Here’s why Kate Mara — mother, actor, and animal rights champion — was recently awarded for her compassionate work against the exploitation of all living beings.
If you’ve ever seen 2013’s Blackfish, you’ll know that Tilikum was one of SeaWorld’s most exploited orcas. The psychological damage of being forced to perform tricks and shows for entertainment — in a tank far from his natural environment in the North Atlantic Ocean — had devastating consequences, causing him to become aggressive to the point where he was involved in not one, but three fatal attacks.
The heart–wrenching film shocked millions and even caused SeaWorld’s ticket sales to drop. But while many saw Blackfish and decided to simply stop supporting marine captivity, for Kate Mara, now 39, watching the film was a catalyst for so much more.
That viewing led Mara, who is also an Emmy-nominated actor, to fight not just for the rights of orcas, but also for chimpanzees, horses, cows, pigs, chickens, and countless more. If there was an animal being exploited, she was going to stand up for them. And ten years since Blackfish’s release, she’s still fighting.
Here’s why Mara is one of the most compassionate, resilient, and respected voices standing up against animal (and human) injustice in the world right now, and why her dedication to fighting exploitation recently saw her receive the Animal Legal Defense Fund (ALDF)’s Impact Award.
Becoming a voice for the animals
“Watching Blackfish touched me in such a profound way,” Mara tells Ethos. “I was so unaware of the horrific treatment of killer whales, and was infuriated by it.” Her outrage even led her to befriend the film’s director Gabriela Cowperthwaite, so that she could learn more about the cause. “I knew I wanted to be alongside Gabriela in the fight to protect orcas,” she says. Since then, she has used her platform to stand up for the animals in a multitude of ways. In 2019, she teamed up with PETA to ask Russia to release 80 whales from captivity.
But animal abuse isn’t limited to the tanks of marine parks. In every industry where animals are used, particularly in the meat, entertainment, and tourist industries, there is exploitation. “Blackfish opened my eyes to so many more animals in need,” says Mara.
Over the years, she has advocated for meat-free meals and veganism and joined with organizations like ALDF to campaign for more animal protection laws. In 2020, she raised awareness of cruelty in the dairy industry, and last year, she helped call for a ban on horse-drawn carriages, after a video of an “elderly, emaciated” horse collapsing went viral.
‘One of the greatest privileges of my life’
But one of the causes closest to Mara’s heart is, without a doubt, Liberia Chimpanzee Rescue and Protection (LCRP). Set up by Jimmy and Jenny Desmond, LCRP is a sanctuary and conservation center dedicated to the rescue and rehabilitation of wild and orphaned chimpanzees in Liberia. In 2018, Mara visited the center for the first time, and she’s been a vocal and dedicated ambassador ever since.
“Working alongside my friends Jimmy and Jenny changed my life in so many ways,” says Mara. “Visiting their home in Liberia, and experiencing firsthand the amazing work they do to give chimpanzees the lives they deserve has been one of the most inspiring things I have ever experienced.” She added that learning about the species, and being close with the “incredible” orphaned chimps at LCRP, “continues to be one of the greatest privileges and lessons” of her life.
Mara’s commitment to chimpanzee conservation and protection has even earned her praise from Dr. Jane Goodall. In a video created especially for the actor’s ADLF Impact Award, the renowned primatologist said to the actor: “By helping Jim and Jenny to care for [these chimpanzees] when they were just abandoned, and also using your platforms to raise money for other chimpanzees orphaned by the bushmeat trade, you have made such a difference.”
Mara says she always tries “to make choices in advocacy that will have the greatest impact for animals.” She continues: “I have been involved in legislative and policy work, corporate campaigns, ballot initiatives, puppy mill rescues, protests in DC when animal welfare records were wiped, and of course, I try to talk about the amazing benefits of living a vegan lifestyle to my followers.”
Speaking up for the people
But the activist also knows that animal exploitation rarely happens in a vacuum. It is often connected and interwoven with other forms of abuse and exploitation, and there is no greater example of this than in the meat industry.
Factory farms across the United States raise animals in their thousands, but all of this intensive, industrialized farming pollutes the air, the soil, and the water, and this harms both people and the planet. For the communities that live near the country’s factory farms, the consequences are devastating.
In 2018, a study from Duke University suggested that communities living near industrial-scale hog farms were at a higher risk of developing potentially deadly diseases. It also found higher rates of infant mortality.
To raise awareness of this, Mara recently executively produced the 2022 documentary The Smell of Money, which focused on environmental racism from Big Pork, in particular. It covered one long legal battle with meat giant Smithfield Foods and examined why and how waste from hog farms is killing innocent people — many of them people of color from low-income communities.
In an interview with Variety, Mara was very clear that while animals are very much a part of this conversation, The Smell of Money is about the impact that their farming has on humans. “A lot of people automatically go ‘Oh, it’s a vegan activism film,’ and it’s not,” she told the publication. “This is about human activism.”
The ALDF Impact Award
For her work on The Smell of Money, in Liberia, and on various animal rights campaigns over the years, Mara was recently honored with ALDF’s Impact Award. The organization — which works with a number of celebrities and is focused on legal rights for animals — praised her “tremendous contributions to animal protection.”
The award was presented to her by her husband Jamie Bell, who is also an actor. He praised his wife for being “compassionate, energetic, and relentless,” and for being an inspiration to him and their “incredible children.” Her sister, Rooney, another actor and animal rights activist, also congratulated Mara in the presentation, alongside people including Elliot Page, Jimmy Desmond, Cowperthwaite, and New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, who is another keen advocate for plant-based living.
“We’re all interwoven in a common destiny,” said Booker. “Mara is a person that stands up for justice for all. I am grateful, she is a lightworker, she is worthy of this honor.” Page added, “You’ve inspired me and so many others about the importance of animal protection, it’s amazing that you’re being recognized.”
‘Let us replace violence and intolerance with understanding’
But Mara is also keen to share that animal advocacy is not an exclusive club. Anyone and everyone can get involved, and bring whatever skills or experience they have.
“We’ve grown so large as a movement that we need people who are from all areas of business including accountants, lawyers, and educators, for example,” she explains. “In short, if you are passionate about animal rights, you do not need to give up what you’re good at in order to make a difference. It’s very likely that an organization or a campaign needs your precise skills to advance its work to protect animals.”
And as for Mara herself, well, in the words of Booker, “she ain’t done yet.”
The next phase of her life will be just as focused on animal advocacy, if not more. “I promise to use any influence I have to encourage people to consider animals and to support organizations like ALDF,” Mara said in her award acceptance speech.
“My hope is that one day we can all recognize that how we treat animals is a reflection of who we are,” she continued. “As my hero Jane Goodall has said before, ‘let us develop respect for living things. Let us replace violence and intolerance with understanding and compassion and love.’”
To find out more about ALDF and its fight to protect animals, see here.
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