Seaspiracy is propaganda, but does it matter?
When I asked my partner if he plans to watch Seaspiracy, he all but scoffed. "No! It's just propaganda! All documentaries are propaganda." Which led me to ask "you still won't watch it even though you know it's propaganda and it aligns with your own ethics?" No, he won't. I haven't eaten meat (including seafood) for over a year, I don't support the fishing industry, and I'm very aware of the plastic problem in our oceans. Seaspiracy wasn't going to shake my world. But I still watched it. Aside from just wanting to consume the latest pop culture content, I was interested to see what it contained and whether it would impact people's day-to-day lives.
The documentary has had a lot of eyes on it since it landed on Netflix, and made it to the streaming service's Top 10 lists around the world. But, of course, along with the consumption and support came criticism.
Countless YouTube videos and articles appeared from experts in the field, with titles like The 10 Things Seaspiracy Got Wrong and Mythbusting Seaspiracy. Some of the criticism seems believable and is from credible sources. The most common critiques state that the doco only provided one side of the argument (propaganda vibes), and that it misappropriated research papers and stats (more propaganda vibes).
Seaspiracy's main takeaway was that the best thing that we as the public can do for our oceans is to stop eating seafood. Though it was not an overwhelming message, the doco did, on a few occasions, mention that a plant-based diet is optimal for the oceans and planet as a whole.
Many critics say the doco was nothing more than vegan propaganda, and as a vegan, I would probably agree. But does that matter? Documentaries are supposed to tell a story. A story is not as compelling nor interesting if it tells all sides of the story. Docos shouldn't necessarily be taken as fact, but they very often are. Similar docos like Game Changers and Cowspiracy have faced the same criticisms. They're sensationalised and only give part of the story. The part that aligns with their core message.
Documentary makers are seeking stats, interviews, and footage that align with their message and help prove the point they're trying to make. That's something we're all guilty of when crafting a debate or argument. We only want to seek out the information that backs up our side of the argument.
I guess the question is whether those with a platform have a responsibility to tell both sides of the story. Should they risk making their movie (because, don't forget, it is a movie), a little less compelling, and risk the impact it will have on viewers for a more balanced argument?
If documentary makers are passionate about a cause, like the health of our oceans, why wouldn't they pick and choose the facts and stats that will make their argument stronger?
Before you make up your mind
It should be noted that critics and commentators have accused the producers of pedalling racist themes, including failing to acknowledge Inuit rights and customs and feeding into anti-Asian racism. We recommend doing your own research on these claims and consuming content from Inuit and Asian content creators and journalists. Take a look at this article on Vice and this one on Coconuts Bangkok.