Seaspiracy sends a dangerous message that erases the realities of many communities – The Varsity
A friend of mine once insisted that I watch Seaspiracy, a popular Netflix documentary about saving our oceans. Her revealing information and calls to action had plunged her into despair. After seeing the movie, however, I didn’t have the same reaction. I realized that what is really bad for the environment are bad documentaries, like Seaspiracy.
Since Seaspiracyand its popularity, some experts argued that it was poorly documented and sensationalist. If you haven’t seen it yet, I will save you the time and energy to watch this documentary by providing you with a summary.
A white man living in Europe finds that his daily actions do little to protect the oceans. Eager to do more, he travels and meets industrial and commercial fishing. Industrial fishing is the intensive use of machinery and other technology in the process, while commercial fishing involves the capture of fish and seafood for profit. It portrays a system of global corruption conveyed by interviews with experts and irrelevant people, like the receptionist at Mitsubishi, the automaker. To top it off, there are a ton of bloody images of whales and other marine life mutilated and killed. Ultimately, he concludes that the best way to protect the ocean is to stop eating fish and instead consume plant-based products that taste like fish.
Power and influence on cinema
It is often easy to ignore the role of power in the production, distribution and consumption of film media. As viewers, we only see the end product; we are not immediately exposed to the various processes, technologies, biases and policies involved. These are mostly hidden behind the screen in the funding agreements, the storyboard, the technologies used, the people working on the project and the editing of the film. These factors are important in the interpretation of documentaries and the stories they project.
Consider the financial support needed to produce the 90-minute film which takes place on three continents. Seaspiracy is funded by British green energy industrialist Dale Vince, who bought a football team in 2010 which he later turned into the world’s first vegan sports club. The movie’s message – we should all stop eating fish and choose plant-based alternatives – financially benefits Vince’s beliefs and businesses.
Likewise, the content of the film should also be questioned. Who is Seaspiracywith which the narrator interacts? What demographics are represented in his narration?
Interviews conducted in the documentary are primarily with people who are not okay with fishing or who are unfamiliar with the fishing industry. In this way, the film reproduces the prejudices of its backers by selecting people who buy into their message or who do not have the language to challenge it.
Imagine if Seaspiracy interviewed a range of communities that have always relied on fishing: there are over 1,000 in Atlantic Canada. These communities have knowledge of the relationships between fishing and marine life that existed before industrial fishing. They could also demonstrate eco-responsible practices.
But rather than highlighting how different types of fishing have varying effects on marine life, the documentary portrays a dangerously simplistic relationship between fish consumption and climate crises – a message that erases the realities of many communities around the world.
SeaspiracyThe portrayal of the commercial fishery by has resulted in the despair of its audiences. It is alarming that a person curious about saving our oceans could sit in front of a screen for 90 minutes and then think that there is nothing important we can do to fix the problem. Worse yet, they will think that adopting a plant-based diet is a reasonable response to a generational crisis.
The effect Seaspiracy a on its audience shows how the media can prevent us from creating change, despite a willingness to engage. The effect of such stories hinders meaningful actions that can protect the environment. For these reasons, we must take all documentaries seriously.
How to watch movies responsibly
In an age defined by the constant threat of ecological crises, people are looking for ways to learn how to save the environment. By funding, suggesting, hosting and creating movies, streaming platforms like Netflix, YouTube, and Amazon Prime allow people to tackle pressing issues from the comfort of their own homes. For many, this availability of educational media offers excellent learning opportunities outside formal educational structures.
Although documentaries like Seaspiracy are dangerous for tackling environmental crises, films can be excellent tools for raising awareness, helping formal and informal education, and inspiring meaningful engagement.
Fortunately, viewers are interested in sharing their interpretations of the films. However, they must recognize the implicit policy of the media they consume and watch and question documentaries with caution. They need to challenge the knowledge they produce, instead of sharing misinformation by discussing the movies they consume.
This questioning can begin by questioning the critical aspects of all films. There are a few important questions that need to be considered. Why is the film made? Who is the film made by? Who does the film benefit and harm? Who is not present and what impact does this have on the narrative being built? Where and how did I access this film?
In the age of mass media, documentaries about the climate crisis will continue to be created. It is our responsibility to escape any desperation fabricated by poorly documented documentaries that ensure continued harm by causing us to forgo our agency to make meaningful change. Interviewing documentaries can help us identify and reject incomplete, irresponsible and harmful representations of reality.