“Planet of the Apes” and How Racism, Sexism Hurts Science Fiction

Honestly, as a brown Muslim who takes his science fiction seriously, I wish I could like the “Planet of the Apes” films. I really do. I’m always a sucker for mind-boggling time travel paradoxes, and “Planet of the Apes,” especially Tim Burton’s remake, gives sci-fi aficionados plenty to discuss/debate in that regard. However, as I recently revisited the films after several years, I am disheartened by what I found.

I vividly remember watching the 1968 classic “Planet of the Apes,” starring Hollywood legend Charlton Heston, when I was a kid. I also remember being frightened by the apes. They were strange and scary-looking “monkey people” as far as my childhood brain was concerned. Interestingly, I recall feeling an odd sense of satisfaction when Heston, the White male protagonist, shouted the infamous line: “Take your stinking paws off me, you damn dirty ape!” I cheered for Heston because I hated the apes. They were animals.

Hairy. Ugly. Dark.

Throughout the film, I was waiting for Heston to find a machine gun and plow them all down like Rambo. That scene never came though; the movie just ended with Heston in front of a ruined Statue of Liberty and screaming in despair about something that my young self couldn’t understand. Many years later, when I was 17, Tim Burton’s remake in the summer of 2001 sparked my interest in the “Apes” franchise. I watched the original again and became an instant fan. I even enjoyed Burton’s remake (aside from some of my friends, not many people liked his version, but I’ll get to that later).

About a week ago, I was speaking with a friend about the bizarre ending to Burton’s “Planet of the Apes” and our discussion prompted me to revisit the movies yet again. This time around, at 26, it was upsetting to discover overt sexism and disturbing commentary on race in both films. Let’s begin with the original 1968 film: it is essentially space porn in its treatment of women. Out of the four American astronauts traveling thousands of years into the future in hopes to start a new civilization on another planet, only one is a woman. Without a single word of dialogue, she has about 3 or 4 seconds of screen time before being killed off by a lame air leak in her hibernation vessel. In other words, she doesn’t even survive the voyage! Furthermore, after the spaceship unexpectedly crash-lands in a river on an unknown planet (which we find out to be earth in the famous twist ending), the three male characters abandon ship without the woman’s body, completely denying her at least a proper burial.

As Heston gives some exposition about why he left earth, he reflects on the female character, Stewart, and how she was supposed to be “our new Eve.” Stewart is reduced to a reproduction machine and, were she to survive the expedition, her sole purpose would be to mate with one of the three males. Or, given the competitiveness of the male characters and the sexual frustration subtly expressed by Heston’s character later in the film, she would probably have to mate with all three men. I simply find it illogical for a small group of astronauts to embark on an enormous one-way journey and only bring one woman along to serve as their “Eve.” But the objectification of women and space porn fantasy doesn’t stop there.

When Heston and his two fellow astronauts stumble upon a tribe of humans living in the wild, a scantily-clad female native catches Heston’s eyes. Like the other humans on this future earth, she is mute and primitive. When Heston is paired to mate with her, he does not complain, nor does she. And why should Heston complain? He is a heterosexual space traveler in an unknown world and has a woman at his side – a woman who is only a body; she does not speak, challenge his actions, or resist his authority. Heston can do anything he wants with her. He even names her like a pet; never mind whether or not she had a name of her own or didn’t like to be called “Nova.” It is easy to argue that traveling into a distant future where a primitive and woman looks up to you as the superior male figure is nothing short of exotic, highly sexualized hetero-male fantasy. The only female character with speaking parts is Zira, the ape who, with the help of her fiancé Cornelius, defends Heston and human rights. However, she is consistently treated as an “other,” making it very easy, I would argue, for the audience to perceive her exclusively as an ape and not an empowered female.

The “otherness” of the apes and its correlation with people of color, specifically African-Americans, has been much discussed in other critiques of the film. As Gregory P. Kane of Black America Web comments:

The apes in the films have names, but they also have something else: A racial hierarchy. The blonde-haired orangutans are at the top, ruling the roost. Next in line are the chimpanzees, depicted in the films as having brown hair and light-skinned faces. At the bottom are the gorillas, who have black hair and – yes, you guessed right – black-skinned faces.

While one of the American astronauts is Black, he is quickly killed when the apes round up the humans in their first on-screen appearance. The humans on this future earth, by the way, are all White. As Kane remarks, “All those Black folks in New York today, and NOT ONE survived in the future? Oh, and there are no Latinos or Asians either. Every one of the future humans – the ones who survived – is White.”

One could make a counter-argument that the film condemns racism and actually blames “man” for essentially nuking humanity into extinction.  The argument would continue and point out that the experiences African-Americans have with racism in White supremacist heteropatriachy is exemplified in Heston’s character. That is, although Heston is a White man surrounded by an “other” majority, the role reversal is meant to allegorically teach White people how it feels to be enslaved and discriminated against.

I can see some aspects of this perspective, specifically the way the film regularly criticizes the destructive nature of “man,” but it does not excuse the stereotypical representations of apes that are meant to stand in for African-Americans and people of color. To be “human” in the film is to be “White,” and to be “Ape” is to be of color. Even if the message was about denouncing racism, the film’s ending – with Heston realizing that humanity (read: White people) blew up the world – sends an ominous and cynical warning: White people are going to destroy the world and make way for the genetically and technologically “inferior” races and civilizations to rule the planet.

Sadly, this racist theme is even more pronounced in Tim Burton’s 2001 remake. Like the original, the protagonist, played by Mark Wahlberg, represents the White man as a minority. In order for Wahlberg to return to earth, he has to fight an epic and violent battle against the apes, which only reinforces the White and “other” divide. What we see new in Burton’s film is the influx of Orientalism. The apes carry scimitars and wear pointed helmets, floral-patterned clothing and ornaments which all look like an odd fusion of Arabian, Ottoman, and South Asian art. Even when we are first introduced to an ape village, we see the apes playing sitars and smoking hookah. These images call for an important analysis on how representations of the non-human species in popular science fiction compares to the way people of color are depicted in mainstream media and perceived in society. Metaphilm alludes to this point in its commentary on Burton’s film, describing the attitude as: “Damn, look what’s happening to America! The White man is getting screwed. If we don’t do something, the Black man is going to take over our whole, f***ing planet!”

The author elaborates:

Burton’s “Planet of the Apes” fuels this exact kind of racial defensiveness. The connection between the domineering apes and the growing Black (and ethnic) culture in America is striking. Almost every human represented in the film is played by a White actor: an insignificant Black man ends up getting killed, and a submissive Asian woman is virtually invisible. If humanity is represented as being White in the film, then apeness is understood as being colored. The Black man and Asian woman represent minorities that have chosen to blend into Whiteness: cultural sell-outs. And, according to the film, they too will suffer under ape domination.

In addition to these Black and Asian “sell-outs,” there are also the ape “sell-outs,” notably the female ape, Ari (played by Helena Bonham Carter). She is a passionate human rights activist and actually a very well-developed character. I mentioned earlier that not many people liked Burton’s remake, mostly because they didn’t believe it felt like a Burton film. True, I believe the studio tried to transform the original into an action movie, but if there is one aspect of the film, aside from the aesthetic, that has Burton’s signature written all over it, it is the romantic and sexual tension between the female ape and the male human. One could argue that the romance here is tainted with White hetero (earth-) male space fantasy and exoticism.

Ari is an empowered female ape and perhaps the most three-dimensional character in the entire film. She is devoted to her activism for human rights and challenges anti-human sentiment and policies, including in her family. When Wahlberg arrives, she immediately falls in love with him – a complete stranger from another planet – and loses all sense of her own identity. Whenever Ari is around Wahlberg’s character, she is deeply fascinated by him, by how intelligent he is and how he comes from somewhere else, a more technologically advanced, superior civilization where the humans – the White man – rules and dominates. Furthermore, the inter-species Love is only one-way. Wahlberg never shows any interest in her or in the female human character who also swoons over him. The latter is scantily-clad like the original film’s “Nova” and is played by supermodel Estella Warren. She hardly has any dialogue because, quite obviously, she serves only as eye-candy. But Wahlberg doesn’t care about them. Throughout the movie, he just cares about getting the heck off the planet!

The inter-species romance can easily be read as an inter-racial relationship. This is a common trope we find in science fiction where non-human species are stand-ins for people of color. This becomes more clear when we pay attention to social status, power dynamics, how the characters are being depicted and racialized. Although Ari is played by a White woman, her ape character’s representation is consistent with the way women of color are often portrayed in mainstream media: exoticized, animalistic (and that is obvious here), oppressed by the men of her own race/species, and must be rescued by the White man (this isn’t the first time to appear in science fiction either, you can find it in James Cameron’s recent “Avatar” film). Perhaps the most insulting aspect of the film’s sexism is how Wahlberg gets to kiss both Ari and the female human at the end of the movie! And neither of the women have any objection to that! Why should they – he is the White Messiah figure, they should feel honored he bothered to show them some attention in the first place, right?!

In closing, it is discouraging for me to reject these films that I once enjoyed. I’ve always appreciated how science fiction could convey important social (see “1984”), political (see “V for Vendetta”), and even spiritual (see “Star Wars”) messages in fantastical or futuristic settings, but throughout the history of the genre, at least in Western literature, non-human species have been used as substitutes for people of color. Though the intention is not always to be racist, the perception of the “other” is always reinforced, just as “otherness” is stressed when people of color are portrayed. This makes it quite challenging for people of color like myself to enjoy science fiction classics like “Planet of the Apes.” Women, especially women of color, are relegated to the background, and whenever they are given significant roles, they are almost always hyper-sexualized and exoticized. I really believe they could have made a “Planet of the Apes” film without the racism and sexism. For instance, why couldn’t the protagonist be Brown or Black or Yellow? Or why couldn’t the protagonist be a woman? Why not a woman of color? Why always a White man?

For women and people of color, I only see one solution to this: we need to start promoting and writing our own science fiction stories.

37 thoughts on ““Planet of the Apes” and How Racism, Sexism Hurts Science Fiction

  1. After reading your post I get what you’re saying. In fact I didn’t really see how racists or sexists these films were. Perhaps it’s because I was still a teenager and didn’t think about these things much.

    In the 1968 version I’m not entirely surprised by the racist and sexist elements mainly because of the time it was made, but Burton’s version? I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that it only served create “otherness.” I would think that in the 21st century we would be past that.
    I think the reason why in many movies where the protagonist is a white heterosexual male, is because it is assumed that audiences will relate more to him. I think this beliefs also falls under the assumption that white heterosexual males make stories for “everyone.” Whereas, women and people color make stories only for women and people of color. I hope that makes sense. 🙂

    I also agree with you about women and people of color promoting their own sci fi stories. But of course there’s going to be the excuse that women and people of color “don’t/can’t” write science fiction.

    1. RenKiss: “I think this beliefs also falls under the assumption that white heterosexual males make stories for “everyone.” Whereas, women and people color make stories only for women and people of color. I hope that makes sense.”

      Wow, that is an excellent point! Throughout media and society, we are conditioned to think that people of color and women only talk about their groups and cannot talk about “everyone.” Very well said, thanks for highlighting on that!

      1. RenKiss- I agree with Mast Qalander that is an excellent point.
        Also an excellent point:

        I also agree with you about women and people of color promoting their own sci fi stories. But of course there’s going to be the excuse that women and people of color “don’t/can’t” write science fiction.

        I would add that the illusion of science in science fiction suggests a brain capable of rational, logical, systematized, “scientific” thought and knowledge, something of which women and people of colour are thought by the dominant discourse to lack. Just emotions and Id, urges and scatter.

        Now back to the post! 🙂

    2. You’re welcome, but your post made realize that women and people of color are essentially “otherized.” I mean, why think of us as being human like everyone else? 😛

    3. “I think this beliefs also falls under the assumption that white heterosexual males make stories for “everyone.” Whereas, women and people color make stories only for women and people of color.”

      Totally making sense! Couldn’t have said it better myself. My kingdom for cool sci-fi movies and video games about someone who’s NOT a 30-something brown-haired heterosexual white dude.

    4. RenKiss-“In the 1968 version I’m not entirely surprised by the racist and sexist elements mainly because of the time it was made, but Burton’s version? I guess I shouldn’t be surprised that it only served create “otherness.” I would think that in the 21st century we would be past that.”

      This comment reminds me of the book “Brave New World”. In this book no one is born anymore people are incubated in a laboratory. They are created to be in different castes, the lower casts being short and darker and also consisting of many more people splitting from the same egg. Alcohol is put into the tubes containing those fertilized eggs of the lowest cast to stunt their growth and make them less intelligent. Throughout the childhood of all castes they are taught through messages in their sleep which castes to associate with and in school they are taught which jobs they can do. The fact that both you and the author of the article didn’t notice the racial themes in the movie until later in life sort of shows the way that in some ways we go through a less overt but still present training of what our role in society is based on our race or gender. I’m sorry if I went a little off topic there, but I hope you understand my point.

  2. Chiara 🙂

    Thanks for adding those thoughts. That is a good point and it sounds like an offshoot of those racist perceptions that people with darker skin are more aggressive, angry, wild, and violent.

    1. You are welcome, and it is essentially the same though the obverse. As irrational bundles of urges women and people of colour are affectionate, laughing, benign, silly, and can switch to aggressive, angry, wild, and violent (sexually and physically, not psychologically–too sophisticated). They don’t have the rational scientific logical brain of white men to be able to modulate feelings. There is a lot written on this by the French writers of decolonization like Aime Cesaire, Leopold Senghor, Albert Memmi, and Frantz Fanon (3 “blacks” and a Tunisian Jew 🙂 ).

      I want to read the post carefully before replying to it directly, but I look forward to doing so. 🙂

      1. Your comment just reminded me of a movie I saw recently. It’s called “Towelhead,” have you seen it? I was so disappointed by it. The way they depicted the Arab father was so ridiculously stereotypical (even though he doesn’t have too much of an accent). The protagonist, a woman of color, was incredibly sexualized as well. I think it had a lot of potential, but it just wasn’t executed properly.

        Anyway, looking forward to hearing your thoughts! 🙂

  3. Off topic: or rather on the topic of racism and sexism, and “brown” Muslim people, this is what I wrote this morning after reading the French news:

    Why, even if you hate the niqab, you should hate the French “burqa ban” more

    All are more than welcome to read and comment. The combination of the Celtic Cross (for the “real French”) and the pride in the swastika, both painted on a mosque and a halal butcher shop with a number of xenophobic, Islamophobic slogans in celebration of France’s National Day (July 14) was rather “inspiring” 😦

    All are more than welcome to read and comment.

  4. For far too long, the space of the ‘other’ has been occupied by muslims/arabs/brown coloured people in Hollywood, it’s refreshing to see that discussion& critique is taking place, but it all feels so backwards that nothing has really changed. Dialogue &discussion about this cruel stereotype is needed, but so little action is taking place.

  5. One that I am surprised you didn’t mention are the Orcs and other bad guys in Lord of the Rings – men with head scarves on their heads, veils across their faces, riding on elephants? Come on! The Arab-evil representation was so strong I laughed out loud.

  6. I’ve not bothered with the remake of planet of apes, but your analysis of the original is lacking.

    If you only look for one perspective, that is all you will find. The film was purposefully made in such a style as to make people consider things like race, class, censorship, religion, etc and much of it is missed if you interpret it so narrowly.

    1. The original Planet of The Apes intentionally showed class division. The gorillas were the foot soldiers and brute force which ensured the ape order. The chimpanzees were the intellectuals/thinkers. The orangutans were the politicians/enforcers of the religious order.

      However, if you look at the sequels that followed the original film, they address these issues.

      I do not consider the film racist per se.

    2. In my post, I recognized there were arguments about the film actually creating social awareness about race, class, religion, etc. However, what cannot be dismissed is how the stereotypical portrayals of apes are similar to the stereotypical portrayals of people of color. As I mentioned, non-human species in science-fiction/fantasy films are often used as substitutes for people of color. This point has been addressed in other critiques of the film (which I have cited).

  7. I always thought the Planet of the Apes was an allegory of the Islamic faith. I’m a Muslim, notice in the original film, the apes follow a religion based on a sacred text (Qur’an), they adhere to the teachings of their prophet (Muhammad), their society is based on a divine scheme or plan (Shariah), and this rigidity leads to stagnation. So while they are advanced, they are also somewhat backwards.

    Is this just me?

    1. I never saw “Planet of the Apes” as an allegory of Islam. I think it is more in line with Christianity, considering the way the apes quote Biblical verses with slight alterations.

      However, in Tim Burton’s remake, the Orientalist imagery is significant to point out.

  8. Admin Note: Check the comment policy before using childish ad hominem attacks. If you prefer making personal attacks, perhaps high school would be a better place to express yourself. 🙂

  9. I’m not a fan of the Planet of the Apes series, but seeing as how Apes in Western culture are typically likened to black individuals, I found the following analyses thought provoking (in regards to Rise of the Planet of the Apes):


    Commentator 1: The Planet of the Apes movie was BY FAR the best film of the year, which I knew it would be because all “Planet of the Apes” movies are revelatory. The so-called white man was basically telling on himself, and his knowledge of who the blacks of the captivity are. He knows that we are not “Africans” which is why, from the start, he depicts the planned kidnapping of the “chimps” by Africans (Deut 28:68). The movie is in parable form and you must know the Bible to know what is being implied. The mother at the start represents the nation of Israel (Revelation 12:1). Notice that after she is “killed”, the caretaker for the chimps states how he had to “put down the other twelve”, speaking of the 12 tribes of Israel (Rev 12:1, Genesis 37:9,10). Her son, “Caesar” (meaning “king”) represents Jesus Christ, the savior of the nation of Israel (Matt 1:21, Matt 15:24, Acts 5:31, etc.). His caretaker, “Will Rod-man” (meaning “he is the deliverer of punishment” Psalms 125:3), is the serpent who cares for “Caesar” and the other “chimps” and unwittingly returns knowledge, wisdom, and understanding to them through the “serum” (Rev 12:14). Caesar is raised in the home of “Will Rod-man” and wears the “leash” which represents the “yoke” that the so-called white man (in the Bible known as “Esau”) has on the nation of Israel (Genesis 27:38-41, Jeremiah 30:8, Deut 28:48, etc.). The prison scene is of course an allusion to the imprisonment of blacks in the penal system (Isaiah 42:22). The “serum”, of course, is the Holy Spirit that raises the “apes” from their dead state (Ezekiel 37:1-14). The screenwriter even has Caesar allude to Ezekiel 37th chapter in the parable that Caesar gives to the orangutan (representing the tribe of Levi) about the unity of the apes using the broken stick (Zech 11:15) and how the stick must come together for the apes to be strong (Ezekiel 37:16-21). The chimps that have inhaled the serum have “green eyes” because they have been enlightened by the Holy Spirit (Psalm 19:8, Matt 6:22). Once Caesar enlightened his brethren, he fought back against the oppressor and the paramount scene is when he fought back and spoke when that devil tried to put that electrical rod on him (Proverbs 31:8,9, Isaiah 35:6). There were blatant allusions to the race war (Jeremiah 51:20-26, Zech 9:13-17, 10:3-5, etc.). The “Golden Gate” bridge is an allusion to the words of Christ referring to the “strait GATE” that must be crossed to get to the “golden city” (Matt 7:13, Rev 21:21). Caesar rode the horse into battle just as Christ will (Rev 19:11-21). The forest that the apes eventually made it to is the kingdom of heaven or “paradise” (which is a Greek word meaning “garden” or “forest” Luke 23:43, Rev 2:7). Note that the apes all climbed trees at the end, meaning that they were teachers that had received knowledge, wisdom, and understanding (Psalms 1:1-3, Isaiah 55:13, Isaiah 61:3, Mark 8:22-26, etc.). Caesar climbed the largest tree because it represented the tree of life (Rev 2:7, 22:2,14). Overall a phenomenal film. Five stars out of five lol. If you get a chance, go to youtube and type in “29th scroll 6th verse”. The white man knows who he is according to the Bible.o_O I need to see this movie.

    Response from another commentator: I need to see this movie. Anytime there is a popular movie with a chimp or monkey and a white human I assume that the chimp is a stand in for a black person (Tarzan, King Kong, Mighty Joe Young, Curious George even). It’s too much of a loaded symbol to read it otherwise, at least for me. By using a chimp and a white person, Hollywood will deal with black/white relations in a way that would be taboo if it was a black person instead of a chimp.

    The funny thing is that the connection has always been incredibly obvious, it’s barely hidden. People make the connection between blacks and apes anytime a white politician says something about chimps when alluding to blacks, but when it’s a movie it goes right over people’s heads for some reason
    It is the analysis that makes the most sense given the symbolism of the ape in Western cultures (typically a respresentation of a black person), the origins of apes (in terms of location) and the Biblical references.

  10. I found the recent Ape movie to be very moving, and surprisingly deep. I was actually surprised how many white people liked it, but then again, I doubt most people in a typical American audience could grasp the symbolism, even though it’s pretty clear.

  11. Wow, it is amazing how in the 21st century we still cannot just watch a film for pure enjoyment. Slavery was legally abolished on 1928, since then, the black community have been able to make a remarkable comeback. If you haven’t notice, our current society is purely Black influenced, media, sports, films, music, and now POLITICS. The United states of america now has a BLACK President, but, we still feel the need to involve racial hatred in our lives. Planet of the Apes was a film released on 1968 in which cinematography was still very much young and fueled with white money; nevertheless, we seem to forget that in was 1968 almost 44 years ago. The remake in 2001 was a move that was aimed to keep as much of the original, but bringing it to the current era and keeping any racist attributes out. Unfortunately people like you with racial issues, still, are able to just focus on racial symbols that don’t exist. Just because they used monkeys, gorillas, chimpanzees, and orangutans, does not mean that they are using this to symbolized BLACK people in any demeanor way, if we noticed the movie is called Planet of the APES which pretty much sums up of all the above apes. Unfortunately they did use a WHITE man to be protagonist of the movie, and yes the women used in the movie were somehow brought down to a lower level. However, you forget that in the real world in which we live, SEX SELLS, and that is a fact that we need to come to grips with. Is almost funny because although you claim to be disgusted by this idea, I’m sure that you as a man have play part of it. I’m sure that when you see a magazine ad and see a beautiful model, the first thought that crosses your mind is sex, and is ok because to deny liking sexy semi-naked models is to deny your own humanity. I guess the point that I’m trying to get across is that we need to stop trying to see more that what it is. It is ok to analyze the world in which we live in, but, it is not good to tare every little thing apart and try to find the wrong things of it. Sometimes we just need to let go for a minute and just enjoy things for what they are. Motion pictures were created with the intent to entertain, to open a small window for even just a moment in which we don’t have to think. Movies were made to give us the opportunity to transport ourselves to a different reality while we leave our own crude reality behind. Please, just enjoy movies for just entertainment and stop ruining it with your pointless criticisms, there is no point, the movie industry will not change because people like you find them politically incorrect.

    1. Wow, your comment is loaded with ignorance. What do you mean by “people like you”?

      Your post-racial attitude is, sorry to say, racist. In case you haven’t heard, a young black man by the name of Trayvon Martin was murdered recently and the killer is allowed to run free, despite admitting to killing Trayvon. Troy Davis, a black man who was accused of murdering a white cop, was executed several months ago, despite the fact that there was little evidence. Just because there are African-American politicians, actors, authors, doctors, and so on, doesn’t mean that racism doesn’t exist.

      Television and film play a HUGE role in society – it influences and shapes the way we perceive race, gender, class, sexual orientation, beauty, body images, etc. Not only do you demonstrate that you’ve NEVER taken a film theory class, but you also don’t understand the impact stereotypical imagery has on communities, especially marginalized communities. The racial allegory in the “Planet of the Apes” films has been written about before and plenty of times. I suggest you check the links I included in this post.

      Lastly, yes, I know how the real world operates, which is precisely why I speak out against racism and sexism. It’s quite disturbing that you are “ok” with the status quo and just want to go along with it. How do you think people make a difference in society? Not by passively accepting the racist and sexist logic that exists in society. No, they are bold and brave enough to challenge it. Something that you obviously don’t seem to care about.

      What world are you living in where leaving racism, sexism, and other oppressions unchallenged is perfectly ok?

  12. Sexism aside, it’s also not logical to only bring 1 woman to repopulate. With more women, pregnancies could be concurrent. Also, as was the case, there was no backup in the event of health issues or death. Logically, as any farmer knows, if the goal was to procreate, they should have brought more women than men.

  13. Admin Note: Hmm, your comment was deleted because, um, yeah, it was racist. “Go back to your country of origin”? Seriously? Did you miss your Klan meeting or something? Did you bother to read the comment policy guidelines at all? And I’m so sorry that your white privileged self is fed up with anti-racist feminist critiques by women and men of color. I will cry you a river. Oh and for the record, people of color do write sci-fi and fairy tale stories, too. I’m sure that’s new knowledge to you.

  14. This is an interesting commentary. As a white male i never really thought of the films from this perspective. I was just so fascinated by the concept of apes ‘evolving’ while humans ‘de-evolve’. It is understandable how you may percieve these films to be sexist and even perhaps racist….but i dont think that was the intent in any way on the part of the writers. Keep in mind this film came out originally at a time when evolution was just being formally introduced into the public school system. It was also at a time when the civil rights movement was at a peak and the sexual revolution was only a few years away from being formulated. So this was a time of immense change on all ends. I think that probably the writers were trying to in some fashion articulate (obviously from a sattirical point of view) all the social issues at the time from a highly futuristic and sci fi perspective. I always personally felt that Zira was probably of all the characters the most intelligent and Cornelius the second. Charlton hestons chararcter came across to me as being brutish and rather selfish, in the sense that his primary goal was simply to ‘get home’ regardless of who is hurt in the process. Nova to me symbolized the women of the past who were silenced by a patriarchal society, desperately trying to free themselves, but over and over being recaptured and imprisoned in their own silence. In a way one can see this film as being liberating, while at the same time entertaining. It portrays societal corruption while at the same time offers hope of liberation from many different perspectives. Its a complicated film to truly dissect and analyze….but the really fascinating thing is that being that humans and apes are just 1 gene apart….its not quite as far fetched of a theory as we once thought it to be. Scientists are always screwing around with something new and it wouldnt surprise me if theyve managed to somehow isolate that gene and implant human intellect into the ape species. Who knows what weird things the future holds!

    1. I recently watched the original “Planet of the Apes” and was astonished about the sexism in the movie – despite it’s social criticism on a large scale. (I don’t see it as racist.) Thanks, rick, for giving me a complete new perspective!

  15. I would love to hear your perspective on the most recent Planet of the Apes that featured a black supporting actor. Really appreciate this post, eye opening.

    1. Thanks for your comment! Yeah, I haven’t seen the new Planet of the Apes film yet, but when I get a chance, I’ll see it. I’ll share any thoughts if I have any! Thanks. 🙂

  16. A very detailed and thoughtful analysis. Though I’m a big fan of the classic 60’s/70’s Planet of the apes Films I have to agree with you in all points. I came across the franchise due to a reference in Mel Brooks’ Space Balls at age 11. Okay that movie is riddled with movie references and my father, watching it together with me, never got tired of explaining all references to me. Since then I wanted to see these movies but it took another 15 years till I finally watched them. I didn’t like that all-american-hero-type Taylor at all, but the intellectual chimpanzees. Even Dr. Zaius had his charme and I couldn’t hate him since I understood that he only intended to protect his people from the ‘beast man’. Honestly I found them all adorable, fuzzy and cuddly like Disney characters. Only the gorillas were a little boring and stupid. I understood that this movie was a political metapher in the way of Orwell’s Animal Farm. But I didn’t understand it in it’s full context. Buying the boxed edition many years later, I grasped so much more. And realizing that the Gorillas represent the black people I have to say, their depiction is the worst possible stereotyping. It’s also alarming how Dr. Zira is *the only* independent, strong and smart female in the whole classic series (the characters played by Natalie Trundy couldn’t convince me).

  17. A nice article with plenty of interesting insights…I have just one small issue. While your view toward the sexism of the first movie is definitely beyond argument, I am not entirely sure that I would cast Nova in the role of being so ideal. Your assertion that she never challenges Taylor’s authority it undermined by the rather important scene in which she she erases what he has written in the sand. A decision which–because Taylor is a total jerkwad–causes him first to manhandle her for daring to contravene his authority (see what I mean!) and then causes him to get into a fight with one of the anonymous herd of native humans. On that point I think you lapsed…but like I said, a minor on in consideration of what is overall not just well reasoned, but very artistically stated.

  18. I haven’t seen all the Planet of the Apes but I keep a very dislikeable memory of the 1968 one. Perhaps it’s because it was shown to me at an age where I didn’t had a proper sexual education. The whole film was somehow embarrassing to watch, and I’m fairly sure that some scenes (notably when the “mate” is introduced and they have these discussions about the “New Eve”) somehow led me to have some weird fantasies popping up in my head from time to time. Nothing that had it’s place in my head at that time in my opinion, and mostly things that made me feel extremly uncomfortable as a girl in her teenage.
    I genuinely don’t understand why my father thought it was ok to show me this at that time. Plus, the fact that the film ended badly made me feel extremly bitter.
    It just feel like I watched someone’s strange fantasy.
    I keep having some sort of invasive thoughts thanks to this film. But thanks, this is just a film. I usualle enjoy getting to know about the meanings behind films but I probably have an issue with this one.
    Perhaps watching it again might make me feel better about it but I have the feeling I’d end up with your point of view.
    Glad to know I wasn’t the only one to feel a very sexist vibe about this one.

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