Genie: Secret of the Wild Child

1997, Society  -   31 Comments

This is an Emmy Award-winning documentary about a girl who spent her early life chained in a bedroom. Brought up in confinement, "Genie" was primitive, brutish, and hardly capable of walking or talking. NOVA follows the contentious attempts to unbolt the secret of the wild child who has reached near maturity in an agonizing seclusion with almost no human contact.

The story begins in Los Angeles on November 4, 1970, when authorities have taken under protection a thirteen-year-old girl that was kept in such solitude imposed by her parents that she never even learned to talk. The parents have been accused of child abuse.

Genie was imprisoned in a bedroom and bound to a potty chair for the most of her early life. Fully kept under control, she was made to sit alone every day and night. She had almost nothing to look at and no one to talk to for more than a decade. The girl allegedly was emitting immature noises and was still in diapers when social workers found about the case, but the officials were anticipating she may still possess a normal ability to learn.

The girl who gave an impression of an infant would be well known as "Genie." She was transported to Children's Hospital in Los Angeles where she instantly gained the affection of doctors and scientists. She was delicate, lovely and poignant... and Genie was about to put on trial an idea paramount to science and society: that caring, encouraging and affectionate environment could make up for even the most brutal past.

Genie had an awkward walk and other almost non-human features. She continuously spat, sniffed, and clawed. She hardly articulated anything or produced any noises. Investigation showed that she was abused for making noise and as a consequence, had learned, basically, not to vocalize. And she really didn't speak at all. She was mute most of the time.

Ratings: 8.02/10from 169 users.

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31 Comments / User Reviews

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  1. Richard johnson

    Ilove that story because it tell you more about how to care for you babies and even though it was sad but the story also help you to learn more about brain functioning

  2. Said

    It's a very sad story. Genie needed to have love and care instead of being treated as a scientific object. Moreover, it's wrong to call her the 'Wild Child'. This is inhuman.

  3. Michelle

    I want to add that I can see why people found her captivating. The last film of her offered in this, of her describing in sign language what happened to her in the foster home, is heartbreaking but also mesmerizing. Her face, her hands -- so gentle but powerfully expressive. Her description is like a dance, telling a very sad story. It is poetry.

  4. Michelle

    They say knowledge is power--and it is. But it is not enough, and it is not what comes first. What we all need most, and a child most crucially, is love. We need at least one person in this world to care about us above all else, and to stick by us through everything. What Genie had been deprived of was love, the love of a competent and healthy person. She needed a mother and a family. Then, she needed therapy, whose priority would be her emotional health. And then, finally, they needed to teach her what she could learn to reclaim her life as a social human being, perhaps even with the goal of eventual self-sufficiency. 1) A loving family, 2) therapy, 3) education. In the course of all that, perhaps someone could have stood by with a clipboard and taken notes. But "experiment" or "study" are not the words I would use anywhere near the nurturing and rehabilitation of a traumatized child. I hope the scientific community learned from this humanitarian disaster and nothing like it will ever happen again.

  5. Anna

    First, this goes out to shaody who stated that people shoul only be able to procreate(have sex and reproduce) after going through thousands of papers and programs ?????!!?! I really want to know some of your pros and cons and ideas in general thoughts that led you to this...this..I truly don’t even have words. If having to go through tons of paper work to make a child is what u stand for how about just having to go through paper work just to have sex in general. I don’t mean to come out in a afensive way but I think that’s a little to much,sure people don’t make the best decision some times when it comes to when’s the right time to have kids but that doesn’t mean you should have to go through a load of paperwork to start a family I feel as if there’s other ways to handle situations like that

  6. Anna

    First, I want to start by saying that if your going to start something then u should finish it which wasn’t the case in this situation and for FERENC CSICSERI who said “her mother should be in prison for the rest of her life,she is not a mother” seems to me as if he wasn’t really paying attention to the story and put a little to much blame on the further explain the documentary clearly states that her mother was blind and was also a victim of her husbands(genies dad) abusive ways.second it also mentions how genies mother did try to take her back but as a blind person of course she found some issues in were she most likely was not able to interact much with genie. Lastly, for all of you comparing her to “unwanted puppies “ or”scientific guinea pig” I don’t believe that these were the best terms to use as she was also a human being and not some animal as some of u most likely non intendedly regarded to her.
    - I give credit to Marc as a truly agree with his statement and beliefs on this tragic story.

  7. Sally

    Maslows hierarchy of needs......

  8. Marc

    It's sad to see her horrid Father's views on society be echoed by the professionals that surrounded her, unintentionally and through their actions but still distressing to see the lack of irony in it all.

    The real lesson here was to not study a poor soul who has been put through such a terrible experience. Just teach them what you can and try to give them a place to belong were they can love and be loved, we wouldn't put somebody through such torture simply to study it and so we shouldn't look upon such a thing happening outside of our control as an opportunity to do it either because then the only problem you're having is that you couldn't get away with it if you did emulate it rather than it being a problem of ethics at all.

    Very interesting documentary, I hope she has had a better life since the last events of the documentary.

  9. shannon williamson

    California and the ppl who so called CARED for this child dropped the ball .Seems to me since she contributed to science so much...and she did contribute...they would have taken special interest in her well being. She was used and then tossed into a system that was severly lacking. That I think is the hardest thing to wrap my head around. To give a little happiness then snatch it away.

  10. Anna Velazquez

    I don't understand how they wanted Genie to be in a "good home", yet she would come back to the child care hospital traumatized AGAIN by being punished. Did they not look into these foster parents? Did they not explain her traumatized experiences? All she needed was someone to give her that extra time and care, to understand and work with her.. she did not deserve to be thrown around like a unwanted puppy. They had to know she was not going to be an easy child to have in a home; she required more than a "normal" child would in development process and learning.

  11. morrisseyowesmemoney .

    I studied this case as part of my Psychology course. Still brings tears to my eyes even now.

  12. Piera Sestini

    Genie needed love and acceptance as any other human being but she was treated as a scientific guinea pig, for the sake of science and experiments. Sad story. Moreover, the documentary should have shown Genie as and an adult, too, and let us see the result of such abuses, first in the home and then outside.

  13. InvisibleHandInMyPants

    Lemme see if Ive got this right. Genie is abused for 13 years, kept chained to a small potty and beaten if she made too much noise. The authorities discover her situation. The mother is arrested. The father blows off his own head (good). The mother, who witnessed and possibly participated in this torture of a child, is allowed to take back the child for the summer of her 15th year. Mom cant manage the girl and sends her back to caregivers, not unlike returning a pair of ill-fitting shoes. Then the mother has the temerity to sue the caregivers for their lack of care for the child? The mom wins an undisclosed settlement? WTF?

    1. Sean Duong

      'Merica! land of the FREE

  14. Ramome

    I was struck most by the people who had her for 6 years (if I remember correctly.) The said they wanted to send her to a good home. That's like they had too many puppies or kittens from a litter and needed to get rid of them. They never saw her as a human being. You should just take her as she is and raise her as your child. The bureaucrats in this show were the worst of the bunch. All these people are childish idiots. Their own selfish needs came before Genie's needs. These are the people we think are the brightest among us. What a crock.

  15. Sands

    Such a sad story. The people involved, the so called "intellectuals" make me sick. Genie is thrown around from place to place as a scientific guinea pig for opportunists. I'd say this poor human soul who is "a child" only just craved proper nurturing, love, care and support that every human being is entitled to only to be exploited. Why get involved in the first place

    1. InvisibleHandInMyPants

      Your views of this case are childishly simplistic. You have no credentials to say what Genie needed or didnt need. She was loved and nurtured and cared for by many people. With a case so unique, the medical community had no clear plan worked out for such and event. Some wanted to help. Others prly wanted notoriety. But to believe Genie would miraculously change with a caring parent by her side is delusional at best. She was profoundly disturbed and ill-equipped to function as a human, much less in a civilized society.

    2. Maks

      yes your nick sure shows you are qualified to talk about "civillized" society.
      she was cared for, but she was not loved and she was not nurtured. Oh and by the way I ahve credentials to say so because I work with 'troubled' children and teens and it disgusts me how little soul so called "professionals" put into their work. Most of them cares only about making a name and career and if they needed to take that kid apart to achieve this they would

  16. shaody

    I have always maintained that two adults who are a couple should not be able to procreate unless they have gone through an assessment program and are in a situation where they are able to rear a child. This situation would only occur in the human species.

    1. InvisibleHandInMyPants

      In moments of pure frustration and weakness, I too have echoed your feelings about procreation.
      You have to get a permit to drive a car. You must be licensed to cut hair. But to create a child?

  17. Shadowblur

    ....As i see her, she was like a loving dog, she knew nothing of human behavior, she was truly innocent and could not do bad as we can, she was truly an animal mind, and was probably confused with human
    behavior she witnessed daily from people around her. I'm not stating a crazy behavior, but she as animal minded, could see things done were to her senseless. Even the wearing of clothes may have.

  18. Shadowblur

    ...Same old scenario, the innocent get a pounding by the
    so-called intellectuals, just like 'Nim', the chimpanzee, betrayed by the loved ones.

  19. Eric Lawson

    It always seems to come down to ego and money as the motivators in these cases Sad !!!

  20. Gaia ODea

    Talk about ABANDONMENT ...the so called ppl who 'cared' for her should be shot!

  21. aggie45

    This girl should have been living in a STABLE WELL SUPERVISED group home setting from the start AND at the same time be getting speech therapy etc. The people who worked with her seemed to be truly caring BUT they should have been limited to working with her as therapists only.

  22. cyberfrank

    truly sad how such a cute little girl-woman could never enjoy life as she truly deserved, how true and deep she could be, but, never found an equal in this shallow world, that could not adapt to such a simple person, she really deserved better.


    Another sad example how our Society works everything about money and headlines but by the end that beautiful little girl was passed around like a ball,and ended up being abandoned by everybody.her mother should be in prison for the rest of her life she is not a Mother

  24. drobertbaker

    What a travesty! All those "caring rescuers" just used that poor kid for all they could pump out of her until the money dried up (due to their incompetence). And then they just dumped her back into the cruel world.

    I glad they were sued. I agree with the last guy that the more interesting study is of the researcher's behavior rather than of that tragic child.

    Shame on those respectable scientists!

  25. ~Oliver B Koslik Esq

    Oldie but goldie!

    ...Thanks TDF
    :-) +1

    1. Robby Fithen

      Life is hell on every life, some more than others. God will take care of us all though! I would have taken her and put her on the farm with me and our family. I could have had some of my workers watch out for her and let her feed the chickens, cows, gunnies, pigs, horses, turkey, ducks, sheep, goats, dogs, cats, and the rabbits. Genie would have had a lot better memories and a whole lot of less frustration. That goes for everyone! Its the simple things! Loving what God made, feeding his animals for instance. :)

    2. Richard johnson

      Love the story