This 90s Movie Was So Problematic, It Would Never Be Made Today
The story behind Disney's most controversial movie to date.
Released 25 years ago, Krippendorf's Tribe was a comedy movie directed by Todd Holland, written by Charlie Peters, and starred Richard Dreyfuss, Jenna Elfman, and Natasha Lyonne. The film follows the misadventures of James Krippendorf (Dreyfuss), an under-achieving anthropologist who fabricates the existence of a lost tribe in New Guinea to secure funding for his university research.
However, while intended as a satirical commentary on Western society's patronizing views of native cultures, the film's approach is deeply problematic. Laden with racially insensitive and offensive elements, Krippendorf's Tribe has earned the title as one of the most problematic movies ever made.
Why the Film is So Problematic
The film's lasting controversies are a result of its total disregard for cultural sensitivity throughout. Including all sorts of offensive content, the movie supposedly finds its comedy by disrespectfully portraying native people and their culture. In doing so, it perpetuates harmful stereotypes while mocking all kinds of tribal customs, rituals, and practices alike.
During the movie, to convince others of his fake tribe, Krippendorf attempts to create several forgeries of this fake culture's existence. What is meant to be side-splitting comedy include scenes featuring supposed tribal mating rituals, pretend circumcision of his own children, almost dowsing a young girl in pig urine, and even blackface, only serve to belittle and demean such diverse communities. It's not hard to see what is so insulting about this film because its premise is centered entirely around the mocking of native cultures and inclusion of racist stereotypes.
Furthermore, the film encourages outrageous, morally questionable behavior of other kinds. One example is Krippendorf getting a woman drunk without her consent to film a sexual encounter as part of his dubious scheme, which is all played off as part of the plot's hilarious antics. Instead, these supposedly humorous moments often come across as deeply uncomfortable and entirely distasteful. Why people thought that themes concerning sexual assault would ever be funny is beyond reasoning.
What Audiences Think of the Film Now
From the moment of its release, Krippendorf's Tribe faced severe criticism. Produced by Touchstone Pictures and distributed by Buena Vista Pictures, a subsidiary of The Walt Disney Company, it grossed a mere $7.5 million at the box office, certainly qualifying as a financial flop. Critics lambasted the film, with some dubbing it 'the worst movie ever to come out of Disney.'
Of course, modern reviewers are equally, if not more, unimpressed by the film today. The film's Rotten Tomatoes score stands at a meager 18%, and audiences have described it as a 'hateful, disgusting, and amoral travesty.' Many viewers have expressed outrage at the film's content, deeming it 'the most problematic movie I've ever seen' and asserting that it is 'unacceptable in any time.'
In today's climate of heightened awareness and accountability, it's unimaginable that a film like Krippendorf's Tribe would ever be greenlit by any sensible studio now; particularly one as cautious as Disney.
Society and cinema has continued to evolve, and racial insensitivity in entertainment is increasingly no longer tolerated. Films like Krippendorf's Tribe, which failed to be funny even in their own time, should frankly remain where they belong: consigned to the dumpster of terrible comedy movies.