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Controversy and awareness-raising (commentary)

  • This post is a commentary. The views expressed are those of the author alone.
  • The Green Inferno, a horror film to be released next month, has been criticized by indigenous rights’ groups for its portrayal of a tribe in the Amazon.
  • The film’s producers are establishing a fund to support rainforest preservation and indigenous rights.

January 20, 2016 update: the studio’s campaign raised just over $1,200. We expected $250,000 – $500,000 to be raised for the initiative..

Next month BH Tilt and Universal Studios will release The Green Inferno, a horror film directed by Eli Roth, a well-known producer, writer, and director who launched the Hostel series. The movie, which is inspired by Italian cannibal films, a genre popular in the 1970s and early 1980s, is set in the Peruvian Amazon. The basic premise is that a group of environmental activists stage a protest against a company that is planning to massacre a tribe in a remote tract of rainforest. However things go terribly wrong when the environmentalists’ plane crashes in the tribe’s territory and they are mistaken for employees of the company.

Given the subject matter, the film promises to be highly controversial. Already, indigenous rights advocates are protesting the film, saying it perpetuates negative stereotypes about indigenous people in the Amazon.

Gold mining in the Peruvian Amazon. Mining, oil and gas extraction, logging, and industrial agriculture pose real-life threats to indigenous people in the Peruvian Amazon and beyond. Photo by Rhett A. Butler.

The reaction is understandable. But at the same time, the controversy generated by the film is going to provide an opportunity to get forests peoples’ challenges and the plight of the Amazon in front of mainstream audiences that know nothing of these issues. It will also offer a powerful platform to groups working to defend indigenous rights and tropical forests: as the film’s promotional campaign kicks into high gear, media outlets are going to reach out to NGOs for comment on the film and real-life threats to forest peoples.

Therefore when Eli Roth and BH Tilt reached out to me in late June about potentially raising funds to address actual problems in the Peruvian Amazon, I was intrigued by the idea. Why not try to convert the inevitable controversy into something productive with actual outcomes on the ground?

Accordingly, today we’re launching a campaign on Prizeo, a celebrity digital fundraising platform. With the proceeds of this campaign, Mongabay will establish a journalism fund to produce stories on threats facing indigenous people and forests in the Amazon. Mongabay will also distribute funds to non-profit organizations working with indigenous people to protect forests, traditional rights, and cultures in the Peruvian Amazon. The campaign aims to directly conserve at least 10,000 acres (4,000 ha) of rainforest — an area 12 times the size of New York City’s Central Park — and publish 100 stories that reach upwards of a million people.


Mongabay has expertise in this area — we regularly report on issues that are at the center of the film. For example, these articles have been published just in the past month:

For years I’ve been working to raise money for an indigenous peoples’ reporting fund — if this campaign is successful, that goal will be realized. The resulting stories — produced both by local and international journalists — will have an impact well beyond the life of the film and via our network-based approach will reach audiences far beyond We even expect to publish a substantial body of articles in Spanish, carried in local and regional media outlets.

Rainforest in the Peruvian Amazon
Rainforest in the Peruvian Amazon. Indigenous people in the Amazon continue to marginalized by society and suffer injustices — including enslavement and murder — at the hands of people seeking to appropriate their lands. Photo by Rhett A. Butler.

Mongabay is neither promoting nor endorsing the film itself — we have have reached common ground with the producers in the goals set forth: to raise as much money as possible to support rainforest preservation and indigenous rights. We are focused on ensuring that any publicity generated either for or against the film is harnessed in a substantive manner that produces real impacts, rather than window-dressing. We will be disclosing on the web site how the funds are ultimately used: reporting should get underway before the end of the year and continue into 2016, while distributions to groups working in Peru will occur in 2016.

I thank the producers for deciding to allocate resources to support actual on-the-ground conservation.

If you have concerns about this initiative, feel free to contact me.

Uncontacted tribe in the Amazon photographed by  authorities with the Brazilian Indian affairs agency FUNAI in 2008. Photo by Gleison Miranda-FUNAI.
Uncontacted tribe in the Amazon photographed by authorities with the Brazilian Indian affairs agency FUNAI in 2008. Uncontacted or voluntary isolated indigenous groups in the Amazon are particularly at risk from outsiders, who bring disease and encroach on their territories. Photo by Gleison Miranda-FUNAI.

Additional clarifications (added 8/20/15)

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