Stories like Ming Of Harlem don’t come along every day. In fact this tale falls squarely into the category of if it wasn’t true you wouldn’t believe it was made up. To compound the fantastical nature it , of course, happened in New York city. So the question to ask is just how did Antoine Yates manage to keep a tiger and an alligator in his apartment in Harlem?
The answer is a lot more straightforward than you might think. His family home on the twenty first floor of a housing block was actually an ideal location to keep them. The doors were reinforced, there was bars on the windows and the floors were concrete meaning that noise was kept to a minimum. Antoine purchased the tiger when it was just a cub. This was totally illegal, a fact that the film doesn’t go near to. The cub, named Ming, was then raised in the apartment until he was a fully grown, five hundred pound, adult. In Antoine’s own words he lived in harmony with Ming and it wasn’t until he found himself in a compromising position did he realise that he was in danger. Having a tiger biting on your leg would do that to you.
This documentary stands alone in that it tends to avoid following a standard narrative. it leaves many questions about the subject unanswered. It has no interest in this. The first half of the film focuses on Antoine. Instead of an interview format, the camera follows him as he returns to Harlem. His observations on the surroundings are the main accompaniment to the visuals. Interspersed are snippets of dialogue from Police reports relating to the point at which the authorities became aware of just what was living with Antoine.
The second half of the film concentrates on the animals themselves. The apartment was painstakingly recreated in London Zoo and a fullyy tiger was given the run of the place. Of the course of about thirty minutes we see the tiger ‘living’ on the space. it looks particularly contented in its environment and it gives an idea of what Ming’s environment was like. The sequences are strangely calm with a still quality that actually holds your attention.
The film raises more questions than it answers. This, I think, is the intention. If you are engaged then you will look to find out more about the subject (as I did). The film offers no comment on the story, it just lets the main participants present themselves.