'Blackfish' Director Aims Her Focus on Military Dogs in 'Megan Leavey'

Gabriela Cowperthwaite's eye for animals shines again on the big screen.
By: Aly Semigran
Gabriela Cowperthwaite

When director Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s award-winning documentary “Blackfish”was released in 2013, it sparked nothing short of an animal rights revolution.

The film, which unflinchingly captured the conditions in which captive orca whales were kept at SeaWorld parks, struck a nerve with animal lovers and propelled major changes after public outcry. Most recently, SeaWorld announced that it would phase out trained orca shows entirely and will no longer breed them in captivity.

“I won’t be able to make sense of this until ten years from now,” Cowperthwaite says about the effect of “Blackfish.” “I didn’t engineer it and I didn’t expect it. I wanted to make a really good film that would resonate.”

That it did. In fact, film resonated with many animal lovers, including actress Kate Mara.

When Mara signed on to play U.S. Marine corporal and Police K-9 handler Megan Leavey in the biopic of the same name, she urged that Cowperthwaite helm the film. If anyone would be able to tell the story of the bond between Leavey and her military combat dog, Rex, it would be the woman behind “Blackfish.”

Not only did Cowperthwaite know how to tell a story about animals, but she would fight for them in every way.


“The safety and comfort of animals on set is paramount,” she says.

On set, Cowperthwaite was thrilled to not only have a talented and caring cast and crew (including five different dogs who played Rex as well as military consultants and Leavey herself) but to tell the story of military dogs and their importance in all of our lives.

“They’ve been fighting alongside us since the Revolutionary War,” Cowperthwaite says, adding that she describes military dogs as “in front of the front line,” a phrase that was included in the film. “Their sacrifice is unfathomable.”

In the way that “Blackfish” touched and motivated viewers to put an end to orca captivity, Cowperthwaite hopes that when viewers see Leavey’s experience with Rex, it raises awareness that all military dogs need to be brought home safely.

With overwhelmingly positive reviews trickling in before the movie’s June 9 release nationwide, Cowperthwaite’s films seem to resonate with us for a simple reason.

“Animals remind us of what we love best about ourselves,” she says. “[Through animals like Rex] we absorb the concept of sacrifice, compassion, loyalty, and friendship.”

Images via Michael Tacket/Jacob Yakob/Bleecker Street