Extinction in Embrace of the Serpent

Capitalism’s Erasure of People, Culture, and Nature

  • Holly May Treadwell University of Kent


This paper examines Ciro Guerra’s film, Embrace of the Serpent, in relation to the concept of the Capitalocene, using literary theory alongside sociological, anthropological, and historical writings in order to examine its interactions with the concept. The film tells the story of Karamakate, the last surviving member of the Cohiuano people who were eradicated in the Rubber Holocaust, and criticises capitalism as an extension of colonialism and the cause of multiple extinctions. Indeed, the film rejects the notion of the Anthropocene and its homogenous view of “human” activity, explicitly demonstrating that it is specifically capitalism as an extension of colonialism that is having such detrimental and violent effects on the climate through its presentation of Indigenous ecological practises in contrast to the colonists’ destructive relationship to the world. The paper is split into three sections: the extinction of people via forced labour, decimation of land, murder, and dispossession; the extinction of Indigenous cultures, comparing the personification, conservation, and kinship with nature, to capitalism’s commodification, exploitation, and demonisation of nature; and the extinction of nature itself via its domination and cultivation. This project aims to demonstrate how Embrace of the Serpent presents extinction as a result of capitalism, shows the dangerous reality of the capitalocene, and the ongoing effects of colonial environmental practises. It also demonstrates the ways in which Guerra criticises the omittance of Indigenous knowledges and practises, particularly through the presentation of the narrative from the perspective of one of the Indigenous communities the capitalocene affects the most, telling their side of the story and drawing attention to the brutal history of the rubber trade in Columbia.

Author Biography

Holly May Treadwell, University of Kent

Holly May is an English Literature & Cultural Studies tutor for the University of Kent and is studying for a PhD in Indigenous Studies, focusing on the representation of Indigenous peoples in American comics. Her research background includes postcolonial theory, feminist theory, comics studies, queer theory, and animal studies. She is particularly interested in the ways in which the comics medium can provide a platform to redraw and to challenge existing narratives of people, places, and events.

How to Cite
TreadwellH. M. (2021). Extinction in Embrace of the Serpent. Transmotion, 7(2), 54-76. https://doi.org/10.22024/UniKent/03/tm.973