Secrets of the Tribe

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Secrets of the Tribe
Secrets of the Tribe Movie Poster.jpg
Directed byJosé Padilha
Produced byCarol Nahra
Marcos Prado
Mike Chamberlain
StarringRobert Borofsky
Jesus Carsozo
Napoleon A. Chagnon
Marie Isabel Eguillor
Brian Ferguson
Music byJoão Nabuco
CinematographyLula Carvalho
Reynaldo Zangrandi
Edited byBernardo Pimenta
Felipe Lacerda
José Padilha
Avenue B Productions
Zazen Produções
Distributed bySideways Film, Nossa Distribuidora [pt], Documentary Educational Resources
Release date
  • 22 January 2010 (2010-01-22) (Sundance)
  • 22 February 2013 (2013-02-22) (Brazil)
Running time
110 minutes
LanguageEnglish, Yanomamö, Portuguese

Secrets of the Tribe is a documentary film by director José Padilha premiered at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival, where it was nominated for a Grand Jury Prize.[1]


This documentary explores the allegations, first brought to light in the book Darkness in El Dorado, written by Patrick Tierney, that anthropologists studying the Yanomami Indians in the 1960s and '70s engaged in bizarre and inappropriate interactions with the tribe, including sexual and medical violations. Scientists accused in this film are among others James Neel, Napoleon Chagnon, Kenneth Good and Jacques Lizot.[2]

It features interviews with Yanomami, as well as with scientists who have studied them. One anthropologist featured in the film said the film showed "the social responsibility associated with working with human subjects – especially the unique vulnerabilities of indigenous peoples – and the ease in which such responsibilities can be and have been ignored, discarded, abused."[3]

Post release[edit]

Alice Dreger, an historian of medicine and science, and an outsider to the debate, concluded in a peer-reviewed publication that most of Tierney's claims (the movie is based on claims originally made by Tierney) were "baseless and sensationalistic charges".[4]

A detailed investigation of these charges by a panel set up by the University of Michigan found the most serious charges to have no foundation and others to have been exaggerated. Almost all of the lengthy allegations made in Darkness in El Dorado were publicly rejected by the Provost's office of the University of Michigan in November 2000.[5]

Sponsel and Turner, the two scientists who originally touted the book's claims, admitted that their charge against Neel "remains an inference in the present state of our knowledge: there is no 'smoking gun' in the form of a written text or recorded speech by Neel."[6]

The American Anthropological Association has since rescinded its support of the book and acknowledged fraudulent and improper and unethical conduct by Tierney. The association admitted that "in the course of its investigation, in its publications, in the venues of its national meetings and its web site, [it] condoned a culture of accusation and allowed serious but unevaluated charges to be posted on its website and expressed in its newsletter and annual meetings" and that its "report has damaged the reputations of its targets, distracted public attention from the real sources of the Yanomami tragedy and misleadingly suggested that anthropologists are responsible for Yanomami suffering".[7]

Stephen Broomer points out that, "Tierney wrote a polemical, unscientific book that invoked a scandal. Padilha's film is more evenhanded than this, no doubt because it includes that scandal as a subject, allowing Chagnon an opportunity to defend himself".[2]


  1. ^ SundanceTwentyTen Archived 5 April 2010 at the Wayback Machine.
  2. ^ a b "Secrets of the Tribe. Directed by José Padilha". Retrieved 4 February 2013.
  3. ^ "Secrets of the Tribe". Archived from the original on 29 November 2011. Retrieved 4 February 2013.
  4. ^ Dreger, Alice (16 February 2011). "Darkness's Descent on the American Anthropological Association". Human Nature. 22 (3): 225–246. doi:10.1007/s12110-011-9103-y. PMC 3178026. PMID 21966181.
  5. ^ "Statement from University of Michigan Provost Nancy Cantor on the book 'Darkness in El Dorado'".
  6. ^ John Tooby, "Jungle Fever: Did two US scientists start a genocidal epidemic in the Amazon or was The New Yorker duped? Slate, October 24th, 2000.
  7. ^ AAA Rescinds Acceptance of the El Dorado Report Archived 4 July 2015 at the Wayback Machine.

External links[edit]