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King Kong and Post-Colonialism Review

King Kong is a 1933 adventure film directed by Merian C. Cooper and


Ernest B Schoedsack, centred around Carl Denham, a director who,
joined by Actress Ann Darrow and John Driscol, adventure to Skull
island and encounter the King of the island King Kong. Critics such as
Ajileye and Rabin argue that King Kong represents a racist and post
colonialist tone, displaying the films and 1930's public's, racist
ideologies while Zakarin and evidence about the film’s writer Merian
C. Cooper argue that the themes of the film are due to Allegory and
the changing ideologies of the modern public.

The first instances of Colonialism within the film King Kong comes
mainly from the gorilla himself, King Kong as well as the villagers that
reside there. With some stating that the film is a metaphor for
Americas fear of the black man, especially for their wives as “King
Kong takes place in an imperialist fever dream of the East. It’s the film
that introduces the fictional Skull Island, located off Sumatra in the
Indian Ocean—although its inhabitants are generally coded as
African, and sometimes Asian” (Rabin, 2017), displaying this through
the natives and Kong’s obsession over the only blond, white woman
on the island despite the number of other women that also reside
there, making her appear as both a unique beauty among the
islanders and also a statement that white women are more desired
that black women; “There is the imagery of King Kong protecting the
blonde and the implicit assumption that white blonde women are so
beautiful that even a beast would want to protect it.” Ajileye, (2017).
Fig 1, The Extraordinary Life of Merian C. Cooper
In comparison to King Kong, the villagers also hold a strong colonialist – Forgotten Hero of Two Nations… And Creator
representation, shown through the mixture of African and islander of King Kong, (2018)
clothing, and their almost animalistic behaviours in comparison to the upstanding American
adventurers that trespass on their village, “Those villagers are the worst kind of stereotype: They
dance around in loincloths and coconut bras, commit human sacrifice, try to trade six of their
women for the production’s blonde woman (Fay Wray)…” (Zakarin, 2017). The film uses the
primitive behaviours of the villagers almost as a counter against the public's view of African men and
women, displaying to the naive public that they are both animalistic and willing to serve the white
man.

On the other hand, however, the film can also be interpreted as this through the
usage of Allegory; a way in which people find a hidden meaning through various
media, either moral or political. Now, Allegory for it to apply must be intended by
the author and not read by the reader/ viewer of the media, and this doesn’t apply
to King Kong (1933). The reason for this is because of Merian C. Cooper, writer and
co-producer of the fig had no intent to place racist allegory for Kong, the Villagers
or even Charlie the cook within the film, “To Cooper, King Kong was all about his
experiences — he’s even in a plane at the very end of the movie, as one of the
people shooting down King Kong,”(Zakarin, 2017), he made the film as a
representative of his time as an aviator and his love for adventures, even using
Figure 2, "Hollywood pioneer Carl Denham as a basis from himself within the film.
Merian C. Cooper
makes his filmaking debut with At the time the film was made, moral within America was low due to the Wall
Grass”, (2003) Street Crash in 1929, however cinema prices had increased as the cinema
King Kong and Post-Colonialism Review

provided a means of escape from the depressive and hopeless period the country was trapped in.
King Kong, and Coopers love of adventure capitalized on this, displaying to the viewer a fanatical
island filled with monsters and danger and not a colonialist’s allegorical island where the white man
triumphs over the huge, black monster and his primitive, aggressive behaviour.

The film was also made in 1933 and reflects the ideologies and behaviours of the time as well in that
sense. In comparison to now, some modern day audiences will find racist Allegory within the subtext
of the film, but it is important to remember that critical race theory and moments such as “Black
lives matter” didn’t exist in 1933, so the stereotypical accent and comedic behaviours of Charlie the
cook and the villagers were not placed within the movie with the intent of racist representation, nor
was the chained up King Kong in America an intentional stance against the black man’s invasion of
America. “Even if King Kong is not racist (which I would argue), it plays on racist stereotypes and
structures the movie is not aware of. Being structures it is not aware of, the movie cannot be in any
way a critic, or unbiased representation of them. I would be surprised if any movie came out of
Hollywood in 1933 without racist stereotypes. (Zakarin, 2017) Reflecting that it simply is an
adventure film featuring a giant ape, a screaming blond woman and a Merian C. Cooper inspired
character, that over time confronted the changing world views of our time.

In conclusion, the film displays post colonialist and racist themes, however, this may only apply to a
modern audience, as the films time may mean it reflects the thoughts and ideologies of the time,
making the themes un-intentional. The films writer also adds onto this, as Merian wanted to write
an adventure film, considering the economic depression America was facing at the time.
King Kong and Post-Colonialism Review

Illustrative Bibliography

Figure 1, The Extraordinary Life of Merian C. Cooper – Forgotten Hero of Two


Nations… And Creator of King Kong, (2018), [Film Poster], URL:
https://www.warhistoryonline.com/world-war-i/extraordinary-life-merian-c-
cooper.html , (Accessed: 04/10/18)

Figure 2, "Hollywood pioneer Merian C. Cooper makes his filmaking debut with
Grass”, (2003), [Online Image], URL:
http://www.payvand.com/news/03/jan/1143.html, (Accessed: 04/10/18)

Bibliography

Ajileye, Temitope (2017), King Kong of the Tower,


URL: https://medium.com/@temitopeajileye/king-kong-of-the-tower-2280b5b5d69c,
(Accessed:03/10/18)

Rabin, Nathan. (2017) Metaphor: What Ever King and Kong Movie is really about,
URL: https://www.vanityfair.com/hollywood/2017/03/king-kong-skull-island-movies-
metaphors, (Accessed: 03/10/18)

Zakarin, Jordan, (2017), King Kong’s long journey from Racist Monster to woke hero,
URL: https://www.inverse.com/article/28860-king-kong-skull-island-politics-
racism?refresh=57, (accessed: 03/10/18)