“Life of Pi” director Ang Lee defended the conditions under which a tiger named King nearly drowned while filming the Oscar-winning movie in 2011.
The incident was “downplayed,” according to an email obtained by Hollywood Reporter during an exclusive investigation on the treatment of animals in filmmaking.
The 2011 email was from Gina Johnson, a monitor for the American Human Association (AHA), which is responsible for designating films with the credit “No Animals Were Harmed” during the making of the film.
"Last week we almost f**king killed King in the water tank," Johnson wrote. "This one take with him went really bad and he got lost trying to swim to the side. Damn near drowned."
"I think this goes without saying,” she added, “but don't mention it to anyone, especially the office! I have downplayed the f**k out of it."
King’s trainer was able to catch him with a rope and drag him to the side of the tank, where he scrambled out to safety.
“It was an accident,” Lee responded to the report. "The crew worked hard to rescue the tiger and then showed him a lot of care, giving him five-star treatment."
"We gave a lot of care to the tiger, as much as we possibly could,” he added.
Fox, the film’s distributor, denied the incident ever occurred.
"The tiger, King, was never harmed and did not 'nearly drown' during the production," a Fox spokesperson told the Hollywood Reporter. "We take on-set safety very seriously and take every precaution necessary to ensure that no one – animal or human – is harmed during the production of our films."
The report also mentions dogs dying of “bloat and cancer” during the production of “Our Idiot Brother” and “Marmaduke”; a shark dying during the filming of a Kmart commercial; dozens of fish dying during the production of “Pirates of the Carribean: The Curse of the Black Pearl”; and others.
The AHA says the report on animals being injured or killed during filmmaking “distorts the work and record of a respected nonprofit organization that has kept millions of beloved animal actors safe on film and television sets around the world.”
“It’s fascinating and ironic: From being the protectors of animals they’ve become complicit to animal cruelty,” Bob Ferber, a veteran L.A. City Attorney’s office prosecutor, said of the AHA. “This is worse than doing nothing. This is like a cop not just ignoring a crime but helping cover it up.”