Investigative documentaries such as The Cove, Blackfish, The Tiger Mafia, Gasland, Food, Inc., Sea of Shadows, Peng Yu Sai, trigger a sense of moral outrage. They mobilize audiences through indignation and anger over the senseless killing of wild animals, harm to the defenseless, unrestrained environmental destruction. The Cove (2009) depicts mass killings of charismatic dolphins hunted in a sea of blood. Sea of Shadows (2019) tracks the near extinction of the world’s smallest whale due to the greedy and brutal pursuit of the swim bladder of the totoaba fish, known as the “cocaine of the sea”. The Tiger Mafia (2019) reveals the practice of speed breeding and killing of tigers for body parts. Peng Yu Sai (2020), a new investigative documentary with 23-year old wildlife presenter Malaika Vaz, dives into the illegal trade of Manta Rays from India’s oceans. The extreme risks that these investigative filmmakers and local allies take to infiltrate illegal practices can heighten viewers sense of outrage at the perpetrators and empathy with those affected.
Outrage and anger can motivate audiences to action, particularly if the topic relates to a behavior, policy or issue linked to the restriction of human rights. Importantly, these emotions can also spur viewers to become better informed. Josh Fox’s Gasland (2010), for example, was a catalyst for a dramatic increase in public discourse and action related to fracking. In an interview with director Josh Fox, NPR described Gasland as controversial due to the backlash the film received from the oil and gas consortiums, which further heightened public anger about the practices of these industries. Dark Circle (1982), which was recently re-released by the Academy of Motion Pictures, continues to stir a profound sense of outrage at the human and environmental costs of nuclear power. Its powerful storytelling interweaves history, science and human stories of resilience, in ways that are perpetually provocative and transcend time.