Animal Farm is an allegorical novella by George Orwell, first published in 1945. It became famous for the phrase “all animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others”. Led by the pigs, a group of animals overthrow the humans from the farm on which they live and take ownership of the means of production, only to impose a brutal tyranny of their own. According to the author himself, it is a satirical take on communism in the Soviet Union during the Stalin era. Orwell had fought in the Spanish civil war and his criticism of totalitarianism, of left and right alike, had been sharpened by his association with the novelist Arthur Koestler, a communist who had been threatened with execution by the fascists in Spain.
The film version of the book was released to great acclaim in 1954. Twenty years later, in 1974, it emerged that America’s Central Intelligence Agency had funded the animated movie. During the 1950s through to the 1970s, the CIA paid a number of prominent journalists working for high-profile media outlets such as Time, The Washington Post, The New York Times, CBS, etc to publish CIA propaganda. The secret campaign was known as Operation Mockingbird. In his book ‘Undercover: Memoirs of an American Secret Agent’, American intelligence officer Everette Howard Hunt revealed that he had been involved in the CIA’s Psychological Warfare Workshop, part of the government’s cultural offensive during the Cold War, and had been sent to England to obtain the screen rights to Animal Farm from Orwell’s widow Sonia. Hunt later found notoriety as part of the team that broke into Watergate and was convicted of burglary, conspiracy, and wiretapping, eventually serving 33 months in prison.
The film was the idea of US film producer Louis de Rochemont, who was connected to the Campaign for Cultural Freedom, a body financed by the CIA to disseminate Western thinking during the cold war. Impressed by the wartime propaganda films made for the British government by Halas and Batchelor, de Rochemont and the CIA decided to hire the English film company to deliver the Animal Farm project. They calculated that it would be cheaper to make the film in England and believed they could easily keep the husband and wife team in the dark about who was funding the film. Many of the animators who worked on the film are believed to have thought it was just a farm story. Work on the film began in 1951 and took three years to complete.
Orwell would not have approved of the film ending. At the end of his book, the animals become unable to tell the difference between the pigs and the humans: “The creatures outside looked from pig to man, and from man to pig, and from pig to man again; but already it was impossible to say which was which.” In the CIA-approved conclusion to the film, however, the animals seek help from outside and overturn the pigs in a counter-revolution. The CIA evidently hoped this ending would serve their anti-communist propaganda purposes much better. It was a shocking liberty to take with one of the most compelling and influential pieces of world literature.