And you thought there were sexual overtones between Naomi Watts and the giant ape in King Kong. Andrew Erish, writing for The Los Angeles Times, has a great historical account of the film that spawned the original King Kong. The film, called Ingagi, was highly controversial back in 1930. As Erish reports, the film was made in response to a hunger for jungle films, spurred on in part by Teddy Roosevelt's African safari and the film Hunting in Africa, which purported to be a real film of the Roosevelt expedition, but which was in fact filmed in a studio in Chicago.
What makes Ingagi interesting from an historical standpoint (at least, if you're a film geek or a person interested in historical depictions of racial issues) is that the film was heavily marketed as an authentic documentary filmed on an actual expedition to Africa, when in fact it was cobbled together from older movie footage and scenes shot in a zoo. The "native Pygmies" were black children from Los Angeles
The film's depiction of African natives as sacrificing women to gorillas (interesting, since gorillas are herbivores), and, more importantly, its implication that native African women were mating with gorillas, are patently offensive today. Posters for the film depicted a half-naked "African native" woman being fondled by a large gorilla, and one scene in the woman shows a black woman carrying a baby with fake fur attached to it, as the voiceover talks about babies who are "more ape than human". The exploitation and depiction of the "Africans" in the film, Erish notes, "helped exploit degrading attitudes toward blacks". Yeah, you think? And yet, the film made a killing financially, even after it was shown to be a fraud (an actor finally confessed to being the sexual predator gorilla in the film). The financial success of Ingagi, in part, was responsible for RKO greelighting King Kong - a film with another big gorilla getting frisky with a beautiful woman.