Written by Andrew E. Miller, DC Advocacy Director for Amazon Watch

Publicity for “The Green Inferno,” the latest film by “torture porn” film director Eli Roth, left our team at Amazon Watch in disbelief that anyone thought making a film based around the retrograde stereotype of the savage cannibal indigenous tribe was an acceptable idea in 2015. Understanding that controversy might well boost ticket sales, we debated whether to denounce, deride, or simply ignore the film.

Eli Roth helped make the decision for us. In an exchange on Instagram with an incensed activist, he defended the film in part by claiming that “Amazon Watch saw the film and loved it!” Extraordinarily, his response was effective in momentarily defusing outrage about the film.

In fact, Roth was either lying or simply misinformed – at that point we had definitely not seen the film. We were, however, able to put together an exhaustive plot summary based on reviews, YouTube clips, and conversations with people who had seen advanced screenings. In the end, this summary did accurately represent most of the elements of the film. Based on that analysis, our esteem of “The Green Inferno” was something other than us “loving it.”

The Green Inferno Is Racist, Absurd & Not Scary

In addition to issuing our own initial statement against the film, we supported statements made by indigenous activists both in Peru and here in North America.

Still, doubts persisted about the veracity of our critique given we hadn’t seen the film. So last night we went and sat through it. And now, on the occasion of its national release, we can definitively say “The Green Inferno” is indeed racist, just plain absurd, and frankly not particularly scary.

To sum up the plot: A group of university activists – some duplicitous and the rest just naive – travel from New York City to the Peruvian Amazon to protest rainforest destruction in the name of “saving a dying tribe.” They carry out a civil disobedience direct action against a gas exploration project that threatens the Yagé people (fictional group) by chaining themselves to the bulldozers that are knocking down trees while implausibly livestreaming the action via social media. Later we learn their stunt was bankrolled by the gas company’s competitor as a means of gaining a competitive advantage and taking over the project, a fact known in advance by the shady ring-leader, Alejandro.

After a seemingly successful action, their Cessna plane crashes as they head home. “Ironically,” they land in the territory of the Yagé people, who capture and imprison them in the center of the village. Starting with a grisly ceremony in which an activist’s eyeballs are extracted, tongue is cut out, and limbs systematically hacked off, most of the others are killed, cooked, and eaten one by one. Escape attempts are unsuccessful. Inexplicably, the main protagonist Justine is selected for female genital mutilation, a practice that, like cannibalism, doesn’t exist in the Amazon.

Justine is barely saved from the ritual when the entire town rushes off to fight the encroaching workers and their mercenary guards. She is freed by the one sympathetic indigenous character, a little girl whom she had befriended while in the cage. Escaping the village, Justine encounters the violent confrontation between the workers and villagers, in which the mercenaries are slaughtering many tribesman with their automatic weapons. She intervenes, pretending to use a smartphone to document the atrocities and incredibly, stops further bloodshed. Following an airlift home, Justine debriefs with diplomatic officials and claims that the tribe in fact saved her life and in a display of Stockholm syndrome, claims that they are not cannibals. In a post-credits scene, a satellite image of the village shows that Alejandro survived and has ‘gone native,’ having assumed black body paint previously sported by the head-chopping chief cannibal.

What are our key take-aways from “The Green Inferno?”

The inherent racism of an Amazonian cannibal movie is on full display. A false stereotype of the animalistic and brutal indigenous savage is a central conceit of the film. Other than the fake name of the tribe, no indigenous person has a name, nor says anything intelligible, nor is otherwise humanized – the one exception being the young girl who miraculously transcends her people’s mob mentality and liberates Justine. The experience of the white people, who have names and motivations – as shallow as they might be – is entirely central to the plot. The degree to which the film evokes any emotional response, it’s supposed to be some kind of horror at harm befalling the gringos. In dialogue between the activists, there are various references to “what they are doing to us.” This is a classic example of othering.

Roth’s portrayal of activism is absurd and cartoonish. Ostensibly, the film’s social subtext is a critique of “slacktivism,” inspired by what Roth apparently observed around phenomena like Occupy Wall Street and Kony 2012. But, as numerous reviewers have noted, “slacktivists” wouldn’t travel to Peru and carry out a direct action in the middle of the rainforest. The extreme naivete or venality of members of this group reaches caricature proportions. In all, it’s not a serious social commentary, between being incoherent and hyperbolic. Unfortunately, this makes it all the more pointless, because there are cogent critiques to be made of well-meaning but clueless activists who ultimately do more harm than good, protected by their privilege from paying any consequences – like Roth himself.

There are some real-life issues illustrated in the film, but to such exaggeration that any prospective value in raising awareness about the Amazon is completely lost. Yes, there are gas and other extractive projects in the Amazon menacing indigenous peoples within their own territories today. But the lethal threat is generally not armed mercenaries that will shoot indigenous natives, instead risks posed by foreign disease or adverse health effects from pollution are far more likely to have an impact. Yes, Amazonian indigenous peoples tend to resist unwanted incursions into their territories, but they don’t systematically mutilate and murder the invaders. In the overwhelming preponderance of cases, indigenous peoples defend themselves through nonviolent and often sophisticated means using lawsuits, protests, and their own media campaigns.

Eli Roth Doesn’t Understand Activism

A little over a month ago, Roth claimed that he “made “The Green Inferno” to spark discussion and bring awareness to the devastation these tribes face at the hands of corporations. The belated expression of attempted social relevance smacks of opportunism, especially coming on the heels of several strong criticisms from indigenous peoples themselves. Beyond the collaboration with Mongabay, the practical utility of which remains to be seen, how is the film actively “sparking discussion?” We’ve only seen a slick online marketing campaign, and have to assume those comments were a disingenuous tactic therein.

Having now sat through the film, we continue to support the concern that “The Green Inferno” – assuming the publicity and film itself are widely seen – could cause far more harm than good. It contributes to a generalized public perception of Amazonian indigenous tribes as primitive and savage, in the absence of countervailing information within the collective consciousness. In Peru, that perception would reinforce existing prejudices against indigenous peoples, potentially enabling the government’s current push to carry out controlled contact with isolated tribes such as the Mashco Piro. This new policy is extremely controversial and has been strongly condemned by indigenous people’s organizations as a dangerous precedent. “The Green Inferno” didn’t create that problem, but could potentially exacerbate it.

One saving grace might be that the inescapably ridiculous nature of the film ultimately condemns it to a marginal audience, as buzz generated by the publicity campaign is rapidly eclipsed by negative word-of-mouth from viewers.

Our prediction? “The Green Inferno” will bomb at the box office and the rumored sequel, “Beyond The Green Inferno,” will be shelved indefinitely.

(This article originally appeared on Amazon Watch. It has been reprinted here with permission.)

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11 Responses

  1. erik says:

     “It contributes to a generalized public perception of Amazonian indigenous tribes as primitive and savage, in the absence of countervailing information within the collective consciousness”.

    People, it’s called FICTION. Moviegoers will know a Eli Roth isn’t reality, but popcorn-fun!

    • It certainly is fiction, but how do you think African-Americans felt about “Birth of a Nation” when it came out? Films like that and “The Green Inferno” spread a false narrative to the public that “other kinds of people” are savages and not to be trusted. We don’t need that kind of “popcorn-fun” in the 21st century.

      • An Intelligent Commenter says:

        Umm ,maybe you should leave the truth about indigenous cultures to Discovery channel or Nation Geographic where your supposed to learn something instead of this one sided, close-minded SJW way of thinking, it’s a horror movie, they’re supposed to be scary, people don’t read the comic Crossed for the scenery, use your headmeat and common sense before branding a movie or director racist over trying to scare or disgust you with their art, guess you forgot that art is subjective. oh and by the way “Birth of a Nation” while being horribly racist is protected in the Nation Film Registry due to the techniques employed to film it, you should take my advice and just not watch the movie since you hate it so badly for being so “racist” because no one is forcing you to watch it like in that scene from “A Clockwork Orange” or is this garbage nothing but click-bait?

        • Nope, this garbage is racist.

          • An Intelligent Commenter says:

            Wow you just said your own article was racist, your pretty funny you know that? But what I ment by “garbage” was your article

          • We are a funny lot, and we do appreciate a good joke. For instance, an “Intelligent Commenter” writing willy nilly regardless of the rules of punctuation, syntax or grammar. That we find entertaining. The movie we consider garbage. And racist. And given its box office take, it seems most moviegoers thought so too.

            But, while we can banter about this all day, it’s important to note that we respect Mr. Roth’s freedom to make such a film. Films like ‘Birth of a Nation,’ ‘Cannibal Holocaust’ and ‘The Green Inferno’ do not accurately depict non-white people. In fact, they are demeaning, ignorant and, in part, racist. But the lovely thing about freedom and art is that you’re allowed to make things that are ugly and ignorant and racist – and we, in turn, are allowed to call them so. That’s how the freedom wheel works, and thankfully we all get a turn.

          • An Intelligent Commenter says:

            No it’s response was weak due to over-hyping it being “the goriest movie ever” but it barely delivered, it’s inspiration, “Cannibal Holocaust” had more gore than this film, and just letting you know that people who pick apart someones grammer, punction and the like means that they have nothing to back up their claims in an argument so they turn to picking apart someones argument to attempt to make them nervous so they’ll be more likely to fumble their words so you can find an exploit to point out in an attempt to find ground to dig your virtual heels into in this virtual tug-of-war, you don’t scare me and I will not faulter to your weakness and ignorance. Let me quote go you Johnny the Homocidal Maniac:
            Surveyor – “Sure. Mm…So what do you think of the idea of that violence on television and other media, have a negative effect on kids and other impressionable minds?”

            Johnny – “oh…Any pile of stunted growth unaware that entertainment is just that and nothing more, deserves to doom themselves to some dank cell, somwhere, for havingnbeen so stupid!! Movies, boks, T.V., music – they’re all just entertainment, not guidebooks for damning yourself!”

          • An Intelligent Commenter says:

            Nice quick comment edit too by the way

  2. A says:

    I didn’t particularly care for the film. But, I do find it amusing that you pick out someone’s grammar in a discussion. Especially one involving racism. Some actually view grammar snobbery as rascist. ????https://youtu.be/MlMG5rtwFVg

  3. pacman1330 says:

    I actually enjoyed the movie. This is called FICTION. Where is this world going with all these racism accusations? Are you kidding me? The tribe does not even EXIST, nor does it represent any specific and existing tribe. Savage and brutal tribes are part of our myths & legends, and each myths have their horror movies. There’s a movie in the Amazon forest called “Anaconda”, NO big anacondas like this do not exist and we know that. It’s called a MOVIE. Now go back to watch Disney Movies if you can’t handle this.

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