The Silverback on the Silver Screen: The Effect of Film Depictions of Apes on the Great Apes Movement

My study explores the question of whether film depictions of nonhuman apes, such as King Kong, Kerchak, Caesar, and Nim Chimpsky, hurt or help the Great Apes Rights movement, an Animal Liberation effort to create legislation that would extend human rights to nonhuman apes. Studying this topic through film explores how animal rights are presented to a public that may have no other interaction with the apes depicted and how this influences our understanding of the “humanness” of our closest evolutionary relatives. Through the lens of philosophy of animal rights, ape cognition theory, and human-animal “mind-reading”, I explore films that depict apes and aggression, human-animal interspecies relations (both positive and negative), the anthropomorphization of apes, and those that portray humans as nonhuman apes. Through this analysis, I conclude that the portrayal of apes in films humanize apes in a way that precipitates human empathy and value in their protection with the Great Apes Right movement. However, this anthropomorphism of nonhuman apes may hinder future movements for ape rights in which apes are seen as apes instead of as reflections of humans.

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