It’s a sordid chapter in American history many scientists would rather not talk about. Thousands of indigenous people from Africa and elsewhere were put on public display in 20th-century America, often touted by scientists as evolutionary “missing links” between humans and apes.
Perhaps the most shocking display of all was the exhibition of an African man, Ota Benga, in a cage in the Monkey House at the Bronx Zoo in New York City.
The scandalous story is exposed in Human Zoos, an award-winning documentary from Discovery Institute being given its YouTube premiere this week as part of African-American History Month. Human Zoos also explores the history of eugenics, the crusade by scientists and doctors to breed a “better” human race by applying the principles of Darwinian evolution.
Film director John West says he hopes his film will help Americans avoid the mistakes of the past. “I hope people will be encouraged to stand up for human dignity even when it comes under attack in the name of science,” he explains. “Science is a wonderful thing, but human zoos, scientific racism, and eugenics were shocking betrayals of science.”
Stand Up for Human Dignity
Human Zoos can be accessed most easily at HumanZoos.org, an educational site containing historical documents, articles, and other resources allowing people to explore the topics of human zoos, scientific racism, and eugenics for themselves.
The documentary features Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Pamela Newkirk, author of Spectacle: The Astonishing Life of Ota Benga, along with other experts. It was previously screened on cable television and at the world’s largest museum of African-American history, the Charles Wright Museum in Detroit, as well as more than a dozen other venues in the United States and Canada.
Human Zoos was an official selection of the African World Documentary Film Festival and has won awards for Best Editing (Oregon Documentary Film Festival), Best in Show (Cinema WorldFest Awards), as well as Awards of Excellence from the Impact Docs Awards and the Hollywood Independent Documentary Awards.