With a wonky title, a horrifying introduction, and an altogether strange sense of chaos and order, Your Mommy Kills Animals presents a portrait of America’s most prolific in-house terrorist movement: the Animal Liberation Front. An umbrella term for the animal rights movement, ALF does not include high-profile organizations such as PETA or The Humane Society of the United States, both of which declined to be interviewed by the filmmakers. Instead, the film, like the activists, does its work at the grass-roots level. For all its awkwardness, YMKA is a documentary for thinkers that offers dense and comprehensive representation of animal rights as movement, ethic, culture, and law.
Named after an offensive PETA pamphlet, YMKA is not particularly even- handed in terms of craft but brilliantly even-minded in terms of argument. Director Curt Johnson establishes the complexity of the animal rights issue by creating parallels between activists and their opposition. The film begins with insider footage of a beagle beaten in a lab before cutting to ALF activists verbally accosting fluffy bourgeois women on the streets of New York City. Johnson hits at this double standard constantly, questioning if violence to fur carriers and carnivores is somehow preferable to violence done to innocent animals. These displays on the streets, as well as the recurrent bombings of testing labs, releasing of animals bred for fur and food, and the harassment of the executives (and their families) of Huntingdon Laboratories (the world’s leader in animal testing) are why ALF has earned the “terrorist” moniker. When the FBI put Stop Huntingdon Animal Cruelty (SHAC), a group dedicated to protesting animal testing, on their terrorist watch list, two strangely complementary things happened: six of SHAC’s leaders were charged with terrorizing Huntingdon employees through their website and people—all of the sudden—took notice.
As the main evidence of wrongdoing involves inflammatory content found on SHAC’s website, as opposed to evidence of assault or damage perpetrated by ALF activists, the case against the SHAC 7, a reference to the six charged leaders and their organization, hangs on issues of free speech and this broadens the trial’s reach considerably. All of the sudden, puppies take a backseat to the issue of first amendment rights and those who stand for the SHAC 7 include enclaves of indie art-house youth likely more concerned with parental advisory notices than with freeing lab rabbits. Nonetheless, SHAC 7’s trial is worth millions, and represents a wet blanket for ALF recruitment. But that’s one thing this movement doc doesn’t portend: This movement doc may show you a great deal of graphic, horrifying, and potentially scarring footage of animal cruelty but it isn’t trying to recruit members, and what feels like a lack of propaganda makes the film all the more cogent, intelligent, and powerful.