The tribe of the title, as José Padilha’s deft and outrageous documentary makes clear, are not the Stone Age Yanomami people of the Amazon — a gold mine of material exploited by researchers for the past five decades — but the anthropologists themselves. And their secrets are indeed disturbing. At the beginning of the film, one of the most famous,
Napoleon Chagnon, quips sarcastically to a gathering of admirers about the jealous folks who have accused him of everything including genocide. The admirers laugh, but the charges, as Padilha’s evidence suggests, are not funny.
Neither are the accusations of pedophilia leveled at Chagnon’s colleague, Jacques Lizot. And almost as dismaying are the petty vanities, vicious treacheries, and ideological feuding of the anthropologists interviewed — it all makes the savages look noble indeed.