When hearing the plot line of Netflix’s Okaja, it’s easy to be skeptical on whether it is a movie worth watching. It’s not very often that storylines like this one make it outside of independent films. This film highlights the modern agricultural system and our perception of animals and meat as two separate things.
Lately many documentaries have been made regarding the consumption of meat, the unfair treatment of animals, pollution created by the meat industry and the dangers of a diet high in meat. In Okja, we see a hippo/pig hybrid that is meant to be as adorable as possible in order for viewers to fall in love with it.
Eventually it’s impossible not to love the large chubby creature and his owner Mija, both of whom are dragged out of the Korean mountains and into the modern world where animals are seen as a commodity.
The Mirando corporation, alongside its eccentric and obsessed CEO Lucy Miranda played by Tilda Swinton, seems to be a clear jab against Monsanto, the company known to have genetically modified many crops and held patents over certain seeds that farmers can’t plant without owing them money, something they usually achieve through the use of intimidation.
Of course Miranda is not only representing Monsanto, but rather the modern business model of any company that has a direct effect on natural resources and their consumption and the capitalism that hunts many industries today.
Okja is definitely a story that strikes at the heart of our relationship with animals used for food consumption (cattle). As a society, humans have classified animals into those that are “untouchable” like dogs, cats and basically all fury and cute animals and those that people either don’t care about or turn a blind eye to when killed.
Meat producers today are not only threatening animal welfare, but according to an article published by The Guardian, cattle now accounts for 12 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions on the planet. Also, the amount of land used to raise cattle across the world has led to major deforestation and it’s not only grain feeding, hormone using and factory killing corporations that are hurting the environment, even organic farmers need large amounts of land to feed their cattle grain-free, making this an unsustainable model in the long run.
People and governments across the planet have taken on efforts to switch from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources, however, the same does not seem to apply to our food consumption. It’s really easy to feel guilty for a couple of minutes, hours, days and maybe months about consuming meat, but for those who have had a meat heavy diet throughout their lives giving up this product is often an extremely difficult task.
Okja also leaves the viewer with a guilty feeling about meat production and consumption but mostly because of the cute animal and its relationship with a little girl. The truth is that it is hard to feel for a cow. Corporations have worked for years on advertising and marketing campaigns that make people love meat more than we love cows, pigs or chickens.
We can learn to love a cow, like Mija loves Okja, but the word cattle renders individuality useless. We can’t single out one animal, name it and humanize it, and therefore we can be more comfortable with the idea of killing and eating this animal, as long as we don’t witness the killing.
In the modern age, consumers are the ones put in charge of making the ethical decisions, because most corporations have developed a greed that’s powered and supported by governments.
Okja’s dog like qualities are meant to underline our hypocrisy when it comes to the animals we chose to love and the animals we chose to eat. If anything, that might be the biggest message of a movie that will hopefully help unearth more scripts that tackle modern day environmental issues and start a new kind of conversation regarding the food industry and our responsibility as consumers.