Discussion of the 2018 film Whitefang, directed by Alexandre Espigares and distributed by Netflix. Based on the 1906 book by Jack London. In this episode I’m joined by educators Maggie and Ayesha.

You may like to watch the film first and think about:

  • What are the different ways people interact with their environment and animals?
  • How do you feel about the relationships between people and animals in the film?

Depiction of animals

  • We were pleasantly surprised by how engaged we were with the characters and story.
  • Whitefang has a lot of personality, but is not anthropomorphised.
  • Lives of wild animals are shown with a darker, harsher edge, than might be expected in an animated kids movie. 
  • Shows the struggle for food and survival. Whitefang’s early life and relationship with his mother is not idealized in the same way as in animal movies like Bambi.

Depiction of humans

  • Welcomed the overall message that ‘there are all kinds of people in all kinds of cultures’.
  • Overall maintains a ‘good’ vs ‘evil’ dichotomy, but this is understandable given the other difficult subject matter in the film.
  • Didn’t like that the villains are marked out by their appearance.
  • Appreciated the depiction of the Gwichin and the unfairness of needing to buy their own land.

More about the Gwich’in

Depiction of nature

  • Beautifully rendered landscapes.
  • Captures the vastness and wildness of the landscapes in that part of the world.
  • Nature is untamed, beautiful, harsh, but not overtly threatening or hostile.

Tough subjects

How animals are used

  • Training Whitefang to fight other dogs for sport is intensely brutal and negative. 
  • Potential for opening discussions about how animals should be treated.
  • How do you feel about a wild animal being used to pull sleds? Fight? Be a pet?
  • Also opens a window to a part of the reality of life in these places at this time which can often be glossed over by the image of brave, adventurous pioneers.

Releasing animals into the wild

  • Liked the sense of a wild animal being allowed to return to freedom and its habitat.
  • However, Whitefang has been domesticated for most of his life. By the end, also being taught not to hunt animals like chickens.
  • Feels unlikely that Whitefang would do well in the wild given the behaviours he’s been taught.
  • Would be difficult for him to integrate into a pack.
  • Returning to humans could be dangerous as he could be seen as dangerous and killed.

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