Episode 23: Gorillas in the Mist

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Sean and Cody exchange Thanksgiving leftovers for Rwandan mountain gorillas and join forces with History by Hollywood podcast host Martin Darlington for an in-depth look at Gorillas in the Mist, the popular biopic of legendary primatologist Dian Fossey. In this 1988 film based on her memoirs, amateur naturalist Fossey (Sigourney Weaver) begs bigwig anthropologist Louis Leakey for a slot on a junket to Africa to count endangered gorillas. When she gets in-country she begins an obsessive one-woman war against poachers, zoo headhunters, amorous graduate students, wayward National Geographic photographers and anyone who stands in the way of “her” gorillas. Environmental issues discussed include species conservation, poaching in Africa, bushmeat and its relationship to economies and disease, the world wildlife conservation business and a repeat grudge match with our old friend the White Savior Complex.

Was the real Dian Fossey a saint and a savior, or an out-of-control monster who did more harm than good? Who might have been responsible for her still-unsolved 1985 murder? Should Westerners from developed countries go to Africa to save wildlife, or is that another form of colonialism? Are poachers always bad? What was the Congo Crisis and what does it have to do with this movie? Why would you want to put a chimpanzee into a gorilla suit? Are there actually any real gorillas in this picture, or are they all people (or chimps) in suits? How did Teddy Roosevelt set out to save the environment by shooting up the landscape with a shotgun? Is Sigourney Weaver’s agent secretly subsidizing the production of Green Screen? After the racist Götterdämmerung of King Kong, why are we talking about gorillas again? All these questions are beating their chests and screeching to be debated on this Very Special Episode of Green Screen.

Big thanks to Martin Darlington of History by Hollywood, with whom this episode is a joint production.

The original 1988 trailer for Gorillas in the Mist.

Additional Materials About This Episode

In Gorillas in the Mist, Dian Fossey (Sigourney Weaver) gains trust with a gorilla by mimicking its behavior. This was apparently a controversial technique in the 1960s.

The Environmental History

The Real Dian Fossey and her Legacy

Michelle Rodrigues, “It’s Time to Stop Lionizing Dian Fossey as a Conservation Hero,” Lady Science, September 20, 2019:

Gene Lyons, Review of The Dark Romance of Dian Fossey by T.P. Hayes, Entertainment Weekly, June 22, 1990:

Georgianne Nienaber, “Fox-Owned National Geographic Uses Gorillas as Cover for Exploitation of Congo,” The Huffington Post, December 6, 2017 (discussing the 1979 National Geographic plot to evict Fossey from her Rwandan wildlife reserve):

Conservation and Colonialism in Africa

Kaddu Sebunya, “Saving The World’s Wildlife is Not Just ‘A White Person Thing,” The Guardian, July 31, 2017:

Gemima Harvey, “Indigenous Communities and Biodiversity: Indigenous Peoples Often Play a Vital Role in Preserving Biodiversity, Something That is Often Forgotten,” The Diplomat, October 1, 2015:

Sean Munger, “Killing Everything That Moved: Teddy Roosevelt’s African Safari of 1909-10,” SeanMunger.com, March 23, 2015 (archived):

Movie Stuff

Behind the scenes of Gorillas in the Mist. I believe this is a contemporary (1988) promotional video. It contains clips of the real Dian Fossey.

Podcast Stuff

The “podcast life cycle” curve, referenced at the beginning of the episode. Found on a Facebook group, November 2020.

Gorillas in the Mist (1988) at IMDB: https://www.imdb.com/title/tt0095243/
Gorillas in the Mist (1988) at Letterboxd: https://letterboxd.com/film/gorillas-in-the-mist/

Next Movie Up: Batman Returns (1992)

The poster from Gorillas in the Mist is presumably copyright (c) 1988 by Universal Pictures. Its inclusion here is believed to be permissible under fair use. We are not the uploaders of any YouTube clips embedded here. 

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