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Hollywood distorts history by portraying the ancestors of our Parsees as barbarians?

March 18, 2007

Another distortion of history. Yes, the victors always write history from their own point of view, but everytime I hear of an incident like this it upsets me. This time Hollywood is the culprit, not a school textbook. Hollywood, the movie making machine revered the world over. I guess the movie ‘300’ should be dismissed as pure fantasy but it talks of real characters and is a ‘historical’ movie. A war epic (a big hit in the US) which has portrayed a Persian king as a bloodthirsty savage. The Persians are the ancestors of Indians, the Parsees or Parsis, the Zoroastrians of India who settled here to escape religious persecution in Iran. Quoting from a news report on the movie:

“The press, officials and bloggers have united in denouncing the film, which uses visual effects art direction by the Sydney-based company Animal Logic, as another example of “psychological warfare” against Tehran by its American arch enemy at a time of mounting tension over its nuclear program.”

While there is no doubt that this distortion of history has something to do with the fact that today Iran is “in the Axis of Evil”, it is also plain ignorance. These guys were probably fed this rubbish about all foreigners being barbarians in their school text books. I wouldn’t go so far as to call the film as “American psychological warfare against Iran” as the cultural adviser to President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has said, because its just a plain stupid movie, made by a director with a desire to sell and sensationalise. Its happened before. Some years ago a 2005 British newspaper review (concerning a film on the conquest of the Persian Empire) of an exhibition of antiquities, branded ancient Persia as the “Evil Empire”. This is so ridiculous as to be laughable.

This news report calls the movie a “saturated not-so-subtle Persianphobia” and goes on to explain:

California may be America’s ultimate melting pot, but Hollywood’s tall walls of exclusion and discrimination have yet to crumble when it comes to the movie industry’s persistent misrepresentation of Iranians and their collective identity immersed in a long thread of history. Speaking of history, it is simultaneously a rich yet exceedingly difficult source material for the art of movie-making, and Hollywood has at best a mixed record on “getting it right”, notwithstanding the controversies swirling about Oliver Stone’s political movies, or those of Mel Gibson and the like

I think there should be some sort of mechanism to stop movies from using real names and characters unless they stick to facts. If for example if real people living today are portrayed wrongly then huge compensation cases are slapped. But history is always treated as the personal property of the winners. To do what they like with it.

Related Reading: The full implications of British Rule in India not taught to British school children

14 Comments leave one →
  1. March 18, 2007 10:39 am

    Yep, this is propaganda sugar coated as entertainment, subtly feeding paranoia!

  2. March 18, 2007 1:51 pm

    The movie was in production, in Montreal, for seven years. The graphic novel, on which the movie is based, was published in 1998. The graphic novel, written by Frank Miller, the same man who wrote “Sin City”, was based on a 1962 film called “The 300 Spartans”. Neither of the movies, nor the graphic novel, claim to be historical accounts of the Battle of Thermopylae. They are all, in fact, publicized as “fantasy” and “loosely based” on actual events. I understand the reaction some people in Iran are having, and I guess I can understand if Indians are insulted as well. But no one here is claiming it’s an historical movie. There are no, none, articles being written over here claiming that the movie depicts anything other than a beautifully created gory bloodfest with some over-the-top acting. There have been articles written about the actual events because the movie has made them relevant, but no one is coming out of this movie thinking that Persians ate children for breakfast and grandmothers for lunch. The movie is fantasy. It’s a fictional account based on a comic book. That’s as serious as we, In The West, are taking this. It’s Batman with more hacking… Frank Miller, by the way, also recreated Batman for DC Comics, and the last Batman movie — with Christian Bale — was based on Frank Miller’s comic book. So if “300” is propaganda, then so is “Batman” and “Sin City”.
    For more on Frank Miller: http://moebiusgraphics.com/

  3. March 18, 2007 3:25 pm

    what about apocalypto where mayans are portrayed as blood thisty devils, and Indiana Jones part 2(not sure) were indians are shown as salvages,Borat-where Kazakistan is shown in bad light..etc and what about indian movies(like gandhi and war movies) where pakistan and westerners are shown in bad light.

    movies based on real life don’t definitely show the realities and people shouldn’t always take then at face value.

  4. soorajrox permalink
    March 18, 2007 6:53 pm

    I think this movie is taken way too seriously….It is just fantasy, based on a comic/graphic novel which was based on a ‘event'(nothing more than that). Just to show(based on a one’s fantasization(Frank Miller’s-the writer and Illustrator)) on how Leonidas ans his 300 men would have fought a million men. That’s all.

  5. March 18, 2007 7:15 pm

    Thanks guys for putting this in perspective for me. I was veering round to this point of view anyway. However somewhere inside of me there is still an uneasy feeling…even though the movie does not claim to be historical fact, still, for those who have never studied the Persians, the movie is bound to make them believe that they were barbarians. I guess I am being too sensitive about this! Anyway, I have put a question mark on the title now…

  6. March 18, 2007 9:09 pm

    Just to be explicit, “graphic novel” is a pretentious word for “comic book.”

  7. March 18, 2007 10:34 pm

    Sure, all stories told around the campfire (TV screen, big screen) are told for various reasons – to distract, entertain, instruct, remind of the past,reassure and reaffirm, etc. etc.. The teller of the tale decides what is to have a kernel of truth, or be exaggerated for effect. The stories we tell at different times of our history reveal much of the concerns and world-view prevalent during their particular times.

  8. soorajrox permalink
    March 20, 2007 10:15 am

    “Just to be explicit, “graphic novel” is a pretentious word for “comic book.””
    pretentious or not, it sounds cool. It seems to a rather apt name when grown ups like us read comics.

  9. March 20, 2007 8:50 pm

    Curious to know what your opinion was on Borat, then.

  10. March 20, 2007 9:26 pm

    Ah, I was just engaging in a bit of snark. It’s not really pretentious, so much. Graphic novels tend to be longer, better written and drawn, with more money spent on the production and binding.

    But, yeah, basically great big ol’ comic books for grownups.

  11. March 21, 2007 7:53 am

    Vi, I do not know much about Borat or about Kazakistan. However a film depicting the ancestors of the the Parsis as barbarians did arouse strong emotion in me. I know many Parsis, some are my friends. They are an intelligent, hardworking, broadminded and visionary people.

  12. August 3, 2007 1:54 pm

    There are some very well written essays on the distortions by hollywood films of Persian history on livius.org I would reccommend that these be read.

  13. Shantanu Chatterjee permalink
    May 24, 2008 12:58 pm

    HI Interesting post,yes the persian history is probably the most maligned history around.You see they were the sworn enemies of Greece the civilization that can do no wrong as far as hollywood is concerned being the ‘cradle of western civilization’.In addition though this is often airbrushed from history thanks to the strong parsee lobby,the persians are no close civilization allies of India either in pre islamic times much of punjab and gujrat wer under their control(the mauryan empire being the 200 year exception) and extracted rapacious tribute from these lands to build their massive empire arguably the world’s first superpower.

    In addition zoroaster has much vile things to say about daeivas which again are our gods with xerxes (the king who burnt athens) passing edicts forbidding their worship in ancient Iran.

    Basically both GREECE which along with rome is the cradle of western civilization and INDia which along with china is the cradle of the eastern world have unpleasant things to say.

    AND another thing about the parsees I DON”T want to start a hate speech but despite their judiciously crafted goody goody image they are what they are because of the British who used them as very willing intermediaries between themselves and us indians.THey were hand in glove with the british when they went to town ruining us economically.Fun facts:TATA the ethical company of India started life by supplying opium to China effectively a drug peddler now that they are on their high horse they can lecture other indian companies ad nauseum about ethical behavious and parsee values don’t fall for it,in their hearts of hearts they fondly remember the now extinct era and believe me behind close doors their sense of superiority can be quite an eye opener.

    But then there aren’t too many of them to threaten us or anything so I personally don’t have much against them but still we are a country that often forgets its history only to repeat it just trying to set the record straight.

  14. November 6, 2009 9:43 pm

    actually in my opinion this movie is fantastic movie but it should be seen by only ADULTS.

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