Understanding lions, communities and how a film communicates
Idris Elba has a new movie and it’s all out action, as man battles a man-eating lion. But do such films contradict, and in fact damage conservation efforts?
Beast’s premise is simple; Idris Elba (Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw, The Suicide Squad) stars in a pulse-pounding new thriller about a father and his two teenage daughters who find themselves hunted by a massive rogue lion intent on proving that the savannah has but one apex predator.
You can watch the trailer for ‘Beast’ here or view the film’s iMDB here.
First things first, it’s just a movie, so of course there’s no need to go over the top on this issue. There have been countless films which have misrepresented animals (and humans) in all kinds of monstrous, villainous, evil ways. It’s a fictional film. But there is a very real-world situation when it comes to wild lions and people, and a crucial conversation we need to have to understand our natural world, fellow humans and sentient beings like lions.
Did you know that human-wildlife conflict is one of the leading causes of losses to lion populations, through retaliatory killings when lions attack a farmers’ livestock and/or when a lion may enter a local village? The result of such retaliatory killings has been devastating to the African lion population, wildlife in other areas of our planet and local communities who view wild lions as a threat to their lives and livelihoods.
Indeed, populations of African lions (Panthera leo leo) declined by 42% over the the previous 21 year period, per data released in 2015 by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
According to the Human-Wildlife Conflict & Coexistence Specialist Group, human-wildlife conflict (HWC) occurs when animals pose a direct and recurring threat to the livelihood or safety of people, leading to the persecution of that species. HWC affects most large carnivores, as well as many other species groups including, but not limited to, elephants, pigs, deer, primates, sharks, seals, birds of prey, crocodiles, rhinos, otters
The KEY to avoiding human-wildlife conflict is through communication, understanding and implementing affective initiatives such as David Shepherd Wildlife Foundation helping lions in Uganda, the Leonardo DiCaprio backed Lion Recovery Fund which supplies funding for projects across Africa and the Zambia Carnivore Programme who work with Zambia’s department of national parks & wildlife and locals, towards conserving large carnivores and the ecosystems they reside in.
Trophy hunting is another sad, out of date, barbaric pastime and (in my humble opinion) class trophy hunting as one of the reasons for this decline in African lion populations. It may not be the leading cause of this decline after human-wildlife conflict, habitat loss, poaching and associated trade in lion parts, but we cannot avoid trophy hunting’s negative impact on Africa, wildlife and its people and the violence and corruption it has brought to this land. Trophy hunting isn’t a topic you will find many researchers discuss at length and completely disapprove of because, well, some of their funding can derive from trophy hunting organisations. Likewise, non-trophy hunting revenue is ploughed into conservation, but this is an ever-increasing platform for investors, both public and private and one can hope that this increases to eventually rid Africa and other areas of trophy hunting’s deplorable colonial-era mentality of shooting animals for “sport”.
So it was sad to see Idris Elba release his latest film ‘Beast’ (2022), written by Ryan Engle, that perpetuates what many conservationists are trying to stop – the vilification and demonization of lions can result in human-wildlife conflict. In recent days, a petition has been launched to help highlight this demonization of the mighty lion through the film ‘Beast’, which has thus far attracted 45,000 signatures.
The films’ poster alone encourages one to associate lions as being “beasts” ~ why do animals always have to be labelled as “beasts”? Who is the real beast but mankind?! One of films’ posters even proclaims “Fight for family” ~ which is exactly what many local people visualise when defending their village, cattle or crop from marauding lions.
See the posters below:
‘Beast’ is essentially ‘Jaws’ and I love Jaws as a film, I love the acting, even how it was made tripling its budget and quadrupling its filming schedule and still coming out as one of the finest films from one of the finest directors, editors and music composers we’ve seen. For many years following its release in 1975, Jaws was labelled as being a disaster for sharks, perpetuating the myth that sharks were hunting people whenever they set foot in the ocean. Jaws wasn’t the whole picture of course, there are many variables that create issues for wild animals and how people view them. The writer of the book from which Jaws is based, Peter Benchley, recognised the affect Jaws had on the perception of sharks and subsequently went on to advocate for sharks for many years prior to his death in 2006.
Times are changing for the African Lion with recognition that lions are facing untold pressures from habitat loss, poaching, human-wildlife conflict, illegal & legal trade, exploitation and over hunting. Famously, the Maasai people of Kenya have abandoned their ritual killing of lions to help maintain the animals’ importance (both financially and symbolically) towards tourism. In 2014 and 2015 I helped organise protests & events in cities around the world (known as Global March For Lions) to raise awareness of the barbaric canned hunting industry in South Africa, where thousands of lions are bred in captivity, raised by volunteers, petted by tourists and ultimately traded to captive hunting ranches and the lion bone trade to Asia. I continued my work for lions, working for various NGO’s in South Africa both within the captive lion issue and wild lions. The exposé film Blood Lions was then released to worthy acclaim, that further helped awareness around the cub petting industry and its links to canned hunting, going on to win multiple awards and helping local agencies improve legislation to end this deplorable industry of exploiting lions and duping innocent tourists & volunteers.
Maybe Idris could advocate for lions?
Aside from being a genuinely great actor and kind person, Idris Elba does some amazing work for charity ….. he was appointed United Nations Goodwill Ambassador for International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) in April 2020 and is a Goodwill Ambassador for The Princes Trust. I love hearing from people and if Idris would like to connect, I would be thrilled to recommend a selection of reputable and ethical organisations to lend much needed support.
So here’s a question;
Is a film such as ‘Beast’, however unlikely it is for local African communities to watch and no matter how fictional it may be, a good film in how it portrays lions?
Please feel free to comment below, I would love to hear your thoughts on the psychology behind marketing animals as “beasts”, our use of animals in general and the affects this has on conservation efforts.
Oh, and Idris should 100% be the next James Bond, so what are they waiting for?!
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