Human Zoos, a new documentary in the indie world by Dr. John West, is making waves within the festival circuit and causing America to become the main attraction in the film’s spectacle. In September 1920, there was a huge crowd rushing to see the latest attraction at the Bronx Zoo in Bronx, New York. Hoping to get a little insight of what evolution may have brought about, onlookers eagerly waiting in front of the rusted cages were shocked to see Ota Benga, a pygmy from the African Congo. Ota and thousands of other indigenous people were held captive, humiliated, harassed and used as an exhibit baiting tool to increase Zoo visitors.
The idea of this “attraction” was to allow people to believe in the idea that scientists may have found the missing link between apes and humans, which would have furthered along their narrative of Social Darwinism. Human Zoos shares the dark history of this trending form of entertainment that is based in scientifically dehumanizing a class of people. The film also highlights the long-term effects that has affected how Americans view each other racially, and the Bronx heroes, African-American ministers, who fought to do away with the horrific exhibit.
Dr. John West follows the trail of pseudo-scientific racism and how it lurks behind the Darwinian theory still to this day. This film is the wake-up call that American scientists needed to bring to light the dark history of evolution. Even though my belief in evolution and creation is biblically based, for the sake of the argument, I will entertain the idea of Darwin’s theory. It is quite comical to think that a class of people would look at another class of people and finds themselves superior over the other because they are thought to be the catalyst for the beginning stages of how humans evolving. I would think that it would be other way around, but I guess common sense isn’t so common even if it’s regarding science.
I find that in a situation such as the deeming ape exhibit in the Bronx zoo, the most daunting component is that they used this family friendly environment to conduct and falsify a scientific experiment deeply rooted in ignorance and hatred. It is hard for me to come to grips with seeing the residual effects from the human zoo still to this day play out right in front of me. I have family members that strongly believe in this theory because “It makes sense.” Why does it make sense that people originating from Africa seem to be the only group to morph out of monkeys? Why can’t our people see that idea is another insert of the notion that we are looked at as one less than a “real human being”? This is why I support the journey of this film throughout the film festival route. It has the potential to reach a broader audience across each region in the hope to change their perspective of who African-Americans are, and where we as a human race actually originated from. Scientific racism is something that is not talked about often, if ever. Human Zoos will put an end to that by dispelling the misconception of Social Darwinism and bring to the forefront the organization that is still trying to conceal their involvement in such a shameful attempt at combining entertainment and “education.”