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This story first appeared in the Aug. 28 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
When an organization has been as effective as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, it’s hard to believe they’ve been around for only 35 years. It all started when some forward-thinking people launched a group that would rip the lid off corporate and government wrongdoing to animals, get behind the scenes in everything from fur ranching to chicken farming and demand that we replace cruel choices with kind ones. Where would we be today without PETA? Before PETA was around, you could pretty much do anything you wanted to animals, anytime, anyhow. And now you can’t — think about that. Being on PETA’s board is a perfect fit for me because PETA takes on the status quo and challenges conventional thinking. I push the envelope because the envelope needs pushing, so I love that PETA doesn’t tiptoe over the line — they jump over it with both feet.
Take PETA president Ingrid Newkirk‘s comments about the twisted killing of Cecil the lion. Perhaps her tongue was planted firmly in cheek when she said Cecil’s killer should be “tried and preferably hanged,” but she put into words what most of us were feeling. Serial killers, like trophy hunters, are cowards who kill in cold blood so they can decorate their “man caves” with animals’ heads. They deserve about as much empathy as they afford their victims: none. In a news cycle of sound bites, PETA is a household name — they’re the Beyonce of charities. They never waver in their belief that they can win for animals. Sure, they face pushback for forcing us to take a hard look at ourselves, but we do look. That kind of approach gets things done, like having Ringling Bros. finally recognize that people “get” that elephants aren’t meant to wear silly hats and do headstands.
Unlike lion killers, PETA only goes after fair game: anyone who hurts animals. They are equal-opportunity critics — they’ll call anyone out and praise anyone who does right. PETA has closed animal labs and convinced the top 10 U.S. ad agencies to stop exploiting great apes. They’ve gotten Tesla to offer all-vegan car seats, Zara’s parent company to donate about $1 million worth of angora garments to refugees rather than sell them and Ikea to dish up vegan Swedish meatballs. Who would have imagined any of that 35 years ago?
PETA’s goal is to make a kinder world for animals. I agree with that. And so does my rescue dog, whom I love for a lot of reasons — one being that every time I come home, he greets me like I’m The Beatles. We need more people who stick up for the underdog and undermouse. This country is not overrun with rebels and freethinkers; it’s overrun with conformists. And PETA has never conformed. That’s why I’m right there with them, full on.
Bill Maher is a comedian, author, host of HBO’s Real Time With Bill Maher and an 18-year board member of PETA.
Read more from THR’s philanthropy issue below.
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