Documentary about man killed by uncontacted tribe gets first trailer

Daisy Phillipson
Image of John Chau in The Mission trailerNational Geographic

An ethical debate has been sparked once more amid the release of the trailer for The Mission, an upcoming documentary about a missionary killed by an uncontacted tribe.

There are many reasons why a documentary is made. The intention could be to revisit a case with a fresh perspective, as was done with Depp v Heard. It could be to highlight social injustices like in Last Call. Or, in titles such as The Lucie Blackman Case and Take Care of Maya, the objective might be to simply inform viewers about significant tragedies that didn’t receive the recognition they deserved.

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Then there are documentaries such as The Curious Case of Natalia Grace and Natalia Speaks, which consider both sides of the story to allow viewers to draw their own conclusions. This is perhaps the idea behind the National Geographic documentary The Mission, which tells the tragic true story of an American evangelical Christian missionary who was killed while trying to reach a remote tribe.

The ethical issues surrounding contact with isolated tribes, echoing the long and troubling history of colonialism, is set to be explored in the upcoming film, which just received its first official trailer. 

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First trailer for The Mission documentary drops online

NatGeo dropped the first official trailer for The Mission on August 31, 2023, giving insight into the case of John Chau, who was killed by the Sentinelese tribe while trying to make contact in November 2018.

Check it out below: 

The official synopsis reads: “In 2018, a shocking event made headlines around the world: a young American missionary, John Chau, was killed by arrows while attempting to contact one of the world’s most isolated Indigenous peoples on remote North Sentinel Island.”

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The Mission, which drops in US cinemas on October 13 and in the UK and Ireland on November 17, is helmed by Emmy-winning Boys State directors Amanda McBaine and Jesse Moss.

“Through exclusive interviews and with unprecedented access to Chau’s secret plans, personal diaries and video archives, The Mission examines the mythology of exploration that inspired him, the evangelical community that supported his quest, and reveals his own father’s heartbreak as Chau’s youthful thirst for adventure became a fatal obsession,” the synopsis continues.

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The film looks set to examine both sides of the case, from the tragedy of Chau’s passing and his religious intentions to the complex history of colonialism and global exploration, and the impact this has had on indigenous communities. 

As is said in the opening of the trailer: “My friend John paid some pirates to go to an island to talk to people about Jesus, when he knew he had no business doing that.”

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On this side of the debate, critics argue that the act of trying to change the spiritual beliefs and practices of indigenous people is a form of cultural imperialism, closely resembling the forced conversions and assimilations carried out by colonial powers. 

Still of colonial image from The Mission trailerNational Geographic

History also shows that first contact between isolated tribes and outsiders has frequently resulted in exploitation, violence, and the spread of diseases that have decimated entire communities.

On the other side, supporters of missionary work with isolated tribes emphasize their intent to offer what they see as “spiritual salvation.” The notion here is that people who haven’t had the opportunity to hear the religious message they’re spreading should be given the chance to do so.

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There is plenty of anticipation about how The Mission will cover these topics, with one viewer writing in the comments section: “I really hope the directors handled this one without ill intentions or narrative manipulations. Because if they actually handle this well, with humanity and nuance and respect, it will probably end up being an amazing documentary.”

The Mission drops in US cinemas on October 13. You can read more about upcoming documentaries here, and check out some of our other true crime coverage below:

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The Lucie Blackman Case | The Isabella Nardoni Case | Where is Natalia Grace? | Who are the Duggars? | Victim/Suspect explained | Missing Dead or Alive explained | True story behind The Playing Card Killer | True story behind Take Care of Maya | HBO’s Burden of Proof explained | How to watch David Fuller: Monster in the Morgue | How to watch the Hart family murders documentary | True story of The Deepest Breath | True story of Last Call

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About The Author

Daisy is a Senior TV and Movies Writer at Dexerto. She's a lover of all things macabre, whether that be horror, crime, psychological thrillers or all of the above. After graduating with a Masters in Magazine Journalism, she's gone on to write for Digital Spy, LADbible and Little White Lies. You can contact her on daisy.phillipson@dexerto.com