Ethnographic Cinema in King Kong and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom

In “King Kong and the Monster in Ethnographic Cinema,” Rony discusses the portrayal of native or “exotic” people, specifically relating ethnography and cinema in the context of King Kong (1933). Rony writes that the “Ethnographic is seen as monstrous because he or she is human and yet radically different.” When describing the savage depiction of the Skull Islanders in King Kong, Rony writes, “[they] are dark-skinned, fierce, lustful, and yet childlike, afraid of guns…[and they] are represented as the most Savage of men.”

Like King Kong, Stephen Spielberg’s Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom (1984) , as mentioned in Chapter 15 of Understanding Film Theory, portrays foreign culture as primitive, unsophisticated, and savage. The most glaring example comes when Indiana Jones, Willie, and Shorty arrive in an Indian village by an emergency raft. The Indian villagers wear robes, sandals, and live in huts. The villagers put there hands all over the three characters as if they are of a higher existence. Indiana explains that the food they are given is “more food than these people eat in a week.” They also hold the belief that Siva sent them there and believe in a magic stone. Although the villagers are seen as primitive people, the Thuggees in the Temple are seen as violent savages. At dinner, these people eat: leaches from the belly of a snake, beetles, eyeballs in soup, and monkey brains. Later in the sacrifice scene, their worship of Khali is perceived as tribal, violent, and demonistic through the ripping of a man’s beating heart out, the drinking of blood, and the misty, red lighting achieved from the lava fire.

The representation of Indians in the film are reminiscent of the natives from King Kong and other stereotypical ethnographic films, problematically contrasting foreign people from Westerners as being violent, primitive, and barbaric.

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