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Blackfish airs on CNN tonight, exposes SeaWorld’s shameful behavior

Tonight at 9 p.m. ET, CNN will broadcast Blackfish, the film about SeaWorld’s killer whale, Tilikum, that’s really about a lot more than that. It’s worth watching.

The film is not as gorgeously shot, narratively engrossing, or polemic as The Cove, the Oscar-winning documentary about dolphin slaughter that plays like a real-life thriller. At first, I wanted Blackfish to be like that: more artfully composed and constructed to pull me in with its narrative and well-developed characters.

But the result, I was convinced after thinking about it and discussing it, is even more powerful. The footage is not stunningly beautiful, but it illustrates its subject matter well. The organization of information is straightforward. There’s not even a call to action, just information. Perhaps as a result of these choices, the evidence and information is quite compelling, particularly the interviews with former trainers–and not just one, but many.

What’s really shocking is not the part about animals being kept in captivity for our entertainment, but SeaWorld’s behavior, from acquiring a whale with a history of violent behavior to blaming trainer Dawn Brancheau’s death on her. There are also head-shaking, shameful moments such as SeaWorld employees telling guests total fiction about the lifespan of whales and dorsal fin collapse.

While the company did not participate in the film or let executives be interviewed for it, SeaWorld now says the film “is inaccurate and misleading and, regrettably, exploits a tragedy that remains a source of deep pain for Dawn Brancheau’s family, friends and colleagues.” The company also said it “paints a distorted picture that withholds from viewers key facts about SeaWorld — among them, that SeaWorld is one of the world’s most respected zoological institutions, that SeaWorld rescues, rehabilitates and returns to the wild hundreds of wild animals every year, and that SeaWorld commits millions of dollars annually to conservation and scientific research.”

That may be true, but is totally separate from what the material the film covers. And what the film covers very well–again, even if it doesn’t have flawless artistry–was SeaWorld’s appalling public-relations-first behavior.

For an example of that, watch this footage of a trainer being injured–an injury SeaWorld blamed on a trainer. Unbelievable. And if you need more convincing to watch the film tonight, watch its trailer.

Blackfish: A-

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About the author

  • Andy Dehnart is the creator of reality blurred and a writer and teacher who obsessively and critically covers reality TV and unscripted entertainment, focusing on how it’s made and what it means.

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