Emile Sherman: From 'The King's Speech' to Voiceless animal rights organization

Emile Sherman: From 'The King's Speech' to Voiceless animal rights organization

The Oscar-winning producer's passion is giving a voice to animal rights
Sherman Family
A family affair (from left): Ondine, Emile, Brian and Gene Sherman.

“I don’t think people want to have their nose shoved into the world of gruesome images,” says Emile Sherman, fresh from his Oscar-winning production, "The King’s Speech."

Want it or not, the gruesome images to which Sherman refers -- brutal depictions of cattle-industry animal cruelty and mistreatment -- have sent shockwaves through Australia over the last two weeks.

ABC's "Four Corners" program's exposé of the Australian cattle industry has led to a federal export ban to Indonesia.

For Sherman, the issue hits close to the bone.

Though internationally known as the Oscar-winning producer who gave England's King George VI a voice on the silver screen in "The King's Speech," Sherman has long advocated for animal rights.

He is a central figure in the not-for-profit activist organization, Voiceless, dedicated to ending the suffering of animals in Australia.

The effort is a family affair. Sherman's philanthropic father, Brian, started the organization with Emile’s sister, Ondine, and his mother, Gene. Ambassadors include actors Hugo Weaving and Abbie Cornish. South African-born Nobel Prize-winning novelist, J.M. Coetzee, is a co-patron.

“Voiceless and the animal protection world is part of the fabric of my life,” says Sherman, who hasn’t eaten meat since he was 21. “If people were aware of where the meat they eat comes from, they would in a large part take different decisions.

"The first step is largely to understand where your food comes from, and the ethical implications of it.”

For the first time since its inception, the organization's calls for animal rights have registered high on the political agenda. Suddenly, Voiceless is being heard.

Voiceless: a millionaire banker turns animal activist

VoicelessVoiceless activist and philanthropist Brian Sherman, with his dogs.Sherman's father, Brian, arrived in Australia from South Africa with his young family more than 30 years ago. At the time, he only had $5,200 to his name and an accounting degree.

He started EquitiLink Funds around the kitchen table with his wife’s cousin, Laurence Freedman, and eventually relocated to the United States chasing riches. Almost 20 years later, he sold the business for a US$185 million profit.

After attending a United States animal rights conference with his daughter in 2003, which featured video footage of animals in factory farms, he focused his attention on animal welfare.

“I have always felt a kinship with animals, but my experience there can only be described as traumatic,” Brian Sherman says. “We established Voiceless less than 12 months after, and have not looked back since.”

The elder Sherman said recent footage of treatment of Australian cattle, “made me sick to my stomach.”

“The Australian industry has known about the inhumane slaughter practices in Indonesia since 2000,” he says. “It has failed to improve animal welfare conditions and simply cannot be trusted.”

But he argues this is only skimming the surface.

“I have been to industrialised factory farms in Australia and have seen lots of footage of acute animal suffering due to physical pain and emotional distress," he says. "Live export is only part of the picture.

“Right now the cruelty of the kangaroo slaughter is hidden. I’m continually shocked by the fact that 1.1 million joeys are bashed to death each year after their mothers are shot for their meat. There is a misconception that kangaroos provide a green and sustainable source of protein, but this is simply not the case.

VoicelessA sow stall in Australia.“My hope is that the increased consumer knowledge will result in the banning of these cruel practices.” 

In Australia, debate rages about an inefficient Meat and Livestock organization, which is meant to oversee exports. Northern Australian politicians are crying foul, saying farmers –- already stricken by drought –- are copping it again. They are considering action against the government

Finding a voice

Emile ShermanEmile Sherman communicates his passion in his Paddington backyard.For Emile Sherman, there is no compromise.

“Obviously, there is a huge amount of cruelty in live exports and the way other countries treat animals," he says. "But it misses the point to think that this is something about overseas.”

“This is actually about Australia, and what we are prepared to accept and the ethics of how we want to live our lives," he says. "Do we want to be part of a system where you pay a little bit less and animals are treated like furniture? “

The organization funds film and media projects for individuals and organizations giving attention to animal’s rights.

Sherman is releasing a new movie, "Oranges and Sunshine," starring Emily Watson and Hugo Weaving. The film explores the cruelty suffered by child migrants in Australia.

But the Oscar-winner may soon turn his attention to rights of a different kingdom.

“If you want to make a film that’s going to really reach people, you have to find the right vehicle for it and a story that is in that landscape," Emile says. "But I believe it will have it one day, and I’ve always got my eye out.”

To find out more information about Voiceless, go to www.voiceless.com.au