‘Axis of evil’ seeps into Hollywood
By Kaveh L Afrasiabi
No doubt about it, four years after his famous and also infamous “axis of evil” speech, US President George W Bush’s crusade mentality has finally found its cinematic counterpart – in 300, a major motion picture centered on the epic battle between the Persians and the Greeks in 480 BC.
It is part history, part fantasy, safely buffering itself against potential criticisms, eg of its historical distortions or shortcomings, by the cinematic license optimally exploited meanwhile to preach to the audience about the values of freedom against the evil forces of unfreedom.
Portraying the past world in a contemporary language with the help of voiceovers in case we missed the message, the dramatic feature plunges into the midst of a violent battle that fully resonates with the contemporary discourses on “clashing civilizations”.
More than pure entertainment, it is a movie that wants people to reflect on what they are seeing, by teaching a lesson or two about history, by eliciting sympathy for its exalted Spartan heroes and heroines standing up to the world’s first superpower, the Achaemenid Persians.
Saturated with not-so-subtle Persianphobia, the movie calls for the interrogation of the political agenda behind it, at a time when Iran is constantly threatened with military invasion and “all options are on the table” in Washington. In Los Angeles, the cognitive assault has been raging for some time.
In Into the Night, a leading actress is asked what is her biggest turnoff and answers: “Persians”. In Steven Spielberg’s movie The Peacemaker, actor George Clooney utters four-letter words when referring to Iran. In the more recent Syriana, Clooney, playing a rogue Central Intelligence Agency operative, blows up Iranians in downtown Tehran with a broad smile on his face.
There is a very large population of Iranians in Los Angeles county, many of them affluent professionals and successful businessmen. Many live in luxurious mansions in Beverly Hills, but you would not know that by watching Hollywood’s movies. In House of Sand and Crash, we only see struggling immigrants on the margins of society.
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 FULL AT ASIA TIMES