Racing Extinction, directed by Louie Psihoyos, is a 2015 documentary in which undercover activists illustrate the mass extinction of animals due to human activity. These activists traveled globally and brought to light issues of the endangered wildlife trade, the effects of oil and gas companies, the loss of various species, and the passing of legislation that will ultimately protect these animals. When initially sitting down in theaters to watch Racing Extinction I didn’t anticipate the movie to evoke such a strong emotional reaction from me. From the opening scene to the ending credits, the filmmakers demonstrated just how dire the need for change is. If the environment, the ocean, and animals are to survive then we as a people must act. We cannot wait for others to act in our place.
My first heartbreak occurred approximately 10 minutes into the film while listening to the beautiful song of the last Kauai O’o bird. The Kauai O’o was native to Hawaii. It is now extinct. A recording of the last male Kauai O’o was played in the film. This particular species would mate for life once it found its other half. Unfortunately, he was the last of his kind and upon his death, the species was lost. He spent his life waiting for a female lover to sing in return to him. His life ended in solitude, never having found another Kauai O’o to complete his melody.
This is not the only heartbreak I endured while watching the documentary. Another unfathomable scene included the hunting and slaughter of manta rays for their value within Chinese medicine. These beautiful oceanic creatures were hunted, speared, and once their ability to fight was gone, which sometimes lasted over 60 minutes, they were stabbed with a machete through their brain. As painful as these scenes were to watch, the brutality of the situation must be viewed, to demonstrate how severe the need for change has become.
As the film progressed, my heart began to mend. One crucial moment that gave me hope was the altering of the Indonesian manta ray industry. Indonesia is a large manta ray supplier for China. They now provide tourists with the opportunity to swim with manta rays and hope to bring in more revenue this way. The activists in the film worked tirelessly to incite a global change and did so successfully. In 2013, they attended the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species, CITES, and were able to help ban the manta ray from being hunted with a passing vote of 91 to 39.
Not only did they help make this change, but they also brought awareness to the people of New York City with a beautiful projection display on the walls of buildings such as the Empire State Building. Crowds formed to watch the faces of extinct and future extinct animals to be. It gives me hope that change is possible. As one activist in the film said “Better to light one candle than curse the darkness. There’s so many people who sit back and say we’re screwed—or, you know, why bother, but you know what? That candle, that candle means something because with that one candle maybe someone else with a candle will find you…I think that’s where movements are started.” Racing Extinction is a film worth watching. It is visually stunning, heartwarming, and truthful. It may inspire you to light your own candle in the darkness.