UPDATED: PETA is slamming HBO again. And the network is firing back.
Earlier Friday, the animal rights organization wrote an open letter to the cable network’s programming president Casey Bloys about his hit sci-fi drama Westworld, which included elephants in Sunday’s latest episode.
“Animals used in film and TV are often kept in extreme and distressing confinement, deprived of everything that’s natural and important to them, and subjected to abusive training methods, including beatings and the use of electric prods and bullhooks, without which they would simply walk off the set,” the organization said in a statement to the media. “PETA’s experts have identified one of the elephants used in Westworld as Tai, who’s exhibited by the notorious supplier Have Trunk Will Travel. She can be seen crying out as she’s electrically shocked in [an] eyewitness video footage taken at HTWT’s training compound.”
Late Friday, HBO issued a statement in reply that strongly defended its use of elephants on the show.
“All of the animals featured on HBO series are treated with the utmost care and respect for their health, safety and well-being,” the network said. “A certified animal safety representative from American Humane was present at all times during any animal action on the set of Westworld. The AHA has confirmed that the animals were well-treated, and the production received the designation of ‘No Animals Were Harmed.’ We are reviewing the circumstances related to archival training footage which included one of the elephants that appeared in the series. Of course, none of this video was shot during the production and does not in any way reflect practices on our sets.”
HBO has been a frequent target of PETA, which notes the network put a lion in The Leftovers, a tiger in Vice Principals and a bear in Silicon Valley. Literally, a lion … a tiger … a bear (oh my!).
Plus, PETA went heavily after HBO in 2012 after three horses died during the filming of horse racing drama Luck, which led to the show’s cancelation. “Public opposition to the use of animals for entertainment is stronger than ever — evident from the closure of Ringling Bros. circus after 146 years of exploitation and the dozens of travel companies that have pulled elephant rides from their offerings,” PETA added. “Considering the realistic and cruelty-free CGI technology that exists today, all wild animals in HBO series should be computer-generated.”
Sunday’s Westworld — spoiler alert — introduced a new theme park, The Raj, which is a fantasy escapist version of colonial India. There were two elephants shown in a scene for a brief walk-on. The episode’s director, Richard Lewis, confirmed elephants were used during a chat with EW. “We found a nice little valley to do this, and we brought the elephants in, I knew I wanted that silhouette-y elephant shot,” he recalled.
There was also a Bengal tiger for which the production did rely on CGI.
Of course, within the story of Westworld, all such animals are supposedly robots. With the humanoid “hosts” in Westworld declaring their sentience and fighting for their rights and freedom, one wonders if there’s a PETA-like movement lobbying for robo-animals outside the Delos parks as well.
HBO had no immediate comment.
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