It’s a horse named Ghost that first signals that something is wrong in the sky in Jordan Peele’s latest visually and thematically ambitious film. no. OJ (Daniel Kaluuya) is the head wrangler of Heywood Hollywood Horses, an intergenerational, Black-owned and now struggling ranch that specializes in training horses for the big screen.
But it’s his sister Emerald (Keke Palmer) who notices that Ghost, one of their family’s veteran horse actors, unexpectedly stares into space in an outdoor pen, his light gray fur as sublime as the moonlight. Ghost jumps over the fence and gallops away, saying “no” in his own way.
Like a subversive western science fiction kaleidoscope, no challenges viewers to think about technology, surveillance, otherworldly life and creating spectacle through different lenses – including the eyes of animals. The result is a disturbing look that exposes key ethical questions about the work of animals in movies, including in movies. no yourself.
Reform or replace?
As Emerald recounts early in the film, the very first moving image was created from photographs of a man galloping on a horse, specifically a black jockey whose name has been lost to — or erased from — history, depending on your perspective. The horse’s name was Sallie Gardner.
Horses have a long and rocky history in Hollywood. Early Hollywood movies put horses in grueling working conditions, often resulting in injury or death. They were essentially treated as disposable items.
Now on-set animal actions, at least in the United States, are controlled by the nonprofit American Humane. Additionally, on-screen animals are increasingly computer-generated images or motion capture marvels that combine digital images with human actors, as was the case in the award-winning rebooted Planet of the Apes trilogy starring Andy Serkis as the lead chimpanzee, Caesar. We have both reshaped and replaced the work of animals with making entertainment.
Horses and chimpanzees are now often placed on opposite sides of a perceived boundary between acceptable and unacceptable animal use. Most horses have been domesticated and have worked for humans for thousands of years. Their careers, reproduction and social lives are largely determined by people. By contrast, although individual chimpanzees have been kept in captivity, their species remain wild.
no reflects this rift and begins with the chilling sounds of what viewers later heard was a chimpanzee named Gordy, the star of a sitcom of the same name, who snarls after balloons pop loudly on set, eventually attacking his human co-stars.
This reflects real outbursts of humans and animals, such as when Mantacore mauled the tiger Roy Horn from the (be)famous Siegfried & Roy, or when Travis the “pet” chimpanzee and former actor attacked his keeper’s friend before he was taken by the police. shot.
In no, the tragedy involving Gordy (Terry Notary) is revealed in excruciating detail, including a evocative moment when the chimpanzee sees his young counterpart Ricky (Jacob Kim) hiding under a table. The two reach out to touch the hands as the bullets fly. In a horrified situation, viewers are asked to consider whether the fundamental tragedy is Gordy’s job as an actor.
Horses at work
Each chapter in the film is named after an animal – Ghost, Lucky, Clover, Gordy and Jean Jacket – with four horses and a chimpanzee in the foreground. The horses are essential to the Heywood family’s livelihood and legacy, with OJ noting that he has to get up early because “he has mouths to feed”.
But the ultimate fate of Ghost, the horse that sounded the alarm by running away, is unclear. More disturbingly, Clover encounters an untimely (off-screen) ending, one that is surprisingly not lamented and barely noticed.
By contrast, Lucky, who is portrayed as a wise and skilled horse, is essential to every facet of the plot. OJ asks the people on a television not to look Lucky in the eye in the beginning of the film, foreshadowing later alien communication.
As a lifelong rider, I can attest that horses generally have no concerns about eye contact. Recent studies have shown that they are not only attuned to human facial expressions, but also have more than a dozen of their own facial expressions. Granted, the dislike may be specific to Lucky.
Without a doubt, the real horse (or maybe horses) that Lucky plays is extraordinary. Most horses are afraid to blow on objects. Yet Lucky, in partnership with OJ, gallops past a slew of massive wind puppets that dance erratically, without blinking. That reflects significant preparation and real-time emotional control.
Animal actors and the skills involved in their work are recognized. Canadian television show Hudson and Rex’s dog star, Diesel vom Burgimwald, is featured in the credits and appears regularly on the show’s social media channels. Jeff Daniels, in his Emmy acceptance speech for Godless, thanked his equine partner Apollo.
But the real horses that played Lucky, Clover and Ghost in no are not included in the credits. The lead horsefighter – Bobby Lovgren – is mentioned, but the horses are left out. In a film that vigorously explores the ethics of animal actors, it’s strange for those it depends on to be erased in this way.
When it comes to our ethical duties to other animals—especially when we ask them to work for our entertainment—we must exercise great caution and pay close attention when they say “no.” Representation and respect must go hand in hand.