A Joaquin Phoenix Animal Rights Documentary Helped Defuse a Ukraine Hostage Crisis

President Zelensky endorsed the 2005 documentary “Earthlings” as narrated by the Oscar winner as part of gunman’s demands

Joaquin Phoenix
Photo by Tristan Fewings/Getty Images

A 2005 animal rights documentary narrated by Joaquin Phoenix called “Earthlings” in part helped Ukrainian officials defuse a tense hostage situation.

The New York Times reported Wednesday that a 12-hour hostage situation ended after a gunman demanded, among other things, Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelensky endorse the documentary, which he did in a now-deleted post to his Facebook.

“Everybody watch the 2005 film ‘Earthlings,’” Zelensky said in a post to his Facebook.

The documentary, directed by Shaun Monson and narrated by Phoenix, uses hidden camera footage that captures animals suffering and being abused for scientific research or as part of the agricultural industry.

The gunman held 13 hostages while armed with automatic weapons and explosives, according to the Times. None of the hostages were physically harmed.

After previously releasing three hostages, the Times says the gunman released the remaining 10 hostages after Zelensky posted his endorsement of “Earthlings.” Local Ukrainian media also reported that the hostage-taker showed the documentary to the hostages while holding them captive on a bus.

Zelensky issued a statement via the Times after the hostages were released defending his decision to agree to the gunman’s demand to endorse the film.

“We were not fighting for ratings,” Zelensky said. “We were fighting for lives.”