The Netflix original movie, Okja is taking the world by storm. The movie was received warmly with a four-minute standing ovation at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year and now that the movie was released on Netflix on June 28, 2017, seemingly everyone is watching Okja, seeing what all the fuss is about.
And for good reason. The film features a talented cast including Tilda Swinton, Jake Gyllenhaal, Paul Dano, Stephen Yeun, and newcomer to the screen, young South Korea actor Ahn Seo-hyum, who plays the lead role of Mija.
Mija’s pet, Okja, a fictitious super pig species resembling a hippo who was bred as part of a competition is kidnapped by a corrupt industry, the Mirando Corporation, who wants to slaughter the animal. The film follows the girl on her action-packed journey to save her best friend from the meat industry. We sat down to watch the film and couldn’t help but notice a few important lesson woven into Okja’s touching story. Note: spoilers!
1. Best Friends Come in All Shapes and Sizes
Despite Okja being hundreds of pounds bigger than Mija and of an entirely different species, just like we have seen with other inter-species friendships, best friends come in all shapes and sizes.
Within just the first minutes of Okja, you’re immediately shown the deep and loving friendship between Okja and Mija. The two play together in the deep forest of the South Korean countryside, enjoying each other’s company. When it’s time to go home and Mija slips on a rock with only Okja holding onto her life with a rope, Okja finds a solution to pull her to safety while she falls into the forest.
Thankfully, she survives but Okja risking her life to save Mija shows their connection. The duo will sometimes whisper into each other’s ear, clearly able to understand each other.
2. There are Millions of Okjas
Okja may be a fictitious pig, but that doesn’t change the fact that are millions of real animals currently suffering on factory farms. Millions of pigs, chickens, and cows, aren’t as lucky as Okja and are treated brutishly and crowded into cramped and filthy sheds where they barely have space to move comfortably. In the U.S., 110 million sensitive, affectionate animals, just like Okja, are killed for food every year.
A deeper look into the lives of factory farmed animals reveals that we have created a huge prison system for animals where they are no longer considered sentient beings, capable of feelings, thoughts, and pain, but instead are treated as products on an assembly line from the moment they are born to the moment they are murdered.
3. Pigs Are Just as Intelligent as Your Dog
We share the same traits as animals. Farm animals are individuals with unique personalities. Indeed, scientists who study them have found that farm animals have well-developed and complex patterns of behavior, cognition, and emotion.
While it might be more soothing to our psyche to believe that these animals do not feel pain the same way that we do, research has proven that this is simply not the case. Pigs do feel. They feel happiness and they most certainly feel pain. Despite the fact that society has painted pigs as filthy, stupid animals, they are actually very smart and can learn tricks and come running when they hear their names, just like dogs. They form long-term memories, they can communicate through verbal sounds, and they empathize with others.
4. Why Love One, But Eat the Other?
At its core, eating meat involves eating animals like Okja, unique individuals who are no different in any meaningful way than the dogs and cats we share our homes with. Okja brings up an important point: why do we love some animals but eat others?
Psychologist Melanie Joy, explores the reasons why we are disgusted by the thought of eating Golden Retriever, but happily enjoy beef, pork, and chicken. All animals are equally sentient beings, but because we think that eating farmed animals for meat is, “normal, natural and necessary,” we never question our choice to mass slaughter and eat them.
By looking into how our society has normalized the consumption of meat, Joy contends that we all have a choice to remove ourselves from this cruelty, but the first step is awareness. Thinking critically and carefully about the roles we’ve assigned farmed animals versus our pets, we can see work towards a more compassionate future.
5. Breeding Super Pigs Is Not the Answer
Another major point that Okja touches on is the impact of animal agriculture on the environment. 2,000 trees are chopped down in the Amazon rainforest every 60 seconds to make room for agriculture. Additionally, 1,600 of those trees are chopped down every minute just to make room for cattle to graze and to grow livestock feed. If these rates of deforestation continue, there likely won’t be any rainforests left in the next 100 years. With the animal agriculture industry being responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than the entire transportation sector combined, we need to act now to save the planet.
In Okja, the solution shown by the Mirando Corporation for how to combat the environmental impact of factory farming is to breed “super pigs” that would “leave a minimal footprint on the environment” by consuming less feed. While the super pig is very clearly fictional, in real life, animals in the factory farming system have been genetically modified to produce more, quicker. Consider this, today’s factory-farm raised dairy cow produces around 100 gallons of milk a day – that is nearly 10 times more than the average cow would naturally. According to Kevin O’Connor, modern meat chicken weighs up to three kilograms: almost double the size of a chicken from 60 years ago. And their breasts are 80 percent larger. They also manage to reach this size in six weeks, whereas it took a bird in the 50s up to 15 weeks to reach its fully grown (but much smaller) size. Sadly, rather than minimizing the impact of animal agriculture, this surplus of meat and dairy just leads to more people eating more meat and dairy … which certainly doesn’t have a positive impact on the planet.
Thankfully, we don’t have to follow the same path. Innovations in the plant-protein space have the power to transform food as we know it and write the story of the future of food. By choosing plants as a direct source of protein, we would use less of our planet’s finite resources, drastically cut down our carbon footprint and give thousands of species a fighting chance at survival. Most importantly, we could redirect enough grain to feed our entire growing population over the course of the next 30 years and beyond.
6. Live Animals Have No Place in the Movies
Not only does Okja share powerful animal rights and vegan message, it’s also a cinematically stylish movie. Director Bong Joon-ho gives credibility to the claim “no animals were harmed during the making of this movie” by bringing Okja to life using computer generated imagery (CGI).
Why does this matter? Well, research done by Animal Defender’s International reveals the not-so-glamorous side of animals in the film industry, demonstrating how animals are trained to perform through violence and starvation. Okja is a forward-thinking movie that proves no animals have to be harmed in film or, as the movie points out, on your plate.
What You Can Do After Seeing Okja
The heartwarming story of friendship between Okja and Mija is leaving both vegans and non-vegans in tears. Not only that, non-vegans are looking up information on how to go vegan. No really. Check out these Google search trends. Seems like Okja is to factory farming as to Blackfish was to SeaWorld!
Mija may have had the help of the Animal Liberation Front, but there are many actions you can take if you’re feeling helpless after watching Okja. Just as Mija shows, one person can make a difference. As much as society would like us to turn a blind eye to farm animals, to allow the mechanism at work to continue turning without a missed beat, we must not deny that these creatures have personalities, sweetness, and an undeniable desire to live. And that’s when you ask yourself, do you really want to support an institution that ignores all of these blatant truths?
Feeling inspired? Knowing all that we do about the impact of meat consumption on the environment and animals, we are faced with a choice – either we can continue to be sold into this destructive industry … or we can choose better.
You can start eating for the planet by doing nothing more than choosing a delicious plant-based meal over one laden with animal products. If you look at it from a personal perspective, you can cut your own carbon footprint in half just by leaving meat off your plate for one year. (Plus save a lot of water, redirect grain for people to eat, and help protect endangered species…)
We all have the power to create a better future for our children, and the countless animals we share the planet with, by making one easy swap. If you’re ready to start doing this in your own life, check out One Green Planet’s #EatForThePlanet campaign.
All image source: Okja