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The Enemy in Hollywood

Terrorist.jpg300 (Filmstalker review) is kicking up a storm, and not just in cinemas with audiences staring wide eyed at the amazing action playing on the big screen and the testosterone flooding the cinema, but also outside, in the discussion boards of the Internet as a growing voice speaks up about the portrayal of the Persian Empire in the film.

There's the big question of Historical Accuracy in Films that we've talked about before on Filmstalker, I'm not going to pull that one back up, but what I am going to talk about is the portrayal of the standard enemy in Hollywood and how you feel it affects the film and the outside world.

First though, some ground rules. I don't want to see this descend into "them and us" discussion (I feel like a referee in boxing match) I want everyone to and see each others point of view and have some respect for their culture and point of view. This seems to have been one of the biggest issues in the previous discussion, and remember, this is about films...

When you look back at the portrayal of the enemy in Hollywood films it always fits with the time and often the perceived enemy in the real world. What's even more interesting is when Hollywood has moved on to another enemy the previous one becomes interesting to filmmakers to portray in a real way.

When there were Cowboy films we had Indians portrayed as the evil characters, and then Hollywood moved on...when war films were in Hollywood we saw the Germans, and later the Japanese continually portrayed as the evil enemy...Vietnam was then in the collective conscious and Hollywood turned to the Vietcong...the cold war was on everyone's mind and Russia became the template enemy...Now we have the war in Iraq and unknown terrorists, often from the Middle East, that's today's enemy in Hollywood.

Now though we've seen films that show what the Indian way of life really was like, and what the invasion of the white men was all about. We have films showing the German and Japanese side of life during the war and fighting their battles. There are films that show the Russian side of the Cold War, and it seems as though Hollywood has learned.

There are many films that are looking into genocides and crimes against humanity while the Governments of the world do and say nothing, so it's not that the film industries of the world haven't learned from this "black and white" stereotyping, and yet it still happens. Why is that?

Well the perceived threats in the world today will be carried with you into the cinema, so if the film can tap into that then while you're watching the film the generic baddie will appear much more real and threatening to you. If you're watching and you believe that the enemy could be the real one that is the threat or the perceived threat in real life, then you'll be much more scared.

Now remember that when I'm writing about this I'm using sweeping generalisations because the film industry does too, it does because they are made throughout our lives, in the media for one.

What I'm interested in hearing are the two different views of this portrayal. For the westerners where the films originate, what does this mean to you? Does it help make the generic baddie in the film seem more bad, and why do you think that happens if it is the case? What's more important is do you leave with any changed beliefs or ideals? Do you think that the portrayal of the baddie does have any affect on your own perceptions of the real world?

Then there's the people whose nationality is being used as a template for the baddie, now let's be fair here, in the portrayals of baddies I've mentioned above there's always been a reason to use them in the film. The Nazi's instigated the war and carried out horrendous atrocities, but not all German's are bad people.

So if you're nationality has been used to portray one of these generic baddies in the movies, do you feel that there is a way to show an enemy in films and still produce the same effect? Do you feel particularly aggrieved by a certain film that has done this? Do you feel upset by the portrayal of your nationality in the cinema? Why? How could they have managed to make the film differently and create a convincing character without upsetting anyone and remain entertaining?

Should Hollywood try and create baddies that just don't exist in the real world? Ignore the actual happenings even though they sometimes do good? Would a generic baddie who doesn't really exist in some way as an negative force in the real world really be effective in the cinema?





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Comments

I don't have a whole lot to say about this... at least here. I have a lot of thoughts, but I know if it came out, it would just be a jumbled mess.

Remember how the Nazis were always the bad guys in Indiana Jones though? There was no good in being a Nazi, ever. Spielberg now has said he'd never make a film in which the Nazis were mindless bad guys ever again. Take that for what you will.

Luckily, with exceptional films like Downfall now, the Nazis, and even Hitler himself, can be seen humanized.

I know I didn't really say much. Just a simple thought, though.

From what I have researced and everything, it doesn't seem like the Persians were portrayed any different from what the books explain. This movie might of made them look all mystical and egotistic, but Xerxes thought he was a god.

When it comes down to it, it's just another film about a nation trying to take over everything. It was the Persians, BFD Nazis were trying the same thing.

Also, the Spartan's aren't American, they were Greek. So yell at Greece not America about this film. We just showed their story, not said "hey this might happen if you keep threating us with nukes"

It's hard to explain, but it's more like a sorry your people tried to do this, get over it, they did, move on.

I think Bush needs to see how Leonidas is as a leader, that'd be nice to have someone to look up to like Leonidas.

This is an interesting topic, but I have to say all of your examples of baddies being from a certain nationality are war films. And I agree, most of the examples I can think of where the enemy has a clear nationality of notice would be war or poliitical films. And it only makes sense that Hollywood would use real life, time relevant enemies in their stories.

If Hollywood released a war or political film today and it was Americans fighting against the evil Italians, people would think, "WTF?" But, place an American vs someone from say, Syria, and suddenly it makes more sense. (and Italians are obviously not evil, I was making a point).


But 95% (a number I pulled out of my ass) of movies have bad guys that are of the same nationality or origin as the protagonist. Just look through your DVD collection; clearly define who is the antagonist and who is the protagonist of each film and I'll bet you in the vast majority of cases, they are from the same country; very likely from the same city with equal nationality and race.

OK, I just realized that that last paragraph makes TOO much sense. Obviously "Mr. Mom" isn't fighting the Russians and David Fincher's "Se7en" doesn't involve Middle Eastern terrorists; so I guess my whole point is not only obvious but kind of irrelevant. But I still stand by the first two paragraphs above.

Okay. What are we talking about? We are talking about entertainment. The title of the post is "The enemy in Hollywood". The dreams factory. So, for a starter, we are not talking about Universitary Courses on History and Sociology, but the old tale of good vs evil.
And, in certain periods of History, evil had a face (yes, I believe Hitler, Stalin and Bin Laden are the faces of evil, sorry but that´s what I think.) Still though, it´s amazing and surprising, watching the history of american cinema in particular, how the initial portray of the baddie changed to a severe period of self criticism.
Examples: WWII. Nazis and Japs were the enemies, and the propaganda films were the first. But, not too much later (because nothing has been invented today), appeared movies that adopted a different point of view about the conflict, like "The best years of our lives" and "A time to love and a time to die", by William Wyler and Douglas Sirk, respectively.
Cold War: Yes, the evil russians and the Vietcong. "Green Beret" by John Wayne. But analyze the Vietnam trilogy by Oliver Stone, for example. Platoon remarked how ruthless were americans, Born in the 4th of July focused on the consequences to americans, and Heaven and Earth focused on the vietnamese side. I will talk about Oliver Stone later.
Now we have this insidious war against the terrorism. This criticism about the portrait of the baddies in this war (and no, I am not talking about the americans), was not released first with the success of 300. The current season of 24 (the word success here is important) has suffered the same criticism, but Surnow and Cochran just ignored it. There are already movies that question the role of America in this war, and american movies in particular, like Jarhead.
I would like to mention a movie that has been very critizised and I think it´s a total achievement. I speak about World Trade Center. It´s funny how United 93 was praised, considering that United 93 portrayed the terrorists as what they are (a bunch of fanatics), while World Trade Center focus only in the attack. We see the shadow of a plane, and nothing more. Only the will of survival of two man. Two amongst many. No appearance of the enemy, because the real enemy is fear and death. A remarkable take that was ignored because it was accused of having a right wing bias (?)
Coming back to 24, if the purpose is to entertain people, excuse me, the enemy has to have a face, and even if the portrait is exaggerated (like in 300), it´s all good if it serves for entertainment purposes. We want to watch how Jack Bauer deals with danger. We want to watch how Leonidas and 300 men stood still during 3 days against a vastly superior army of enemies. In that context, there is no time to make the enemy look more human, because it´s not the right moment for that. But some people, upon watching these shows, will ask themselves what happened in Thermopilae, or what´s happening now, and they can find the answer for themselves in the era of (dis)information.

I don't think U93 was praised because of how it portrayed the terrorists (as they are) and WTC was panned because of how the enemy wasn't shown.

U93 is praised (I still submit that it is UNDERrated if anything) because of its AMAZING directing and editng; leaving aside the sheer enormity of the emotion and captivation. WTC was just... cheesy for the most part. Not a bad film by any means, but nothing groundbreaking or really special about it. And I never saw or even heard about a right-wing bias in that film. I think it was pretty neutral - as was United 93. U93 gave us the facts as we know them, while WTC was a drama story of two men and their families in the aftermath.

Audiences today want something they can relate to. If we were fighting Russians in films today it wouldn't really make much sense. It has to be something believable and tangible. And in today's climate, that is the middle east. Hence, 24 capitalizing on that.

Great topic and its good to see somebody having the guts to post something that could be considered borderline contentious.

Movies/comic books/stories around the camp fire/etc have always had a positive and negative characters. Hell, even most fairy tales could be considered contraversial if you took them the wrong way. Its how the writer draws the audience in, i.e. you either relate to the goodie or the baddie. The thing about entertainment is being able to distinguish the difference between make believe and real life.

For me, if i had the chance, i would choose to be a cylon. Lovely silver body armour with built in miniguns and other accessories. yeah!

I think the point here is you cannot sugarcoat a baddie, it's just not possible. You are bound to get a reaction from anybody. And also, one way or the other you pick a side, the good guys or the bad guys. Dont you sometimes find that you also end up rooting for the bad guys on occasions, getting caught up with that so-called underdog label, now is that wrong altogether?

What an intersting thought...

oh, i totally think the generic bad guy is much more scary.

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