My Oscar predictions for 2023: “Cocaine Bear” — probably not. “American Bolshevik” — maybe.
I assumed that “Bolshevik” was a biopic of my hero John Reed, the Harvard-educated author of “Ten Days That Shook the World,” the astonishing, firsthand account of the Russian Revolution of 1917. Reed shilled so hard for Vladimir Lenin & Co. that he ended up buried in the wall of Moscow’s Kremlin, alongside famed labor organizer William “Big Bill” Haywood.
But no. “American Bolshevik” refers to the beleaguered coyote: hunted, despised, slaughtered en masse, and yet — regnant! “Coyotes are not only still out there, there seem to be more of them than ever before,” Dan Flores, author of “Coyote America,” tells “Bolshevik” filmmaker Julie Marron. Explaining that coyotes crossed the Mississippi River to colonize the South, the Midwest, and our Northeast, Flores refers to “a coyote manifest destiny.”
There is one equally resilient species on Planet Earth, Flores notes: “When conditions call for it, coyotes and humans both can separate from social groups and function as individuals and pairs … coyotes kind of play an avatar role for” humans. Coyotes — they are just like us!
This is, of course, the minority view. Marron’s film takes its title from a bizarre 1920 feature in Scientific American magazine, “Commercializing the Coyote: How a Beast That Was Not Worth Powder to Shoot Him Has Become a Valuable Source of Revenue.” Author John L. Von Blon delighted in the possible extermination of “the howling pariah of the animal kingdom,” “which stockmen and ranchers would welcome. They lose heavily through his depredations. He is the original Bolshevik — and good only ‘after treatment.’”
Marron sets much of her film in her native Rhode Island and in New Hampshire, which, like Massachusetts, are awash with resilient Eastern coyotes. Chris Schadler, a New Hampshire-based “wild canid ecologist,” calls our local species “60 percent Western coyote, 30 percent Eastern wolf, and a little splooch of dog.”
Coyotes are top of mind here in the Bay State. I’m old enough to remember when a man ran for mayor of Newton promising that “Newton will hunt down and kill the coyotes.” The town of Nahant has appealed to state and federal wildlife agencies to “cull” its marauding pack of six to 12 coyotes that have threatened local pets and residents. Since December, sharpshooters have “removed,” i.e. killed, one animal.
There is of course a gruesome history of coyote genocide in the American West, often carried out by the Wildlife Services division of the USDA. The department’s “barbaric federal program” exterminated over 63,000 coyotes in 2021, according to The Guardian. “By comparison, trappers and hunters in 37 states took approximately 500,000 coyotes in 2017-18 in state-regulated fur harvests,” the USDA notes in a recent stakeholder memo.
The coyotes’ friends are few and far between. President Richard Nixon, who arguably shared a feral canniness with Canis latrans (“the barking dog”), banned the poisoning of coyotes by executive order in 1972. President Ronald Reagan revoked the ban on the lethal compound 1080 and other poisons 10 years later.
In 1961, Walt Disney produced a short animated feature, “The Coyote’s Lament,” which tried to tell the history of the West from the coyotes’ point of view. A cartoon coyote choir lays out the species’ many grievances. The feature’s high point is the lengthy rendition — sung by a cartoon coyote choir — of the song “Yip Yip Yip Yow.” Sample lyrics:
“Now you took our domain
This is plain inhumane
Made our life an untolerable one
You hung a price
Around our ol’ necks
And hunted us with dogs, traps and guns
Oh, our life would be grand
If you’d just leave our land
We were here before you, don’t ya see?”
Why can’t we be friends? Marron’s movie, available on Amazon, Apple TV, and Google Play, makes an eloquent case for peaceful coexistence with our Bolshevik neighbors.
Alex Beam’s column appears regularly in the Globe. Follow him on Twitter @imalexbeamyrnot.