“I am never touching sushi again,” I swore to myself, like many other viewers, after I finished watching Seaspiracy, Netflix’s latest viral documentary hit. From the same filmmakers as Cowspiracy and directed by Ali Tabrizi, the controversial film managed to successfully alter my perception of seafood, forever. I couldn’t look at fish without being reminded of Seaspiracy’s disturbing images of slaughtered dolphins and sea turtles…
Or so I thought.
After a second watch, and conducting a bit of independent research into some of the bold claims the film makes, I’ve come to the disappointing (but unsurprising) conclusion that Seaspiracy is really only great at the surface level. If you dive deeper and beyond the depths of its beautiful, somewhat glossy production, Seaspiracy’s narrative suddenly seems a lot less convincing and impartial.
With a more critical eye, it becomes apparent that no amount of gorgeous cinematography is able to shroud the documentary’s glaring flaws of misinformation and lack of diversity and inclusion. It also becomes painfully obvious that the film is intended to push the audience towards veganism, citing cutting seafood out of your diet as the best solution to restoring our oceans’ ecosystems. This prompted not only my own questioning of Seaspiracy’s validity, but raised criticism and scepticism from viewers all around the world.
However, Seaspiracy’s spot in Netflix’s Top Ten shows after its release on the 24th of March was not without good reason. Despite a large amount of controversy it has stirred up, what the film gets right is its call for attention to the key role of our marine life and the immediate threat to our ecosystem. The film’s central focus of commercial fishing is also an important issue deserving of the spotlight, given its undeniably huge impact on our oceans and ecosystems.
Nevertheless, it’s equally important to address the inaccurate and outdated scientific information the film uses to back up these claims. I won’t bore you with every detail that Seaspiracy stretches or gets wrong – there are plenty of reputable internet sources that have done this already – but what I will say is that Tabrizi’s alleged misrepresentation of his interviewees is definitely something that sets the alarm bells off. Many of those quoted in the documentary have come out saying that their words have been taken out of context and bent in a way to fit the producers’ super privileged ‘just-go-vegan’ approach to solving the problems our marine ecosystems face.
Something that I still can’t decide whether or not was intentional or just executed with (very) poor taste is Seaspiracy’s lack of diversity and inclusion. Not only are 90% of the film’s interviewees white (uh, where are the BIPOC activists and organisations?), but Tabrizi seems to unfairly put a disproportionate amount of blame on Asian countries in terms of their part in commercial fishing, with a particular focus on the whaling industry of Japan. Are the producers just going to blatantly ignore the fact that Norway actually leads the world’s hunting quotas? Why are these white countries not villainised in the same way as the Asian nations featured in Seaspiracy? What happened to documentaries being objective and non-partisan? Surely, the director, a self-proclaimed marine life “enthusiast”, would’ve been informed enough to include this into his work?
But are Seaspiracy’s underlying xenophobic tones really that surprising? Tabrizi flat out naming Hong Kong “Shark-fin city”, amongst other overtly anti-Asian sentiments, throughout the film made me want to scream at the top of my lungs… Bro! Read the fucking room! You’d think big platform filmmakers would be more sensitive to the rise of anti-Asian hate crime amidst the current pandemic. I guess I’m mistaken in thinking we’ve come further in shutting down xenophobic ideas and stereotypes.
On the topic of exposing the problematic claims of Seaspiracy – it would be criminal to overlook Tabrizi’s incredibly privileged solution of just getting rid of seafood consumption, which he proposes will miraculously restore our marine ecosystems. This solution is ridiculously ignorant to the coastal communities and Indigenous peoples that rely on the ocean for income and nutrition. Unlike the mega-corporations that destroy our seas, many Indigenous communities live harmoniously alongside and continue to protect the ocean as their ancestors have done in the past. It’s no wonder Seaspiracy fails to take this into account after glancing at the perspectives featured. It’s no wonder Seaspiracy fails to take this into account after analysing the perspectives featured. Their extremely elitist, capitalist and Euro-centric solution clearly disregards all BIPOC voices – who in Tabrizi’s eyes are clearly not worth interviewing.
So… is Seaspiracy worth a watch or not? My verdict is that it is worth viewing as long as you take everything Tabrizi spits at you with a grain of salt. With that being said, in optimum conditions, the salt in question would be one rather large chunky-boy-grain. Viewer discretion is advised.
Illustration by Kiki Hall