*PLEASE BE AWARE: this film contains graphic and distressing images of racism and violence.
Drawing upon philosopher Giorgio Agamben’s The Open: Man and Animal, this is an experimental film that eviscerates an iconic childrens’ song, to reveal a dark, twisted relation to the historical and contemporary manifestations of racism. It points to the way people of colour, particularly Africans, have been treated as animals, or less than human, to create a categorical separation of being that is the foundation of racism and imperialism. Notions of the animal have been used extensively in Western thought to define the shifting borders of humanity and civilisation, and people of colour have experienced a similar, flexible system of exclusion in terms of a line drawn by the construction of whiteness.
De Colonial Jungle takes Disney’s animation of Kipling’s The Jungle Books as a starting point – the story of the wolf child in colonial India, raised by animals but discovering his humanity, has many resonances. In the song “I Wanna Be Like You”, the King Louie character, an orang-utan based on Louis Armstrong, is the “king of of the swingers” i.e. primates. He desires the impossible – to be human – but the supposed boundary between animal and human, and by extension, white and black human being, is unbridgeable.
In this film, the song is re-edited, with images that point up the other meanings, contexts and histories it can refer to. It has distressing images of racism, suffering and violence. But it makes us confront historical and contemporary situations that profoundly affect our lives, and seeks to provide a way to understand and challenge them.