] which is only awarded to Screen Actors Guild (hereinafter “SAG”) American productions that were monitored by the American Humane Association (hereinafter “AHA) to ensure their animal safety guidelines were met.[2]  But how truthful and accurate is this disclaimer?

Back in December 2012, a complaint was filed alleging the producers of the HBO show Luck and the AHA had fired an employee, employed under the AHA, in an effort to hinder her from reporting alleged animal abuse.[3]  The alleged animal abuse had occurred in Luck and other television shows and movies deemed with that AHA distinguished stamp of approval.[4]  These allegations consisted of horrific purported acts, including, but not limited to: the near death and almost drowning of the tiger in the film Life of Pi, twenty-seven animals being killed during the production of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey, and horses being neglected and abused during the production of Luck.[5]  If these purported accusations are in fact true, why was the “No Animals Were Harmed”[6] disclaimer still included in the end credits?

While it does not appear that this case and these incidents ever received tremendous media coverage or publicity, they raise a unique issue, not for the wrongful termination portion of the suit but for the animal-actor aspect and the concept of actual animal labor laws.  Although the regulation and governance of the child entertainment field has been left to the control of the states,[7] the same cannot be said for the animal-actor field, which has been mostly left to the supervision of the AHA – aside from the supply of animals, which would be covered by the Animal Welfare Act and enforced by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.[8]  While some may take issue with the comparison of child actors and animal actors, it does not delineate from the fact that these animals are defenseless, exposed, and vulnerable to the same pressures and abuse that child actors face. It is important to remember that a child actor’s voice may not be as strong or as well heard as an adult’s, but these animal actors possess no voice at all.  Because of this fact, animal actors need laws and regulations to be their voice and safeguard them from situations like the alleged abuse discussed above.

Unfortunately, however, the AHA’s animal actor “voice” may not be as strong or true as the disclaimer may seem.[9]  Just like the disgruntled employee, many animal rights and welfare groups and respective individuals have taken issue with the fact that the AHA’s impartiality may be compromised. This is due to the fact that its Film & Television Unit, which conducts this animal actor monitoring, operates under a contract with the Industry Advancement and Cooperative Fund; this fund comes from the SAG-AFTRA actors’ union and the Alliance of Motion Picture and Television Producers, which hold ties with SAG, the very organization’s productions the AHA monitors.[10]

These types of suspicions about dishonest and underhanded protection truly demonstrate the need for systematic labor laws enacted by a legislature, whether it is state or federal.  Just like humans, whether adults or children, animal actors must be sheltered from unsafe labor practices.[11]  As should be expected, “[n]o federal labor law covers all employment scenarios,[12]” but holes and gaps, such as this, are where state law or regulations promulgated by enacted agencies should step in to fill.  “Animals have been and will continue to be used in entertainment, often to the detriment of the animals,” and “[w]hile laws are helpful in banning and regulating certain practices, it is the demand for the entertainment that will always keep the business flourishing.”[13]

[1] The title of this blog post is based on the American Humane Association’s “No animals were harmed [in the making of this film]” disclaimer. “No Animals Were Harmed” Frequently Asked Questions, Am. Humane Ass’n. (updated on Aug. 26, 2016), http://www.americanhumane.org/fact-sheet/no-animals-were-harmed/.

[2] Id.

[3] Casey v. American Humane Society, No. BC497991 at 3-5 (Cal. App. Dep’t Super. Ct. July 10, 2013) (second amended complaint), available at http://www.californialegaladvocates.com/blog/images/Casey%20v.%20AHA%20and%20HBO%20Second%20Amended%20Complaint.pdf; Django Gold, ‘Luck’ Producers Hid Horse Abuse, Fired Worker Alleges (Jan. 3, 2013 4:07 pm est), http://www.law360.com/articles/404314/-luck-producers-hid-horse-abuse-fired-worker-alleges?article_related_content=1.

[4] Gold, supra note 3; Casey, supra note 3 at 6-11.

[5] Casey, supra note 3 at 6-11 (listing other abuse allegations and pictures of the alleged abuse).

[6] “No Animals Were Harmed” Frequently Asked Questions, supra note 1.

[7] Child Entertainment Laws As of January 1, 2016, Dep’t of Labor, https://www.dol.gov/whd/state/childentertain.htm; see also Jessica Krieg, There’s No Business Like Show Business: Child Entertainers and the Law, 6 U. PA. J. of Lab. & Emp. L. 429, 429 (Winter 2004) (noting that child actors are exempt from the Fair Labor Standards Act); “When minors sell T-shirts at the mall or flip burgers at a fast food restaurant, their employment falls under the federal Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938 for minimum wage, overtime, work hours and other conditions. But these provisions don’t apply to child performers and child farm workers because of the FLSA’s so-called “Shirley Temple Act” exemptions. States that want to protect young entertainers working in movies, television shows or commercials have to pass their own child entertainment laws, and 32 states have done so. The laws range from simply requiring a young performer to get consent from the state labor commissioner to setting maximum hours per day and week a child performer may work.”

Marsha Mercer, Few Protections for Child Actors Like Honey Boo Boo, The PEW Charitable Trusts, (Aug. 29, 2013), http://www.pewtrusts.org/en/research-and-analysis/blogs/stateline/2013/08/29/few-protections-for-child-actors-like-honey-boo-boo.

[8] “No Animals Were Harmed” Frequently Asked Questions, supra note 1; Animal Actors, PETA (last visited Nov. 6, 2016), http://www.peta.org/issues/animals-in-entertainment/animal-actors/.

[9] “No Animals Were Harmed” Frequently Asked Questions, supra note 1; Animal Actors, PETA (last visited Nov. 6, 2016), http://www.peta.org/issues/animals-in-entertainment/animal-actors/.

[10] “No Animals Were Harmed” Frequently Asked Questions, supra note 1; Animal Actors, PETA (last visited Nov. 6, 2016), http://www.peta.org/issues/animals-in-entertainment/animal-actors/.

[11] Denise Sullivan, Animal Labor Laws, Chron (last visited Nov. 6, 2016), http://smallbusiness.chron.com/animal-labor-laws-74377.html.

[12] Id.

[13] Jennifer Dragotta, Animals in Entertainment, Learning to Give (last visited Nov. 6, 2016), http://www.learningtogive.org/resources/animals-entertainment.

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