Unlocking the Cage

A surprisingly suspenseful and compelling courtroom thriller... simply put, Unlocking the Cage tells a great story.


Unlocking the Cage

Unlocking the Cage follows animal rights lawyer Steven Wise in his unprecedented challenge to break down the legal wall that separates animals from humans. After 30 years of struggling with ineffective animal welfare laws, Steve and his legal team, the Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP), are making history by filing the first lawsuits that seek to transform an animal from a “thing” with no rights to a “person” with legal protections.

Supported by affidavits from primatologists around the world, Steve maintains that, based on scientific evidence, cognitively complex animals such as chimpanzees, whales, dolphins and
elephants have the capacity for limited personhood rights (such as bodily liberty) that would protect them from physical abuse. Using writs of habeas corpus (historically used to free
humans from unlawful imprisonment), Wise argues on behalf of four captive chimpanzees in New York State.

Unlocking the Cage captures a monumental shift in our culture, as the public and judicial system show increasing receptiveness to Steve’s impassioned arguments. It is an intimate look at a lawsuit that could forever transform our legal system, and one man’s lifelong quest to protect “nonhuman” animals.

"A crisp and convincing doc." -
The Hollywood Reporter

"Eye-opening." -
Not Rated
Chris Hegedus, DA Pennebaker
Sam Weisberg, Village Voice

The saddest image in Unlocking the Cage, the new film from married documentary veterans Chris Hegedus and D.A. Pennebaker, is that of Tommy, one of the chimps featured prominently in the sappy 1980s Matthew Broderick vehicle Project X. Tommy now lives in captivity at an upstate New York trailer park ...

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