By Marshall Wong
“The Asian fishery industry is so sketchy!”
This was precisely my reaction after watching Seaspiracy, a Netflix documentary by British filmmaker Ali Tabrizi that attempts to reveal the damaging effects of fishing industries on our oceans. As I continued to recuperate from the gory images of the dead carcasses of dolphins in Japan, I glanced towards my brother, who held a similar complexion.
I soon began to wonder, “does this really just occur in Asia?”
A few days later, I revisited the documentary with a fresh mind, but this time with the deliberate intention of determining whether Tabrizi’s portrayal of Western fisheries is different from that of Asian fisheries. It is hard not to notice the documentary’s overwhelming, disproportionate criticism of Asian fisheries, whilst, on the contrary, praising the predominantly white environmental activists as the hero and the protector of the oceans.
Figure 2. Taiji dolphin Hunters.
The presence of an anti-Asian undertone is clear when Tabrizi incorporates such details as intense music, a shaky frame, and disturbing cinematography whenever showcasing an Asian fishery. Tabrizi uses “selective” footage of a Japanese fisherman holding a knife as he approaches the camera; as well as footage of an aggravated Hong Kong shop owner scramming away the videographer to portray Asian fishermen in a negative manner.
Furthermore, Tabrizi places much emphasis on the criticism of, for example, the Taiji dolphin hunt, while Norway had surpassed Japan in the total whaling numbers. It is true that two wrongs don’t make a right, but portraying a single perspective without ever mentioning others undoubtedly places Japan at the forefront of international criticism.
Fig.3 Japanese fisherman holding a knife as he approaches the camera.
Tabrizi’s “cherry-picking” selection of footage is reflected in the film’s imbalance of interviews. While allegedly hypocritical Western organizations like Oceanea have a chance to justify and—at the very least—voice their motives and redeeming qualities, there are no interviews arranged for formal representatives of Asian fisheries. In fact, “nearly all of the Asian voices that are heard in “Seaspiracy” are the panicked yells of fishermen telling Tabrizi to turn his camera off.” On the rare occasion that the interview of an Asian individual is featured in the film, they were consistently portrayed as a distressed fisherman waiting for the rescue of “white saviors”.
Despite the merits of the documentary, it is undeniably biased in its disproportionate critique of Asian fisheries with an overarching anti-Asian undertone—to an extent that I was given the impression that Asia is the sole cause of ocean damage promptly after finishing the documentary. Although Asian fisheries have done damages to the ocean, they shouldn’t be the only ones blamed for it. With the current surge of anti-Asian hate crimes, I began to contemplate whether it is the media’s deliberate portrayal of Asian communities that incites so much hate.