Why Okja is a must-see: what we can learn from fiction

Grab a couple of blankets, a plate of snacks and a box of tissues to settle down for a couple of hours in front of Netflix’s epic drama, Okja. This is exactly what I did this afternoon – minus the desperately-needed tissues. This film follows a young girl, Mija, on a journey to rescue her companion animal, the eponymous genetically modified superpig, from becoming part of the meat industry. The action begins in mountainous South Korea, where we get to know these two lead characters before the American company that bred Okja 10 years earlier, the Mirando Corporation, arrives to recapture Mija’s best friend; and so, with the help of animal rights activists, Mija attempts to save Okja from the slaughterhouse.

There is no denying it, this film battles heavy themes such as the mass systemic murder of sentient beings, the scale of our unthinking mass consumption, humanity’s lack of compassion, the problems of corporate capitalism and humanitarian crises such as global hunger, among others.

The ethical issues in relation to the treatment of animals brought up in the film, such as keeping creatures in horrible conditions and subjecting them to violence, rape, and of course slaughter, are all devastating reflections of reality. As a vegan, this is the aspect of the story that hit me the hardest; I haven’t cried that much at the uncomfortable and distressing acknowledgement of cruelty since watching Earthlings back at the beginning of my plant-based diet days.

If the premise of the plot all sounds a little heavy for your Friday film night, then don’t worry: Okja’s storyline is bolstered along by sparks of humour and heaps of heartwarming moments, as well as its great acting and cinematography.

I’m not going to write a full, in-depth review of how brutally brilliant Okja is, as there are plenty online already.

Watching this film brought to my mind the power of fiction, through many creative fields, to change societal perceptions and plant new thoughts in people’s minds that may flower into change. The first few that came to mind when I landed on this topic were 1984 by George Orwell (totalitarianism), Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes (human experimentation), John Green’s novels (mental illness), The Color Purple by Alice Walker (racism), The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (sexism), TV shows such as Black Mirror (advancement of technology) and Humans (artificial intelligence)… the list could go on for a long long time.

Okja is just one of many fictional creations that critiques society, or sets out an imagined trajectory for where humanity is heading. I think that having this kind of fiction in common circulation is so important for each of us to explore social issues in creative and accessible ways, look at different perspectives that offer speculative and imaginative thinking, and in turn help to fuel the fire for future change.


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