Animal Studies Journal


Lara Newman


While much research has been done on the relationship between film and social change, studies on audience responses to animal rights films are scarce. In light of current international debates surrounding the capture and dissemination of footage of animal slaughter and mistreatment, this article explores audience receptions of The Cove and Bold Native. A number of academic studies of The Cove have been conducted, and numerous interviews and opinion pieces on both Bold Native and The Cove have been published online. However, previous discussions of The Cove and Bold Native have focused on a textual analysis of the films rather than audience reactions. This article expands upon previous audience studies research to consider audience responses to animal rights films. Two small focus groups were conducted to provide a detailed foundation for future, broader, studies of audience engagement with animal rights films. Thematic analysis of focus group transcripts was used to explore how participants’ lifestyles, demographics and prior beliefs influenced their responses to The Cove and Bold Native. These areas were examined because they were the most prominent topics in the data. This study considers the importance of culturally appropriate and non-judgemental arguments, and the influence of participants’ pre-existing beliefs about animal use and mistreatment. Further, this paper discusses how participants’ ideas about the health and practical aspects of consuming animal products informed their responses to The Cove and Bold Native. In addition, this article investigates the tension between participants’ interest in knowing about animal treatment, and their desire to avoid viewing disturbing footage. Participant reactions to The Cove and Bold Native suggest that two key factors guide audience reception of the films. Firstly, participants’ responses are mediated by their pre-existing beliefs and attitudes. Secondly, the persuasiveness of The Cove and Bold Native was tempered by participants’ need to balance their awareness of animal mistreatment issues, and ethical beliefs, with a lifestyle that is healthy, functional, and economically viable. This study concludes that participants who were most likely to make changes after seeing The Cove or Bold Native were those who were already inclined to do so. This suggests that these films, in and of themselves, are not enough to significantly change peoples’ beliefs or behaviours towards animal use industries.