What to Watch Next: Racing Extinction


As Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu, and other streaming services continue to entice audiences with a new lineup of bingeable shows this fall, try a different viewing experience: a documentary called Racing Extinction. Highlighting the human-induced, ongoing mass extinction of species, this film is an urgent warning for all of society. Racing Extinction depicts some of the most dire environmental issues in our time, almost combining the format of an undercover detective show and a traditional documentary to shock viewers and make them truly care about the environment’s future.

Towards the beginning, the film shows shaky footage from cameras hidden in an individual’s clothes as the person walks into a restaurant in Santa Monica, California. After ordering a dish that included whale meat, the individual receives the dish from a waiter, proving suspicions to be true. This was actual footage from a sting operation meant to expose the fact that the restaurant was selling illegal whale meat right in the United States. Another scene in the documentary depicts a massive rooftop in Hong Kong covered completely in bloodstained shark fins that were illegally harvested. These images display the ugly reality: humans across the world were exploiting endangered animals to gain profit, despite the existence of international treaties meant to protect these species. The underground trade of endangered species is lucrative in specific regions for distinct reasons; for example, manta rays and rhinoceros horn supposedly have medicinal value, and consumers pay high prices for these rare items. As I watched these nauseating exchanges occur in the documentary, I wondered how anyone could have the stomach to murder organisms of a species on the decline, but I realized that the truth was far from simple.

Racing Extinction contrasts both sides of the environmental debate, making it different from other films that merely horrify audiences with gruesome images of animal torture and omit other perspectives. The documentary explains that entire communities often rely on the trade of one endangered species in order to survive. Without these species, these societies would have no reliable source of income. For instance, the village of Lamakera in Indonesia relied solely on fishermen who caught manta rays and sold them, but when manta rays became a protected species under the CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora) Treaty, the village needed a new form of income. One of the filmmakers, Shawn Heinrichs, suggests that this hunting culture could be converted to a tourist culture in which former fishermen could row tourists into the ocean to catch a rare glimpse of the manta rays.
The film documents other aspects of the campaign to save endangered species, including the creation of a Tesla car with a projector that could project images of nearly extinct species onto large buildings anywhere in the world. The buildings range from the Empire State Building to the Vatican, and each projection show attracted large audiences and brought attention to the rapid mass extinction occurring today. Each scene in the documentary revealed a new truth about our planet and its unsustainable future, proving that every individual needs to care about endangered species and other environmental issues. If you’re sitting on the couch this weekend, scrolling through streaming platforms to look for an interesting yet insightful show, Racing Extinction could be the one you’re looking for. Once you see the film, you may re-evaluate your daily habits and even take small steps to help preserve the planet.