Unlocking the Cage

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Unlocking the Cage
Unlocking the Cage poster.jpg
Directed byChris Hegedus
D.A. Pennebaker
StarringSteven Wise
Music byJames Lavino
Pennebaker Hegedus Films
HBO Documentary Films
Distributed byFirst Run Features
Release date
  • January 25, 2016 (2016-01-25) (Sundance)
Running time
91 minutes
CountryUnited States

Unlocking the Cage is a 2016 American documentary film about the work of the Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP) and lawyer Steven Wise's efforts to grant limited legal personhood rights to chimpanzees, whales, dolphins and elephants. It was directed by D. A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus. It was the final film directed by Pennebaker before his death in August 2019.

A. O. Scott of The New York Times praised the film, writing that "D. A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus bring their relaxed, acute observational style of filmmaking to bear on a thorny tangle of legal and philosophical questions. Part courtroom drama, part rumination on what separates human beings from other animals, the film is above all a sympathetic portrait of an advocate...it is hard to watch Unlocking the Cage without being somewhat swayed by the arguments — or at least impressed by the sincerity — of Steven Wise."[1]

The Guardian called it an "exemplary animal rights documentary", and that it "presents some fascinating legal and ethical issues".[2] However, Variety's critic, Peter Debruge, accused Wise of "trying to trick a series of New York state judges into granting chimpanzees the same rights as humans" and called his efforts a "publicity stunt."[3]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Scott, A.O. (24 May 2016). "Review: In 'Unlocking the Cage,' a Struggle to Raise the Legal Status of Chimpanzees". The New York Times. Retrieved 28 December 2022.
  2. ^ Felperin, Leslie (16 June 2016). "Unlocking the Cage review – exemplary animal rights documentary". The Guardian. Retrieved 2016-09-09.
  3. ^ Debruge, Peter (8 February 2016). "'Unlocking the Cage' Review: Legal Battle Shows Animals Are People Too". Variety. Retrieved 2016-09-09.

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