June 23, 2023 opinion

Animal testing made its way onto the big screen. It may be a sign of change

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Sofia Radysh in London, United Kingdom

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Picture by: Marvel

Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 3 is more than a great movie – it also offers insight into cruelty disguised as animal testing.

In James Gunn’s recently released film, we follow a thrilling story of a group of superheroes on their journey to save Rocket Racoon’s life after he has been badly injured in battle.

While on their path across galaxies, Guardians of the Galaxy learn new details about Rocket’s past. It turns out he survived horrible treatment as a cub, after he was captured by High Evolutionary – the villain of the story, whose only goal is to create ‘perfect’ species through relentless experimentation.

Thus, the audience is exposed to a horrible world where animals – alongside Rocket, his friends Lylla, Floor and Teeths are subjected to Evolutionary’s experiments – are imprisoned, tortured, mutilated, and otherwise abused so one powerful creature could pursue ‘perfection’.

It is impossible not to notice how the script draws from the real-life animal testing industry. Numbers are tattooed on the characters’ bodies the same way they are tattooed on not-at-all fictional lab animals, and the devices used to restrain baby Rocket are very similar to the ones used in laboratories all across the world right now.

PETA, a world-famous organisation fighting for animal rights, has praised the movie for its important commentary on the subject, highlighting the references the movie has made to the real conditions animals live in when they’re a part of the animal testing industry.
“James Gunn’s screenplay doesn’t back away from the tough (but often true-to-reality) subject matter, and we’re thrilled by a story about having empathy for all living, feeling beings,” PETA’s Rachel Harp wrote after the film was released.

Yet, there are significant differences between fiction and reality. Rocket Racoon and other characters are housed together and have some space to move around. In the real world, animals are living in separate cages, most often barely large enough for them to lie down, with limited or no enrichment at all.

Therefore, while undoubtedly offering some insight into the cruelty of animal experiments, it still falls short of giving an accurate picture of the extent of the abuse this industry is built on.

The term “animal testing” refers to a wide range of procedures performed on living animals for purposes of research for various industries. Animals are being used to assess the effectiveness of new medical products but also the effect various chemicals used in consumer, industrial and agricultural products will have on human health.

It is estimated that more than 115 million animals are used each year for these procedures, though a lot of countries do not collect and report the data about the numbers and kinds of animals that are being used, so it is impossible to give an accurate number.

Except for ethical issues – it is necessary to consider animals a lesser being not to perceive these practices as inherently unethical – there are also numerous scientific limitations to animal testing. Often, responses seen in other species are very different to the reactions in humans.

“Very often the symptoms and responses to potential treatments seen in other species are dissimilar to those of human patients,” UK’s Humane Society International argues. “As a consequence, nine out of every 10 candidate medicines that appear safe and effective in animal studies fail when given to humans.”

Despite growing campaigns for animal abuse in laboratories to be limited and abolished, numerous industries and science institutions still rely on animal testing and still consider it to be the ‘default option’.

Mass media – mainstream films included – play a pivotal role in framing our opinion about the world. Fans of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) command today a big force so the fact that a blockbuster film illustrates an issue of animal testing gives hope for a change in how people perceive this issue and will galvanise further change.

Even more importantly, the ongoing debates and sealed changes to the status quo in the society have made an imprint on cinematography for decades. So far, the topic of animal abuse in science has not been highlighted in such a big project and the fact that Marvel has given its platform to the issue highlights how the consensus is changing.

Behind caged walls and closed doors, there is much we need to think more about.

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Sofia Radysh

Science Section Editor

Animal welfare correspondent

Kyiv, Ukraine | London, United Kingdom

Born in 2005, Sofia lived in Kyiv, but now, because of the war, is a refugee in London. She is interested in animal welfare and how current events and social media impact the lives of our four-legged friends, and writes about this in Harbingers’ Magazine.

In 2022, she took over from Isaac Kadas as the second editor-in-chief of Harbingers’ Magazine.

In her free time, she does dog training and film-making. She likes getting out of her comfort zone and trying new things out.

Sofia speaks Ukrainian, English, Russian and a bit of German.

Edited by:

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Megan Lee

Culture Section Editor

Hong Kong | United Kingdom

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