A Joaquin Phoenix animal rights documentary inspired a hostage crisis in Ukraine

A partial transcript of Episode 19 of THE ART MOVEMENT. Click here to listen to the full radio show.

I think one of the most bizarre and somewhat dramatic pieces of news in the arts and culture sector from this past week came from Ukraine, where a man named Maksym Kryvosh armed with a rifle and grenades hijacked a bus and held up 13 hostages, demanding that the country officially endorse the 2005 documentary Earthlings, which happens to have been narrated by Joaquin Phoenix.

The film talks about humanity’s horrific abuse of animals but I can’t provide you with an actual critique for the film because I have never seen it. Of course, I have heard about the film before and have even heard people refer to it as the reason they have embraced animal rights issues and have even become vegetarians or vegans. So, I appreciate what it has done in terms of changing people’s mindset.

Now, both the director of the film and Joaquin Phoenix, who by the way has been an exceptional spokesperson for animal rights for several years, rightly promptly distanced themselves from this hijacking. Shaun Monson, who is the director of Earthlings, stated: “We do not cause terror to awaken people to terror.” And that’s a wonderful statement.

Of course, the problem is that Earthlings much like any other artwork opens itself up to inspiring acts of extremism and even terrorism. That’s kind of the curse of art as a whole. Now, I am an animal rights supporter, strict vegetarian and appalled by animal cruelty of any kind. But this was obviously an act of terror by a man who more than likely is dealing with serious mental illness.

None of the hostages were harmed and they were released after the president of Ukraine posted a short statement on his Facebook page recommending that everyone watch Earthlings. That’s all it took. The man was arrested and that was that.

But the news wasn’t so much about whether this guy Kryvosh had the best interests of animals at heart for doing what he did. This is actually a somewhat irrelevant part of the story because anybody could wake up tomorrow and do the exact same thing anywhere in the world for an entirely different reason.

What almost risks passing unnoticed about this entire event is one question: where did this man get a rifle and grenades?

Actually, it’s not such a difficult question to answer. In the early years of the prolonged separatist war in Eastern Ukraine, which began in 2014, all kinds of weapons were used by volunteers and paramilitaries fighting on the Ukrainian side. Since then, several of these weapons and explosives have been missing and together with Ukraine’s lax gun laws, these weapons have been used in crimes far from the front line, including domestic violence.

In fact, many reports state that Ukraine has a higher prevalence of guns in society than other European nations. The fact that this event is somehow linked to a Joaquin Phoenix movie gave it a wider exposure and should be a warning against extremism but also should cause much reflection in terms of thinking about gun laws everywhere.

Also, I know nobody needs me to say this but of course, this does the fight for animal rights no favors. Again, I am an animal rights activist but I struggle to be on the same side of some vegans because I am also against extremism. It actually does the exact opposite, it’s incredibly awkward for me as an animal rights activist, when things like these happen.

As it happens, I don’t even know whether this Kryvosh character was a vegan or not and again, it actually doesn’t really matter whether he was or not. He certainly did not identify himself as such and actually somewhat proudly declared himself a legal terrorist.

So, instead of paying attention to guys like these, let’s pay attention to what the Humane Society International does or what influencers like Chrissie Hynde or even Joaquin Phoenix say about this specific issue. This is obviously an important aspect of evolution, one that we’ll most likely not see in our lifetime, particularly in several parts of the world where animals are sacrificed in the name of tradition or in the name of religion.

Download the full radio show here.

Written by Matt Micucci

I'm an international journalist, reporter, website editor and content creator. I actively work for JAZZIZ Magazine and FRED Film Radio, collaborate with other websites and curate my own projects, including IN ARTE MATT and CineCola. I have also curated and produced my series of films in Galway, Ireland, and photo exhibition and arts events in various European countries. I have a working class background and have and have a postgrad degree in Film Theory + a BA in Film & TV.

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