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 thirty 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.    

Director's statement

In our films we look for stories with exceptionally talented and passionate people who are taking huge risks to pursue a life goal.   Unlocking The Cage was just such a film for us as we followed animal rights attorney Steven Wise file three groundbreaking lawsuits in New York State courts demanding limited personhood rights for animals on behalf of four captive chimpanzees. Through these widely publicized cases, Steven has bought the conversation of animal rights to the forefront and we believe his lawsuits will be seen as a landmark moment that changed the course of the animal rights movement.   Steven Wise’s work has inspired us personally and changed the way we live. Our goal is that Unlocking the Cage will ultimately encourage people to think differently about how we treat our fellow animals on this planet what we, as a species, can learn from them and why they deserve meaningful legal protection.    

Why this choice?

This film shines a light on a complex subject that Justice and the Law haven’t quite tackled yet: the status of animals in captivity. It shows that, thanks to his fight and commitment, a lawyer succeeds, all by himself, to move the lines of American Law and open a way towards a change of mindsets.   He paints the portrait of a man who fights relentlessly for animal causes and chose to redirect his career to serve the cause he is defending. A beautiful example of commitment…