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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
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What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Blackfish is a documentary about captive whales that perform at theme parks and sometimes attack and kill humans. The movie claims that whales in the wild are generally peaceful, intelligent, and emotional creatures and that their treatment at the hands of corporate theme parks possibly created anxiety and frustration that led to the attacks. It contains some disturbing imagery, including wounded whales, some real blood (from both whales and humans), and video footage of actual attacks. More violence is verbally described but not shown. There is frank discussion of the breeding of whales, including a shot of what could be a whale's penis. The movie contains some occasional strong language, including one use of "s--t" and some uses of "damn" and "hell." SeaWorld ads are shown, and some of their products (stuffed toys whales) are shown. It's not for young kids, and it can be disturbing, but this is a powerful, effective documentary for teens and up.
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What's the story?
BLACKFISH mainly on Tilikum, an orca (or "killer whale") captured as a baby and raised eventually to become a performer at (and a breeder for) SeaWorld. Tilikum's early life consisted of being "raked" (attacked with teeth) by female whales and kept in small, dark pens. Subsequently, several park trainers were attacked, and some killed, notably Dawn Brancheau in 2010, which caused some controversy and investigation. Experts say that whales are clearly intelligent, emotional animals and are probably frustrated and tormented by this treatment. Representatives of SeaWorld refused to be interviewed, and the movie makes SeaWorld look like a company bent on making money over protecting its employees and the well-being of its whales.
Is it any good?
Director Gabriela Cowperthwaite packs an incredible amount of information and emotion into the 83-minute documentary. It's probably just as well that SeaWorld representatives declined to be interviewed. As it is, her message comes across clearly and without anger. She does interview several former employees, who seem mortified about having believed the company line and saddened that they took part in this particular treatment of Tilikum and other whales.
We learn about how whales in the wild have never been known to attack humans and how -- despite SeaWorld's claims -- they live much longer there than in captivity. We learn that the whales are extraordinarily intelligent and emotional creatures and how their attacks are possibly based more on frustration than aggression. Overall, Blackfish is brutal -- it shows several attacks and wounds -- and heartbreaking; it conjures up great sympathy for these magnificent, mysterious creatures. You'll never see a whale the same way again.
Talk to your kids about ...
- Families can talk about Blackfish's violence. Could this story have been told as effectively without the blood, attacks, and injuries shown?
- Does this movie make a good argument for closing sea parks for good? What could be an argument for keeping them open?
- How does Blackfish compare with The Cove, a movie about the mistreatment of dolphins? What makes humans do these sorts of things?
- In theaters: July 19, 2013
- On DVD or streaming: November 12, 2013
- Cast: Jeffrey Ventre, John Hargrove, Samantha Berg
- Director: Gabriela Cowperthwaite
- Studio: Magnolia Pictures
- Genre: Documentary
- Run time: 83 minutes
- MPAA rating: PG-13
- MPAA explanation: mature thematic elements including disturbing and violent images
- Last updated: September 20, 2019
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