The BBC admitted in a statement on Thursday that scenes from its 2011 documentary series, Human Planet, were staged by the doc’s creators. An episode dedicated to the indigenous Korowai people of Papua, New Guinea featured tribe members building a new residence in a tree house. Cut to 2018, when a member of the same tribe, during the filming for a second series set in New Guinea, admitted the treehouse was built “for the benefit of overseas programme makers.”
The scene depicts members of the Korowai building a treehouse high in the forest. As they recline and chat with each other, one tribesman’s translated voiceover reflects on how content he is to live in the forest. As it turns out, the scene is both idealized and inaccurate.
From the 2011 “Human Planet” documentary:
The Independent reports that Will Millard, the host of the 2018 series, asked to go up and see the Korowai’s treehouses. The Korowai were unsure of sending too many crew members into the houses, because they weren’t actual, sturdy residences.
“That’s why they’re worried [about] how many people come up here and we might fall through the floor,” Millard said. “This is not where they live, this is total artifice.”
Very few outsiders ever made contact with the Korowai people until 1970. In its statement admitting the scenes were staged, the BBC also claims it only recently became aware of the deception.
“The BBC has been alerted to a breach of editorial standards in an episode of Human Planet from 2011 which concerns the Korowai people of Papua New Guinea,” the statement reads. “During the making of BBC Two’s upcoming documentary series My Year With The Tribe, a member of the tribe discusses how they have built very high treehouses for the benefit of overseas programme makers. The BBC has reviewed a sequence in Human Planet depicting this and found that the portrayal of the tribe moving into the treehouse as a real home is not accurate.”
While researchers and journalists worry about AI being used to create fake speeches or deepfake porn, people are less critical of documentaries, especially the ones with glossy production and an air of prestige like “Human Planet.” This isn’t even the first time “Human Planet” has had to admit it’s staged scenes. It’s used domesticated animals in place of wild ones at least twice. Your best, and only bet: Assume just about everything you see is fake.