How "Ingagi" Lied and Made a Profit
The highest grossing film of 1930 was Ingagi. On a practical & objective level, the movie is obviously horrid. But I'm not here (right now) to point fingers & do a social critique. Let's just examine what was.
The topic of Ingagi is a rabbit hole. Very easy to get sucked into a vortex of information. It's a bit like reading about a JFK conspiracy. There's no end to the Ingagi matrix...
However, I recently read a fascinating article from the LA Times, written in 2006, about the history of this motion picture. Ingagi has fallen into obscurity because it was exhibited unsanctioned by the Hays Code — and was an embarrassment to the movie industry once it was revealed to be a fraud.
But it's influence is tremendous: It inspired the trend of exploitative & lurid documentary / shockumentary genres which extended well into the 1950's in the form of "exotic exploitation movies" which then morphed into the titillating mondo movies of the 1960's; which then morphed into the grotesque hardcore mondo movies of the 1970's; which then morphed into the VHS snuff-film shockumentary genre of the 1980's; which then morphed into mainstream reality shock TV of the 1990's.
Ingagi was proof of the efficiency & high-reward of the shockumentary.
Even during the 1930's, there was an immediate influence. Ingagi was referenced across pop culture, and was the inspiration behind the original 1933 King Kong.
But all of this success was based on a lie. Multiple lies.
I just want to touch on 2, since they resulted in legal action.
The first one was in the pirating of African safari footage, and claiming to have filmed it themselves. The filmmakers effectively stole footage from a popular 1915 Nickelodeon expedition film titled Heart of Africa. They used this old, yet real, safari footage & filmed new scenes with fake explorers.
When the movie became massively successful, the original filmmaker behind Heart of Africa caught wind of the situation and decided to sue.
Her name was Lady Mackenzie. What's interesting about her is that the courtesy prefix of "Lady" was one that she made up! Grace Mackenzie was not the daughter of a duke, marquess, nor earl. This means, the person who sued a filmmaker for misrepresenting their authenticity was, themselves, misrepresenting their own authenticity! Presumably she did it to drum up publicity for her own motion picture...
But anyway, she sued and three months later the court awarded her $150,000. She was happy, and Ingagi continued sweeping the nation with publicity & ticket sales.
Moral of the story? Don't worry about pirating material for your shockumentary. Focus on making / marketing something that captures the imagination. If it gets big enough, let the people come after you. Pay them off. Continue doing your thing.
The second story has to do with the Federal Trade Commission. They're a division of government that monitors consumer protection. By the time they get involved (perhaps one of the benefits of government bureaucracy) Ingagi had been played out.
The Federal Trade Commission reviewed the marketing techniques of the movie & the movie itself, and concluded the filmmakers — specifically the business entity known as Congo Pictures Ltd. — had engaged in fraudulent & deceptive business practices.
The most unique finding the FTC contributed in the Ingagi myth was discovering that "Ingagi" doesn't even mean "Gorilla" (as the poster suggests).
It means nothing! It's a fake word!
The Federal Trade Commission ordered a cease & desist on Ingagi, until the filmmakers could rectify their marketing approach and/or re-construct their film, as to meet a legal standard of truthful, representative, advertising.
That's it. No fee, no fine, no jail, no nothin'. Just a slap on the wrist cease-and-desist.
Remember, this is 3 years after the hype.
What hype lasts longer than 3 years? By the time the FTC used the weight of the government to intervene in the showing of this exploitation movie, the effect had been complete: the filmmakers toured Ingagi around the country multiple times, made a huge fortune, and influenced culture (whether for the better or worse...)
The conclusion of this federal investigation came up with two consequences for Congo Pictures Ltd:
Consequence 1) An order to stop making money off the movie in its current state.
Consequence 2) The filmmakers were given 60 days to write a report on how they'll fulfill the cease-and-desist, and send it in to the Federal Trade Commission.
Moral of the story? If you do something that gets a lot of attention, controversy, and hype, you will be rewarded vastly more than you will be punished. America thrives on charlatanism. Any appeal otherwise is simply to save face.