16 November 2016



I love big beasts and I cannot lie. I find them absolutely bloody fascinating. Lions and tigers and bears, oh my, lions and tigers and bears...! Dinosaurs, the megalodon shark, whales both blue and sperm, the bigger the creature, the better I like it.

One of my favourite creature-features has always been DINO-CROC VS. SUPER-GATOR. Crocodiles and alligators I've always had a soft spot for, and as for jungle cats, well...! I find them mesmerising, completely and utterly. What about you guys?

Enough of my witty palaver, haha. MING OF HARLEM is one of the most extraordinary documentaries I've seen in a good long while. It's the story of Antoine Yates, a pleasant, friendly black man from Harlem in the United States who in 2003 was discovered to have been co-habiting in his high-rise apartment with a full-grown tiger and a seven-foot alligator...

This story is absolutely true. The documentary shows Antoine being driven around his old stomping-grounds and chatting away about the two old friends who were taken from him once the authorities learned of their existence and their presence in the high-rise apartment block.

Antoine had had Ming the Tiger since he was a cub and Al the Alligator since he was a wee hatchling. The circumstances under which he acquired these obviously wild animals are not really dealt with in the film, but it doesn't matter a whole lot. The important thing is that they lived with him in his high-up apartment and they were the best friends he'd ever known, if the love with which he talks about them is anything to go by.

He and Ming in particular were best buddies. They were more than that, they were brothers. Bros. They watched movies together and Ming always knew how to cheer up Antoine with a friendly paw on his knee when he was feeling down. It sounds incredible but it's all true.

Antoine is a lovely fellow who obviously worshipped the ground these exotic beasts no doubt copiously weed upon, haha. He seems like a deeply spiritual and philosophical kind of guy and the film is interspersed with some beautiful mystic poetry from Jean-Luc Nancy called 'Oh The Animals Of Language.'

The best part of the film is the real-life footage of a real-life tiger whom I presume to be Ming and a real-life alligator who's hopefully the real Al wandering around the empty apartment where they used to live. It's the most surreal and curiously moving thing you'll ever see.

Do animals have memories? Do they remember old friends, or a place where they used to live? Surely in every room they can smell even now the places where they once marked their territory, and not just once but many times? Do they think, Hey, I know this place, I used to live here? Does the memory make them sad? Can they feel sadness, or nostalgia? If only we knew.

Ming is magnificent, utterly primal, as he prowls the narrow hallways and small rooms by himself, occasionally emitting a mournful groan that would send shivers down your spine. He jumps up onto the window-ledge and gazes out at his old view, he drinks from the filled-up bathtub and he paws at his old couch-bed where he would have lazed with Antoine watching a movie or the boxing that Antoine claims to love. I wish we could read Ming's mind here, truly I do.

His strength and power is obvious in every ripple of those magnificent striped muscles. It's not hard to imagine him stalking his prey in the jungle. It beggars belief that man and beast managed to co-exist peacefully together in this apartment for so long but not only did they co-exist but it seems like they were happy together. 

Ming was royally fed on beef and chicken from the local supermarket and when he was a baby cub, Antoine would take him up onto the roof of the building for some fresh air.

The footage of the alligator is, if anything, even more incredible. The alligator is surely one of
the Earth's most savagely primal creatures. He's not too far off being a dinosaur, really, is he? He's been around for millions of years. To see such a stunning yet deadly dangerous beast mooching around an empty bathroom is surely something you don't see every day.

Al obviously moves in a different way to the big cat, whom apparently he dominated a little bit back when they were roomies. He doesn't jump up and look out the window, but when you watch him lying perfectly still and spot the glint in his greeny-yellow eyes, you know full well that in a flash, he can give you a lash with that heavy tail that could send you flying out the window or snap you in two with those massive, primeval jaws.

This really is a truly random and very special story. Peter Bradshaw from THE GUARDIAN describes it as: 'A strange film about a very strange episode in the life of New York City.' Even if you're not an animal lover per se, it doesn't really matter because most people are fascinated by big beasts whom you're only ever likely to see in the zoo these days.

People have differing opinions, I'm sure, as to whether or not Antoine was right or wrong to attempt to raise these beautiful beasts in a domesticated setting. He suffered the consequences for so doing, in any case. 

His love for the animals is never in doubt, however, and I do believe that when he was last heard of, he was calling himself 'Antoine Tigermann Yates' and living in Las Vegas with twenty-two big cats, including four tigers. How very Antoine...! I wish him nothing but good luck and happiness for the future.

This wonderful award-winning documentary will be released on DVD and Blu-Ray on November 28th, 2016, courtesy of SODA PICTURES: A THUNDERBIRD COMPANY. It's the latest addition to the SODA FILM + ART (SoFA) strand, which focuses on visual artists working in feature film-making, and it'll come complete with an exclusive booklet. Woo-hoo!

It's a human interest story with a marvellous twist that'll appeal to anyone with a well-developed sense of the unusual. I highly recommend it. I even give it five paws-up, that's how good it is...!


Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger and movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens' fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra's books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:


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