By Blair Ewalt
Racing Extinction is a stunning documentary that explores the causes and possible solutions to the Anthropocene Extinction Event. The film is directed by Boulder resident and Academy Award winning director of The Cove, Louie Psihoyos, whose background spars from nearly two decades of photojournalism with National Geographic.
The term Anthropocene describes the current era of man that lives on the planet Earth. The extinction event itself, the largest in geological history, is caused by the negative externalities that have arisen due to human activity in the relatively fractional moment that humans have subsided on Earth.
Racing Extinction conveys a strong message of environmental conservation to an audience of consumers who are sympathetic to nonhumans and ecologically conscientious, while negating those who view nonhuman and nonhuman good trafficking as a staple in their livelihood and the ecologically non-punctilious.
The film highlights the Anthropocene Extinction Event and the need for human intervention before climate change reversal is intangible. The film looks at inhumanities that are occurring to a majority of species on the planet due to human industrialization and the aftereffects of our barbaric colonization of the land and the sea, causing voiceless animals to go extinct at a rate 1000x the biological status quo.
Racing Extinction is an ecological, narrative-style documentary following the director, Louie Psihoyos, as he gathers information on the destruction humans have caused on the biosphere and the need for humans to act to save endangered species before they go extinct. He then tries to convey the information to individuals worldwide through a collaborative art piece, a multimedia display of extinction related images projected onto various buildings throughout multiple cities. The projections made an attempt to change people’s values about endangered nonhuman rights and drive away ecological apathy.
The implied audience of Racing Extinction is those who are ecologically willing and nonhuman sympathizers. The audience, or second persona, is conveyed by the context of the piece, and to whom the film would appeal. The film concentrates on the need for people to get involved in the reversal of the Anthropocene Extinction Event if we want to still have more than half of today’s species numbers in a century. In theory, a message is most effectively conveyed to those who have enough lack of ignorance to truly understand the topic, and so it only makes sense that Racing Extinction makes the ecological community a main target audience.
The theory is best exemplified in the extensive use of jaw-dropping imagery that constantly reels the audience’s attention, from ethereal seascapes to rooftops covered in shark fins, favoring audiences whose imaginations are already captured by such provoking images. Nonhuman sympathizers are similarly a main target audience of the film as the film preaches to the environmentalist and conservationist choir. Racing Extinction uses big name ecological cameos which also attract such audiences, such as primatologist Jane Goodall and futurist Elon Musk. Contextual keys such as the central themes and provoking imagery reveal the implied audience.
The audiences negated by Racing Extinction are those who thrive off of wildlife and wildlife trafficking and the non-ecologically minded. In the film, the village of Lamakera, Indonesia is presented as a manta ray fishing village that is environmentally unethical and in need of change. A problem exists. With up to 15,000 mantas being killed every day, if current rates of manta ray fishing sustain, manta rays could go extinct in as soon as a century, but the film negates this perspective shared by the village. Since the advent of global trade, the village’s most precious commodity has become the manta ray gill. Manta ray trade has allowed for the growth of their economy as well as the employment of many, so why should they have to sacrifice their wellbeing in order to appease a band of filmmakers and activists?
This third persona, those who use the nonhuman artifacts to their benefit, are disregarded as they are outside of the filmmakers’ agendas. The ecologically non-punctilious are also reached out to in the documentary; in fact, that is the point of the whole movie, to share the message of environmental enlightenment to those who, “have stopped listening.” However, despite the filmmakers’ best interests, this audience cannot be reached as they are not as ecologically inclined as the target audience of environmental thinkers. This audience considers the conservational thought trite and is prone to shortcomings of ecological heedfulness.
Disregarding the third persona, Racing Extinction succeeds in conveying its message that people need to change their habits in order to save endangered species from extinction and protect species more species from becoming endangered. To get this message across and provide a sense of urgency, the filmmakers had to ignore certain hardships such as the impact of their work on global economies and instances of large scale environmental success in the previous decade. One such success story is the expansion of the Papahānaumokuākea National Monument by President Barack Obama.
Using his executive authority by the U.S. Antiquities Act President Obama was able to quadruple the size of the national monument, bringing the size to twice that of Texas, prohibiting fishing in the zone around Hawaii. If the audience was aware of the fact that such massive conservationist projects already do take place, they would be less likely to support the cause under the guise that other people are already doing enough. If this mindset continues to carry on, eventually so many people will believe it that no change will be made. Louie Psihoyos credits this mindset as the cause of the Baiji dolphin extinction.
Racing Extinction is a provocative documentary that is effective in informing ecologically minded individuals that their behavior could affect the outcome of the Anthropocene Extinction Event while negating the economic preferences of certain livelihoods and those who lack environmental audacity.
Barnett, Cynthia. “Hawaii Is Now Home to an Ocean Reserve Twice the Size of Texas.” National Geographic, National Geographic Society, 26 Aug. 2016.
Black, Richard. “Environment: The Case against Protection.” BBC News, The BBC, 29 July 2011.
“A Manta Fishing Village’s Transformation in ‘Racing Extinction‘.” WildAid, WildAid, 4 Dec. 2015.
“Projects.” OPSociety, Oceanic Preservation Society.