Seaspiracy was great — except for all the racism.
There’s a disturbingly distinct type of representation of the Asian and African communities in this racist Netflix documentary
Pre-article notes to inform you:
Seaspiracy is a brand new, conservationist-styled Netflix documentary riding on the titular success of ‘Cowspiracy’.
And there’s no doubting that this film project is conservationist. It does a great job of highlighting the problems that humans place on the ocean; it’s efficient at creating pangs of guilt.
And like any strongly-received ecological film , it is proving controversial — but not for the ideal reasons.
It’s been branded as fake news; people from the global communities noted in the film are finally finding the voice to say that the Seaspiracy narrative is, in fact, racist.
But first: to the manipulation of data.
Seaspiracy is so sensationalist, it had to be factchecked
The copy-paste use of secondary source materials quoted out of context, the Seaspiracy film has been subject to fact checks from the BBC, the multiplied outcry from the academic, conservationist and dedicated environmental activist media communities are being ignored by the press… Seaspiracy has been fact checked because these truths are starker and even harder to swallow than the actual film.
It does highlight the commercial fishing industry’s destructive practices
The documentary of course, does well to detail the fishing industry’s impact on sea life, the world’s oceans.
But there are a few issues that no-one is talking about when it comes to Seaspiracy:
- The demonization of only South East Asian fisheries
- The total lack of equal female representation as the academic and ‘authority’ voices on conservation and marine biology. (They managed to secure two female professors in the film— and that’s it.)
- The fact the filmmakers had to clearly take a long haul flight to Hong Kong and Japan to “investigate” / ambush fisheries in these countries — and did not address how they made this part of the filmmaking process carbon neutral, given the film talks about negative ecological impact…
Now, I’m a vegetarian and live as sustainably as possible, and I completely agree with the notion that the industrial fishing industry is one of the most destructive, reckless food businesses in our world today which needs far, far stronger regulation. And even though Oceana.org is completely dunked on in the film, their stats still ring unbearably true:
“According to some estimates, global bycatch may amount to 40 percent of the world’s catch, totalling 63 billion pounds per year.” — Oceana.org
So what’s the problem, then?
A distinct lack of true diversity
The anti-Asian overtones are, quite frankly, sickening.
It’s the fact that every “good person” presented in the film as representing the truth about the destructive, anti-eco status of the commercial fishing industry is, by and large a white male — while almost every spokesperson for Seaspiracy’s targeted organisations, is female, or Asian.
If you don’t believe me, do a tally while you’re watching the film and count up the representation in this film.
You’ll find it doesn’t make for good reading.
And for a much better article than mine on this topic, please go ahead and read Elizabeth Choi’s piece on Seaspiracy’s anti-Asian overtones and the film’s total lack of journalistic rigour (despite it having George Monbiot on the scene).
Is Seaspiracy a racist film?
For me, yes it is.
Spoiler alert: (although probably not if you’ve read the reviews): two young filmmakers fly across the world to Japan, Hong Kong, and Thailand; they go on to point at the Asian baddies and make a little poverty-porn over the victims in these countries, without ever really going ahead to learn more about the global infrastructure which brutalise both the people and Governments from South East Asia . Victim blaming much? They follow the money insofar as they get a little holiday, pick up a shark fin, say something righteous and leave. At least, that’s the impression made.
The fact that Seaspiracy addresses continuing West African fishing industry slavery and Asian fishing industry slavery does save this film from being a total ‘white saviour complex’ project —sort of … but it only manages to mention West Africa for about 8 or so minutes. Apparently that’s as much as we need to know — it’s more important for us to know, on many occasions including their trip to Liberian waters ‘how dangerous this is for a filmmaker’.
For me at least, there were three further racist moments in the documentary.
Who knows, you might find more.
More racist moments in Seaspiracy
The first racist moment in Seaspiracy: the filmmakers chose to ambush and pontificate the South East Asian fishing industry. But when they speak to the EU Commissioner, it’s a friendly, but pointed little chat in the office.
When the Seaspiracy team is in the Faroe Islands, it’s an epic set of drone shots and rough footage, wrapped-up inside a filmmaker-focused narrative about chasing a whale hunt in Hvannasund, set to the beautiful soundtrack of Sigur Rós (if you’re bothered: they’re from Iceland, not the Faroe Islands…as if the country generalizing could not get any worse in the film); the segment after which a whale hunter explains he must be morally better than someone who slaughters thousands of animals.
And the director, now totally visible in this film rather than just being behind the camera, decides that his level of killing is sort of OK compared to the Asians, and, golly, he hadn’t considered the lives of fish before.
He hadn’t considered the lives of fish before.
Yes, the vanity in Seaspiracy really is this blatant, and this irksome.
But back to the racism problem.
There are plenty of locally-focused, truly community-based sustainable fishing communities in South East Asia and Africa, not just in white European communities as this film seems to denote.
I found this juxtaposition of race value clear to see and particularly hard to stomach, when destructive fishing is a global issue — not just an Asian one.
So there’s the first racist moment for you.
Second: the assassination of esteemed pro-marine Filipina government inspector Gerlie Alpajora, is reconstructed in Seaspiracy— falsely — and with a cartoon showing a tiny jungle home on stilts, a gunshot, and blood pouring from an arm.
Did you miss that?
A Filipina’s murder was misrepresented in this Seaspiracy and reconstructed AS A CARTOON.
Is this really a respectful, dignified choice of medium by the Seaspiracy team in representing the facts about this well-regarded legal professional from the government’s environmental sector in the Philippines?
No, it’s not.
And if that wasn’t enough:
Third racist moment: the film does the very same thing when reconstructing the story from testimony of a former fishing industry slave in a halfway shelter (from which they quickly run away from when the police might be arriving; and the filmmakers don’t seem to be interested in protecting their sources for their film) — by cartoonizing it. Again.
Cartoonizing is creative, sure — but it can also be dehumanising when it comes to representation, by distancing and removing the abject seriousness of a topic, using a medium designed to literally productize and produce visual entertainment.
Last time I checked, assassinated women and recovering fishing slaves are not entertainment.
So while the anti-marine activity of major fisheries covered are hard-hitting in this documentary — the explicit race exploitation in Seaspiracy is just as evident.
And it completely detracts from the core message of species and life equality.
As for the fake news and lack of science in the film?
That would be a whole other article, not written by me.
Instead read this (currently public) Facebook post from the amazing Jean Utzurrum:
This incredible take on Seaspiracy from Filipina marine biologist Jean Utzurrum covers the problems and nuances of this film the best. https://m.facebook.com/story.php?story_fbid=10158564284972862&id=520507861
By all means, watch Seaspiracy, but I implore you to think openly about the representation of race and also the visibility of gender throughout this film, and whether these feed positively or negatively into the attempts at human rights advocation in the film.
You might just find it achieves the sheer opposite of what they appear to want.
And that is a crying shame for people, and for the ocean.