In this essay, Benjamin Schultz-Figueroa presents an analysis of two recent “multispecies documentaries”: Cow (Andrea Arnold, 2021) and Gunda (Viktor Kossakovsky, 2021). He suggests that both films prompt viewers to think expansively about the onscreen animals as sociopolitical subjects and in doing so, to rethink political society at large. Challenging the persistent conflation of authenticity, empathy, and political action used to promote films like these, Schultz-Figueroa argues that the films’ value instead lies in creating a sense of contingency whereby contemplation, evaluation, irony, and finally judgment is made possible. In being willing to imagine animals destined for the slaughterhouse as important historical phenomena in their own right, Cow and Gunda transform their nonhuman protagonists into essential figures for understanding the broader political milieu.

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