This past Wednesday, a video surfaced from TMZ, showing a German Shepherd Hercules, being forced into rough waters allegedly on the set of the upcoming film “A Dog’s Purpose.” The director of the film, Lasse Hallström, tweeted that he was “very disturbed by the video,” while Amblin Partners and Universal Pictures released a statement to TMZ.
Film history is filled with cases of animal mistreatment, but one would think that, with a basic set of modern ethics and the industry’s technological capabilities today, we could avoid such issues. While some dogs may be trained to swim — people connected to the project say that Hercules happily performed that stunt after a break — the panicked restraint of Hercules clearly shows he was uncomfortable performing the stunt at that moment, rendering the handler’s force as ethically questionable and raising a question: CGI has shown vast capabilities, so why couldn’t the production use it to place a dog into those waters?
In spite of this, “A Dog’s Purpose” will almost certainly still succeed at the box office. It’s family-friendly, and it has many adorable dogs. Crowds will come and executives will likely go unpunished because of their ability to distance themselves and avoid consequence.
It’s yet another sting that puts Hollywood one step closer to irredeemability.
There are steps being taken to improve things. In regard to representation, we’re seeing more high-profile films led by women and people of color, and more roles going to the best actor rather than the best white actor. But the machine that produces that art is plagued by heartbreaking problems of sexism and racism, and complacency to solve those issues. How could anyone stand by as that poor dog was being harmed? Or stand by as an actor sexually harasses a woman? Or stand by as a director pushes a stereotype? Or stand by as a co-star gets paid drastically less?
The industry is plagued by bystander complacency.
Where is the talk about Casey Affleck, who was accused of sexual harassment on the set of “I’m Still Here?” Pieces such as this, as thorough and elegant as it may be, seem to have no industry effect on Affleck, as he’s still the frontrunner to win the Oscar for Best Actor for his performance in “Manchester by the Sea.” The industry has shown that it’s not incapable of taking action against controversial figures. Nate Parker’s film “The Birth of a Nation,” along with his career, has been obliterated after the resurfacing of rape allegations made against him in college.
There are many intersectional factors to consider, Affleck being white and Parker being black, Affleck being a Hollywood elite and Parker being an independent filmmaker, but the point is this: the real Hollywood studio elite will never be touched.
Countless films still cast white actors in roles clearly designated for people of color. Despite the fact that the nationality of the character of Motoko Kusanagi from the “Ghost in the Shell” franchise is so central to the story — it’s set in Japan and entirely rooted in Japanese culture — the studio cast a white woman. For “Doctor Strange,” Marvel cast a white woman in the role of the Ancient One, who is Tibetan in the comics. The blockbuster “Gods of Egypt” cast two white men in the central roles of a story obviously entrenched in Egyptian culture.
Moreover, women and people of color rarely lead major productions, often relegated to portraying stereotyped characters or even performing as narrative devices that only serve plots centered on white men.
Women are too often paid much less than male co-stars — Natalie Portman recently spoke out, stating that Ashton Kutcher was paid three times more for “No Strings Attached,” a fact made more egregious considering that she’s a co-lead in the film.
Women have been treated poorly, even dangerously, on sets far too often. Casey Affleck’s controversies surround his alleged treatment of the female cinematographer and another women working on “I’m Still Here.” In addition to being paid less, Amy Adams stated that director David O. Russell made her cry on the set of “American Hustle.” Director Bernardo Bertolucci, in filming “Last Tango in Paris,” allegedly planned the specifics of a scene depicting rape without actress Maria Schneider’s consent because he wanted her to react “as a girl, not as an actress.”
All I have to say is that I’m heartbroken.
Film is central to my life. I watch an absurd number of movies each year. They help me when I’m feeling down. They supplement feelings of happiness and excitement. They’ve helped define who I am. I see visual narrative storytelling — including documentaries and TV — as the most universal and cumulatively impactful of arts. Movies can make a difference, truly.
To hold Hollywood to ethical standards, we must be vocal in our condemnation of actions such as those that allegedly took place on “A Dog’s Purpose.” As a writer, it is my responsibility to, at the very least, put many of these occurrences in ink on the platforms that I can.
As filmgoers, we must celebrate the films that do wonders in giving voice to underrepresented perspectives and untold stories. Continue to make films like “Hidden Figures,” the story of three Black female scientists who were integral in NASA’s operations to put a man in space, the top-grossing film at the weekend box office. Continue to support the most wide-reaching franchise, “Star Wars,” that, in its first two films of its new era, cast female leads and people of color in other lead and supporting roles, offering action figures that will shape countless kids’ futures. Continue to talk about and share the incomparably profound story of Chiron, a young gay Black man exploring his sexuality and masculinity in the masterpiece “Moonlight.”
While the Hollywood studio elite continue to showcase why the machine of the industry has vast negative impacts, these other works of art show that, in terms of representation and progressive storytelling, film can do good.
“Cutting Room Floor” columns are one-off, arts-oriented pieces written by Daily Cal staff members.