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Primate Documentaries: A Critical Analysis of Their History

In: Society & Animals
Authors:
Crystal M. Riley Koenig Department of History, Sociology and Anthropology, Southern Utah University Cedar City, UT USA

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https://orcid.org/0000-0001-8584-471X
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Bryan L. Koenig Department of Psychology, Southern Utah University Cedar City, UT USA

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https://orcid.org/0000-0002-7601-5992
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Abstract

Primate nature documentaries have been popular with audiences since their inception in the early 1900s. Audiences trust primate documentaries, but scholars are concerned about how documentaries sometimes misrepresent primates. We provide an analysis of the history of primate documentaries, with a focus on how and why misrepresentation happens. We summarize why wildlife documentaries are important, and then we explain concerns over documentaries’ mischaracterization of nonhuman animals. Then, having viewed every available primate documentary (n = 210), we provide the first scholarly attempt to (a) provide a big-picture view by collating and describing the subgenres that can be used to characterize primate documentaries, and (b) describe the historical development of these subgenres, from early sensationalized films to modern large-budget productions. This history describes the chronological development of the diversity of primate documentary subgenres and explains the misrepresentation of primates as the result of filmmaker goals across that historical development.

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