There's an interesting documentary on HBO tonight that I think you should watch. I Am An Animal follows People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals president Ingrid Newkirk and the controversial animal rights group. I recently got a chance to check it out and I wasn't disappointed. As a long time vegetarian, animal rights supporter, and PETA member, I'm excited about the attention the documentary will bring to the organization's causes. Usually the only time I see PETA in the news is during the last few minutes of a local news broadcast, and the tone is usually, "Well, here's a weird news item...". PETA's campaigns are so important that it annoys me to see them trivialized in a 30 second "Odd Items" segment. That's why I was relieved to see this documentary, which gives viewers a much deeper understanding of PETA's mission and Newkirk's passion to educate the masses about animal rights.
If you're weary of tuning in tonight for fear of seeing a one sided argument, you shouldn't worry. I Am An Animal does a good job of presenting both sides of the story, including opposition to PETA, and not the kind you might expect. After all, PETA has had its fair share of adversaries since the group was started some 27 years ago. Furriers, hunters, circuses, fast food chains, companies who test on animals, it would take me all day to list the people who feel threatened by PETA. But who cares about what some redneck squirrel hunter from Alabama has to say about animal rights? I think we all know what his main points are going to be. I'd rather hear the counterpoints of animal rights supporters who disagree with PETA's methods, which is exactly what you get with I Am An Animal.
What you also get is an unflinching look at PETA founder Ingrid Newkirk. I'm excited to see such a personal look into Newkirk's life, because she's a local celebrity in my hometown of Norfolk, Virginia, which also doubles as PETA's hometown. In my middle school years I used to take friends with me to volunteer at PETA's headquarters. Every couple of weeks PETA would host a volunteer and staffer get together, either at a members house or the headquarters. At one such party, my friend and I felt pretty out of place, as we were the only kids there. It wasn't long before Ingrid came over and struck up a conversation with us. She shared stories about her animal rights beginnings and made us feel like we weren't alone in our compassionate view of the world.
It was my dad, however, who had the best Ingrid run-in. He was at PETA's huge public dog park on the Elizabeth River with our golden retrievers when Ingrid came up to him and introduced herself. She wasn't there to convert anybody, just to pass along a friendly hello. After a few minutes of small talk, my dad told her he recently became a vegetarian and Ingrid gave him some advice on overcoming some of the biggest obstacles. She told him that many new vegetarians crave dairy and end up consuming way too much of it. She stressed how unhealthy a dairy-filled diet is and asked if he was going to stick around the dog park for a few minutes. Some people might expect such a passionate animal rights crusader to have come back with videos about the cruelties of the dairy industry. She could have brought my dad pamphlets that spell out the connection between the dairy industry and the veal industry. But her approach was much simpler, much friendlier. When she returned, Ingrid had brought hand-picked vegan gifts from her pantry, including an assortment of vegan cheeses and some soy-based products. This is the Ingrid Newkirk I know. Tonight, get to know her yourself.
I Am An Animal: The Story of Ingrid Newkirk and PETA premieres Monday, November 19 at 8 p.m. on HBO.
Watch the trailer below.