A critique of the environmental savior trope in wildlife film
Winston, Thomas Pillsbury.
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Throughout the history of wildlife film, a human character is often central to a narrative that promotes environmental stewardship. Diverse iconic figures in conservation such as Theodore Roosevelt, Jacques Cousteau and Jane Goodall have played starring roles in wildlife films in order to communicate their respective views on conservation. The common narrative of these films represents a reoccurring motif, or trope, in wildlife film that has evolved over time and prominently persists today- the trope of the Environmental Savior. This trope is justifiably condemned in its predominant form in mainstream wildlife film for casting a white westerner as environmental savior in a foreign ecosystem. Critics charge this trope propagates underlying ideologies of racism, neo-imperialism and western superiority. In this essay I will examine the trope of the environmental savior, and more specifically the character within the trope, in order to better understand the overt and implied meanings inherent to this narrative. I will first define the trope of the environmental savior and illustrate its power to persuade an audience. Then I will trace the evolution of the trope's protagonist, from to the white hunter in early wildlife films to the enlightened scientist that persists in contemporary mainstream television. Finally, I will propose forward-looking alternatives for constructing the trope of the environmental savior, based on my experience producing my thesis film, The Mongolian Marmot.