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Jordan Peele's 'No' puts the spotlight on animals' work in entertainment

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In Jordan Peele’s latest visually and thematically ambitious film, it’s a horse named Ghost who first lets the sky know something’s wrong. NoOJ (Daniel Kaluuya) is the Head Wrangler for Heywood Hollywood Horse. Heywood Hollywood Horses is a generational black-owned and now struggling ranch that specializes in training horses for the big screen.

But his sister, Emerald (Keke Palmer), one of the family’s veteran horse actors, Ghost, with light gray fur as sublime as moonlight, unexpectedly sits in a space-gazing outdoor pen. I found myself standing still. Ghost jumped over the fence and sprinted away, saying no to himself.

As a kaleidoscope of destructive Western science fiction, No It asks viewers to look at technology, surveillance, other worldly lives, and spectacle-making through a variety of lenses, including animal eyes. The result is an unsettling view that reveals core ethical questions about the work of animals in cinema. No itself.

Refurbish or replace?

As Emerald recounts early in the film, the first motion picture was created from a photograph of a man galloping on horseback. The horse was named Sally Gardner.

Eadweard Muybridge’s “Horses in Motion” series of photographs were the first examples of chronophotography.
National Gallery of Art

Horses have had a long and troubled history in Hollywood. Early Hollywood films subjected horses to harsh working conditions that often resulted in injuries and deaths. They were essentially treated as disposable.

Animal behavior is now monitored, at least in the United States, by the non-profit organization American Humane. Motion capture has become a marvel. Such is the case with the award-winning rebooted Planet of the Apes trilogy, starring Andy Serkis as the lead chimpanzee, Caesar. We have reinvented and replaced the work of animals in creating entertainment.

Horses and chimpanzees are often placed on opposite sides of the line between acceptable and unacceptable animal use. Most horses are domesticated and have worked for humans for thousands of years. Their careers, reproduction, and social life are largely controlled by humans. In contrast, individual chimpanzees are in captivity, but the species remains wild.

No reflects this schism, beginning with a chilling sound that viewers will later learn. A chimpanzee named Goldie is the star of the eponymous sitcom in which balloons burst loudly on set and snap after attacking a human co-star.

Two men in suits pose with stars on the red carpet of the Hollywood Walk of Fame and pose with a White Tiger subwoofer.
Illusionists Siegfried Fischbacher (left) and Roy Uwe Ludwig Horn pose for photographers with a white tiger cub on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in Los Angeles, September 1994.
(AP Photo/Neil Jacobs)

This included the time when the tiger Mantacore (infamously) beat Roy Horn in Siegfried & Roy, and Travis, the “pet” chimpanzee and former actor, who was shot by police after attacking his caretaker friend. It reflects real-life human and animal eruptions.

of No, the tragedy involving Gordy (Terry Notary) is revealed in excruciating detail, including a poignant moment when a chimpanzee sees his young co-star Ricky (Jacob Kim) hiding under a table. As the bullets fly, the two reach out and touch each other. In a horrifying situation, viewers are asked to consider whether the underlying tragedy is Gordy’s employment as an actor.

horse at work

Each chapter of the film is named after an animal: Ghost, Lucky, Clover, Gordy, and Jean Jacket, with four horses and a chimpanzee in the foreground. Horses are an integral part of the Heywood family’s livelihood and legacy, and OJ states that he needs to get up early because “he has a mouth to feed”.

However, the ultimate fate of Ghost, the horse that sounded the first alarm by bolting off, is unknown. This one is surprisingly unsad and gets little attention.

In contrast, Lucky, portrayed as a sage and experienced horse, is integral to each aspect of the plot. OJ asks those on TV early in the film not to look into Lucky’s eyes, a precursor to later extraterrestrial communications.

As lifelong jockeys, I can confirm that horses generally don’t mind eye contact. i know i have. Indeed, disgust may be unique to Lucky.

Two Icelandic horses are playing. Their eyes are wide open, their lips are peeled off, and their teeth are exposed.
Horses are amazingly expressive animals, with more than a dozen facial expressions.
(AP Photo/Michael Probst)

Undoubtedly, a real horse (or perhaps a horse) playing Lucky is extraordinary. Most horses are afraid of blowing things. Yet Lucky, working with OJ, sprints through a series of gigantic, erratically dancing wind puppets without batting an eye. This reflects critical preparation and real-time emotional control.

respect animals

Animal actors and the skills involved in their work are recognized. Diesel Vomburgimwald, star of Canadian television show Hudson Andrex’s Dog, has his name in the credits and makes regular appearances on the show’s social media his channel. Jeff Daniels thanked his horse partner Apollo in Godless’ Emmy acceptance speech.

Still real horses that played Lucky, Clover and Ghost No Not included in credits. The head horse Wrangler, Bobby Robgren, is named, but the horse is omitted. It’s strange that a movie that so powerfully explores the ethics of animal actors gets erased like this.

When it comes to our ethical obligations to other animals, especially if we ask them to work for our entertainment, we need to be very careful and very careful when they say no. Representation and respect must go hand in hand.