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With Screenings in Chicago, New Documentary Human Zoos Prompts Discussion, Debate

Human Zoos

Discovery Institute Senior Fellow John West was in the Chicago area this past week for public screenings of his new documentary Human Zoos at Wheaton College, Olivet Nazarene University, and Kennedy-King College, as well as for the taping of a local TV show about the film. 

Around 140 students and faculty attended the screening at Kennedy-King College. One of the City Colleges of Chicago, Kennedy-King is named in honor of Robert F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King Jr. In addition to Dr. West, the post-screening discussion at Kennedy-King featured African American Studies professor Dr. Daniel Davis and Sociology/Anthropology professor Dr. Bonnie Harrison. It also included Dr. Eric Wallace from the Freedom’s Journal Institute (Wallace participated in the post-screening discussions at Wheaton College and Olivet Nazarene University as well). 

The panel at the Kennedy-King screening was moderated by Professor Ted Williams, chairman of the Social Sciences Department at the college. An actor as well as a professor, Dr. Williams appears onscreen in Human Zoos as the Rev. James Gordon, one of the African-American ministers in New York City who challenged the display of African Ota Benga in a cage at the Bronx Zoo in 1906. Many of the students in the audience at Kennedy-King seemed deeply moved by the film and indicated that it presented them with information they had not known about previously. 

Sparring Over the Christian Role

During the panel discussion, Dr. Harrison explained recent DNA evidence showing that we are all one human race, while Dr. Davis and Dr. Wallace sparred about the role the Christian church played in the history of racism. The documentary shows how a number of Christians led opposition to both human zoos and eugenics. But Dr. Davis noted that many Christians also played a role in promoting racism. Dr. Wallace responded that Biblical teachings supplied a powerful foundation to oppose racism and Social Darwinism, citing the statement in Acts 17:26 that God “made from one man every nation of mankind.”

Student questions were wide-ranging. One student wondered why Darwin is still in the textbooks considering the failures of his theory. Dr. West explained that he didn’t favor taking Darwin out of textbooks, but he did think students should learn about the scientific problems with Darwin’s theory and that textbooks shouldn’t try to rewrite history and cover up Darwin’s real views on race or Social Darwinism.

There are two more upcoming free screenings of Human Zoos that will include post-screening discussions with the film’s director, John West. On October 31 at 7 pm, Mount Vernon Nazarene University in Ohio will screen the film in its Chapel Auditorium; and on Sunday afternoon, November 11, there will be a screening at the nationally renowned Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit (includes free museum admission!). Of course, the film is also now available at Amazon, including free viewing for members of Amazon Prime.

If you have a group that would like permission to show the film, please contact Daniel Reeves at Discovery Institute.