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Is The Legend of Tarzan Based on a True Story?

Is The Legend of Tarzan Based on a True Story?

by extreme hd iptv


  • The Legend of Tarzan may have been inspired by real-life individuals like William Charles Midlin who lived in isolation after a shipwreck.
  • Using artistic liberties, the film highlights historical events such as Congo’s enslavement, influenced by characters like George Washington Williams.
  • Despite fictional elements like Tarzan’s romantic interests, the movie succeeds in portraying how individuals can shape history by doing the right thing.

The legend of Tarzan has been told in various ways throughout the years, ranging from animated classics to a modern live-action film that sought to tackle Tarzan’s afterlife as John Clayton. While the 2016 film, The Legend of Tarzan, starring Alexander Skarsgard, Margot Robbie, and Samuel L. Jackson, was incredible in terms of production values, the majority of fans were concerned about the story it presented.

The portrayal of Tarzan was fairly realistic, considering that his origin story is much more sophisticated in the film, although fans often question if The Legend of Tarzan was based on a true story. This kind of skepticism stems from the fact that the film touched on many historical events, such as Congo’s enslavement and Rom’s desperate attempt to save his Belgian King, Leopold II. So, how much of the movie was based on a genuine story? Was there a Tarzan-like personality in human history?

Is Tarzan Based on a Real-Life Personality?

Alexander Skarsgard as Tarzan
Warner Bros. 

The origin story of Tarzan is highly intriguing, mainly due to the fact that he is a human who has adapted to the ways of the wild. The Legend of Tarzan doesn’t go into great detail about his childhood, but it does provide a brief overview of how he ends up in the care of Mangani (a fictional species of ape). When Tarzan’s parents, John Clayton and Alice Clayton, are cast ashore in an unknown wilderness of Africa following a shipwreck, he loses both of them, leaving Kala, his ape mother, to care for him until he grows up.

While the idea of a wild animal, such as an ape, caring for a human is a fable, our history has seen a few men who have lived the life of Tarzan, away from civilization, and embracing the beauty of nature. During the Vietnam War in 1972, Ho Van Lang and Ho Van Than fled to the jungle after a US bomb killed their whole family. The father-son duo spent 41 years surviving off plants and animals and developed an extreme phobia of civilization. They ultimately returned to their village, where the father died in 2017 while the son passed away in 2020, both with their families by their sides.


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While this narrative may seem to inspire The Legend of Tarzan, the story of William Charles Midlin, 14th Earl of Streatham, is more pertinent to the movie. According to journalistic stories from 1959, Midlin ran away from home when he was eleven years old and worked as a cabin boy aboard a ship that was later destroyed during a storm. As he washed ashore by clinging to a piece of wreckage, he was met by a group of primate animals, presumably apes, and reared by them for over a decade.

Alexander Skarsgard in The Legend of Tarzan
Warner Bros. 

Although Midlin did not become the leader of the apes or conquer the jungle, he claimed to have ultimately discovered a native tribe that took him in. While there may be some inaccuracies in the accounts, he returned to civilization after being discovered by adventurers. Midlin died in 1919 after becoming the Earl of Streatham. While it is difficult to determine whether The Legend of Tarzan is based on a true story, Edgar Rice Burroughs, who created the character of Tarzan, may have been inspired by Charles Midlin.

George Washington Williams & The Congo Enslavement

Although The Legend of Tarzan depicted John Clayton’s afterlife as he returned to civilization, Congo enslavement occupied a large portion of the plot, with Samuel L. Jackson’s George Washington Williams playing a significant part. Although it was not a fair representation of history, Williams did expose human abuse in the Congo Free State in the late 1800s. He initially visited the region in 1890, only to discover that King Leopold had employed mercenaries to control slaves and speed up rubber production.

Williams took it upon himself to bring justice to the victimized individuals, personally holding King Leopold accountable, and his letter had an immediate impact on many countries. On the other hand, Christopher Waltz’s Leon Rom was a real person, but it is unclear if Williams ever communicated with him. So, while The Legend of Tarzan highlighted certain sensitive facts, it was also largely fiction. In fact, the characters of Jane and Chief Mbonga are purely fictional, with no evidence that they existed in the past other than the real-life inspirations of Tarzan.


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Taking liberties with the facts is just part of Hollywood, though these supposedly historical movies play fast and loose with the truth.

Having said that, the film does incorporate a few historical instances that, although not entirely true, successfully convey the message of how individuals such as George Washington Williams influenced history by doing the right thing at the expense of their lives. The Legend of Tarzan, while being sidelined from the action part, does an excellent job of constructing a meaningful story that many people like. The Legend of Tarzan is streaming on Netflix.

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