What is Chimp Empire about? Netflix documentary explained

Chimp Empire on NetflixNetflix

Chimp Empire, the new documentary series from the Academy Award-winning co-director of My Octopus Teacher, has just dropped on Netflix – here’s what it’s about, who’s narrating, and if it’s worth watching.

For decades, we’ve relied on David Attenborough for our nature documentaries – from Planet Earth to The Blue Planet, his groundbreaking series have changed the game and captivated audiences across the globe. 

Though it’s hard to imagine learning about our planet’s inhabitants without Attenborough’s soothing narration, there have been some seriously strong contenders within the wildlife genre of late thanks to Netflix – from the 2019 doc Fantastic Fungi to Pippa Ehrlich and James Reed’s 2020 epic My Octopus Teacher.

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And now Reed’s returned with Chimp Empire, which dropped on the streaming platform today – here’s everything you need to know about the awe-inspiring new docu-series. 

What is Chimp Empire about?

Much like My Octopus Teacher did with cephalopods, Chimp Empire on Netflix deep dives into the fascinating and complex world of chimpanzees. The four-part docu-series takes a look at the largest society of the great ape species as they navigate social politics, family dynamics, and territorial disputes. 

Check out the trailer below: 

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The official synopsis, as per Netflix, reads: “Under the lush canopies of Uganda’s Ngogo Forest dwells the largest chimpanzee society ever discovered. For the last 25 years, scientists and field trackers have lived alongside this tribe, watching as they built a sophisticated political and familial structure: forming alliances, building trust, caring for one another, and often going head to head in a never ending fight for power. 

“When director James Reed (My Octopus Teacher) embedded a camera crew to capture a uniquely intimate look at the chimps of Ngogo, there was no way to know that the year ahead would bring some of the most tumultuous battles and dramatic changes in the tribe’s history.”

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It goes on to say that over the course of the four episodes, “babies will grow, relationships will blossom, and leaders will rise and fall,” offering viewers a rare glimpse into our closest living animal relatives as well as an opportunity to “learn about our own human society through the mirror of these chimps and their fascinating lives.”

Who narrates Chimp Empire?

Chimp Empire is narrated by Academy Award-winning actor Mahershala Ali.

Ali is best known for his incredible turn as Juan in Barry Jenkins’ 2016 drama Moonlight. Luke Cage, True Detective Season 3, and Green Book are just a few of his other acting accolades. 

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Behind the camera is Reed, who knows the subject well, having previously directed the stunning documentary Rise of the Warrior Apes. Elaborating on how the project spawned the concept for Chimp Empire, the filmmaker told Netflix: “Following that film, there was internal conflict between the chimps ruling the group, and they split into two distinct tribes. 

“They didn’t contact each other at all, and whenever they met, it was hostile. The scientists who worked there were telling me all this news: ‘You won’t believe it, the Ngogo group has finally split. This is completely unprecedented. We have no idea what will happen now. Will they reunite? Will they go to war?’ So at this point we’d reached an historic moment. 

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“The scientists felt like the next year or two was going to bring about a lot of change. It was going to be new for science, and it also provided a really unique opportunity to film a story about this amazing, dramatic situation in the forest.”

Additionally, Professor John Mitani is the scientific consultant on the series. “There are about a dozen people who work with the chimps every day, and have done for years,” added Reed. “The scientists basically live in a small camp in the middle of a very remote area in Uganda.”

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The documentary-maker went on to explain that the primates know the scientists are there, but it’s taken the team around 25 years to reach the point where they can walk and be near them. “The scientists follow them with notepads, we follow them with camera equipment,” he said.

Is Chimp Empire worth watching?

Given the involvement of Reed and Ali, and the depth of knowledge, research, and observations that have gone into creating Chimp Empire, this is a documentary series you’re not going to want to miss. 

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Although it’s too early for a Rotten Tomatoes score, reviews have been incredibly positive so far, with the Netflix show delivering both stunning visuals and a fascinating journey to follow. 

The Guardian gave it four stars, describing Chimp Empire as an “epic tale of betrayal” that “is like Succession, but with apes.” The outlet isn’t the only one to draw comparisons with the HBO drama, with the Irish Independent describing Jackson – the alpha male of the chimps – as the “Logan Roy” equivalent. 

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Elsewhere, Leisurebyte wrote: “The documentary excels in terms of the craft… with some stunning visuals and transition shots of the African Jungle,” adding: “As a result, the experience is soothing, reflective and highly emotive.”

Chimp Empire is available to watch on Netflix now. Check out our other Netflix hubs below:

The Sandman Season 2 | Stranger Things Season 5 | The Witcher Season 3 | Squid Game Season 2 | Wednesday Season 2 | Extraction 2 | Murder Mystery 3 | Gears of War movie | Cobra Kai Season 6

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