05/24/2010 05:12 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

And the Award Goes to ...

Disclosure: Awards shows are not my preferred form of media. It's kind of nice to see beautiful actors stumble over their lines trying to thank their agents, but after a few teary speeches I usually reach for the nachos and consider a nap. The Genesis Awards were different.


The Genesis Awards honor those in media who raise public awareness about animal issues, who expose cruelty against animals and work for animal protection. The awards were held last Saturday in Beverly Hills, and they amplified the work of good people like Jane Velez-Mitchell, honored for segments on her Issues program on CNN Headline News.


"These awards are changing the world," Jane said. Really? Yeah, I think so. And not just because she said it really loud.

Media can be used to build awareness and community and motivate action. Media does that every day for Coke, Pepsi, the New York Yankees, the New York Mets (well, maybe not the Mets, unless they become un-pathetic) and lots of other commercial interests. The thing that's different about the Genesis Awards is that the media-makers honored become role models who serve to encourage others. Their works become powerful forces attracting the problem solvers and solution makers, connecting the passions and ideas we need to fix everything. Everything? Just about. Take The Cove for example, honored on Saturday with a Genesis Award (and, recently, an Oscar). The film is a documentary with pop culture reality show appeal that exposes the dolphin slaughter going on in Japan. It was director Louie Psihoyos' first film. He told me, "If I can do it almost anybody can do it. I had a lot of help, not to disparage the real professionals making this film." Did he think it would motivate others to make movies or take action? "I wanted this film to inspire a legion of activists, and it's happening. Over a million people have signed up to help on this issue and other ones."


Louie, who modestly added, "I made this film in my back yard," found a way to make a connection between animal cruelty and the marine mammal "entertainment" we're offered in marine theme parks. His film helped people look at the big picture, making a connection between cruelty and the food that might end up on your table.

Recently, the associate producer on The Cove was involved in an undercover sting operation that exposed a Santa Monica restaurant serving whale meat. That's illegal -- and the restaurant closed its doors forever.

The Genesis Awards introduced me to other undercover guys exposing animal cruelty on factory farms and showed me how the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) is shutting down puppy mills. I spoke with Moby, a vegan who has found that media is helping even die hard New Yorker meat-eaters consider where their flesh is coming from. They're still going for the flesh, but they're trying free range and grass-fed -- more sustainable and healthier. Moby has edited a new book, along with Miyun Park that looks at factory faming and food safety. It's called Gristle.2010-03-24-IMG_7459.jpg

A film like Food, Inc. changes the perceptions and behavior of anybody who sees it. The movie Tapped is about where bottled water really comes from and has a huge advocacy and outreach program. Watch it, and you'll learn about the 700% markup on the water Pepsi sells you and how something called the Pacific Gyre is harming ocean life.


"Cruelty can't survive the spotlight," said Wayne Pacelle, President and CEO of HSUS. "None of us can be a bystander."

He's right. Events like the Genesis Awards draw attention to the issues and use celebrity awardees and presenters to do that. But when you make a good movie even more magic happens. You get the problem-solvers interested in the issues. Then media doesn't only advocate change but it actually engineers change. The media celebrated at the Genesis awards advocated a new model of service. Generating action, inspiring involvement and, perhaps most importantly, bringing the problem-solvers to the table who can really fix things.

Jane Velez-Mitchell photograph by Long Photography. All other photos by Lee Schneider.