In his new movie Project Nim, which opens today in New York City and Chicago, Oscar-winning documentary filmmaker James Marsh explores the tragic life of a chimpanzee, Nim Chimpsky, and the people who exploited him for their own selfish ends.
Born in a laboratory in the 1970s, Nim was taught American Sign Language as part of a project to show that it could be done. But that was just the beginning of Nim’s odyssey. He was shuffled between homes, kept segregated from his own species, often caged and tethered, and eventually dumped onto a series of laboratories. Animal rights advocates fought to have him retired to a sanctuary and, for those of you who plan to see the movie, here’s a spoiler alert: They were ultimately successful.
While Nim did learn sign language, the truly important lesson that he taught us is that nonhuman primates, like all other animals, desire and deserve the same freedom that human primates enjoy and that depriving them of it is devastating. Why, 30 years later, have we still not learned that lesson?
Written by Michelle Sherrow