Lion Spy review – an undercover expose of trophy hunters paying to kill big cats in Africa | Movies
Jhe brave and secretive work of Joni “Rogue” Rubin behind the camera in South Africa gives us a rare glimpse into the world of trophy hunting: wealthy people – mostly men, mostly Americans and Europeans, some with beards of Hemingway – pay to kill on safari. In a film subtitled ‘The Hunt for Justice’, Rubin, a liberal vegetarian from Melbourne, first creates fake social media accounts under a fake name, reinventing herself as avid hunter and aspiring photographer Joni Kiser .
Rubin then goes undercover as a trainee with a big game hunter in South Africa. There’s a particularly gruesome hunt in which Bob, an American on safari with his college-aged daughter, kills a wild lion. Like all hunters, he wields a high-powered rifle – it’s far from a fair fight. What’s troubling is the narrative Bob creates to justify the killing: in his head, this lion is a “problem cat” and he’s the hero protecting the local people. As Rubin sarcastically asks, “Do they need help from an American dad?” Bob poses for pictures with his kill, then off to the taxidermist.
In one or two places, Rubin’s commentary is a little overdone and she makes one or two sweeping generalizations about Africa. But lions are listed as vulnerable to extinction, and half of Africa’s lions have gone extinct since Disney released The Lion King in 1994. Trophy hunting isn’t the biggest threat; it ranks below habitat loss due to human encroachment, the bushmeat trade, and farmers killing lions to protect livestock. Rubin explores the debate around trophy hunting, and not all conservationists object. But in reality, his film is an exposition of the minds and mindsets of trophy hunters, best summed up by a clip of talk show host Jimmy Kimmel speaking after a Minnesota dentist killed one of the most popular lions. Zimbabwe’s most loved in 2015. “Is it so hard for you to get that erection you need to kill things?”