Last Thursday I had the pleasure of attending the world premiere of Speciesism: The Movie, the first film by director Mark Devries, at the SVA Theatre in Manhattan. I attended the event free as press.
Overall, I will say first and foremost that while this film wasn’t earth-shattering, it was good. There are a lot of really terrible social issue and activist documentaries out there, both in terms of production quality and content, and comparatively Speciesism was better than most when it came to content. It’s definitely a film I would recommend to someone who is curious about animal rights and/or veganism.
The first half of the film chronicles a young, omnivorous Devries as he seeks to figure out the truth behind factory farming, becoming vegan in the process. He visits factory farms where he is repeatedly turned away, visits the PETA offices, goes to the HSUS headquarters, talks to folks from Mercy for Animals and other well-known animal rights groups, who all basically say similar things: exploiting animals, using factory farming as the prime example, is horrible and we shouldn’t do it. Devries also visits North Carolina, where he documents how hog farms (specifically hog waste lagoons) are destroying the North Carolina ecosystem, which was a specific example that I feel boosted the film’s argument. Overall, the first half of the film may not be especially interesting to vegan folks, because it’s a lot of the same stuff we’ve seen and read about. Yes, these are important things that need to be publicized and included in a movie about speciesism, but as far as entertainment goes, you might be a little bored hearing Ingrid Newkirk say the same things you’ve heard before.
The second half of the film, however, was what redeemed the first half for me. Devries delve deeper into the ethical and moral arguments about why we value non-human animals less than we do humans. He talked to authors, philosophers, professors, special needs caretakers, Holocaust survivors and people he stopped on the street about how we view human suffering and why as a species we consider non-human animal suffering to be less important. The points made and the conclusion Devries draws are hard to dispute, and he conveys his argument in a compelling way.
What I liked the most about Devries’ film was that he didn’t focus on the health aspects of veganism, which is a route many recent “vegan documentaries” have taken (I’m looking at you, Forks Over Knives). There was no fat shaming, there were no vegan body builders (actually, there was one, but his purpose was to briefly debunk the protein myth) or moving story about how a large man with high blood pressure was completely transformed after he stopped eating meat. I almost wanted to hug Devries for not including any of that.
I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with vegan body builders, normal blood pressure or someone choosing to lose weight, but I have a problem with health and weight loss being the primary ways in which many people frame and discuss veganism in order to appeal to non-vegans. Because while I love food (food tastes good), I believe there are more compelling reasons to become vegan.
There is a brief discussion of food and eating vegan, but the main message being conveyed is that it’s not that hard to adopt a vegan diet and you don’t have to give up many of the foods you enjoy. I feel like when you’re trying to convince people to stop contributing to the exploitation of non-human animals, talking about what you eat on a daily basis is something you should at least mention.
Overall, if you have the chance, I suggest checking out Speciesism, perhaps with a non-vegan or two.