As you may know, there is a petition drafted against a movie called “300”. Actually, a short clip of the movie made me laugh rather than offend me. The freaky monster that the supposed “Persian Immortals” let out to smash up the Spartans is priceless. I told my coworkers that if I’m not fed properly, I’ll turn into that and that might be the reason for the great taste of Iranian cuisine. And no, I’m not gloating about the awesome taste of Iranian food. I have taken my friends and colleagues to Iranian restaurants and I have yet to hear bad reviews. (Isn’t it sad that I feel obligated to clarify even a small praise of my own culture, lest my praise be construed as mindless patriotism!?)
Anyway, after watching the clip of the movie and reading the petition, which is a bit too hyper-Persian for my taste, I decided to put my name on it for a simple reason. We need it. Let me elaborate. We, as in Iranians, need to stand up more, especially with the current political climate. We need to be sticklers about little things so as to insure that we don’t lose on the big things. It’s true that the Persian Empire did not expand “organically”. But, considering the standards of that era, the Persian Army was a love-machine! And, we need to say that as loud as we can.
Now, you may think I’m crazy for making so much fuss, and I would too, had I no heard this little tidbit of lunacy on CSPAN. It was the coverage of the Iraqi Study Group hearing and Senator John McCain was questioning the conclusions of the report about Iran’s influence in Iraq. And to give weight to his question he added, I kid you not, haven’t the Persians been trying to gain influence in the region for centuries? “The Persians” folks, not the Islamic Republic of Iran, but “The Persians”!!!! The leading Republican Presidential Candidate, the man who may end up with his thumb on the American war machine’s GO button, this man is not just concerned with IRI, he’s concerned about the centuries-old Persian influence in the region. One ought to remind him that the Persians were around when the US was not! And it’s not just him. A few weeks later on National Public Radio, there were again not talk of IRI’s adventures in Iraq, but that of the Persians.
This movie is not meant as a historical movie, neither is the original book by Frank Miller. Zack Snyder has created a fun-flick. Watch it, eat your popcorn, and try not to have sweaty palms when holding your date’s hand. But, there are too many of these movies that don’t necessarily make Iran/Persia look bad, but they don’t make non-Iranian all that comfortable about our culture either. Take “House of Sand and Fog”. It was a decent film, and I personally know an Iranian ex-military officer that fits the character played by Ben Kingsley to a T. I would have no problems with this movie, if there were more high exposure productions that portrait all the other aspects of our culture, and not just a neurotic, mini-Stalin, fossil from the old days.
I saw this film in a packed theater with my cousins. About a half the audience was Iranian, and they kept bursting out in laughter every time Kingsley or Aghdashloo would go into one of their histrionics. The non-Iranians were confused about all the laughter in a film that was obviously a drama. The reason is that we are not all like that. We all may know someone like that but that isn’t our way. To a non-Iranian the distinction is not easily apparent, especially since there is a dearth of films showing all the other aspects of Iran and Iranians. Notice, I’m not saying that such films should not be made. In my opinion all issues are fair game. But as it stands, the majority of the films about Iran do not show all aspects of our culture equally.
Plus, when was the last time that you saw a movie showing the Americans as barbarian. What percentage of movies show the Pilgrims (if they can be called that) getting off the Mayflower and stealing from the Natives and burning their villages? Or, show the Pilgrims killing the very Native Americans that help them survive the harsh winter and then having a feast to thank god for granting them with victory over the barbaric Natives? Well, in case you didn’t know, that is the real root of Thanksgiving and yet every year we see the stories of the early American colonists slightly mischievously, but essentially warm-hearted and inviting the Natives to a feast. That’s pure fiction!
Take out a 20 dollar bill and look at the face on it. Jackson was an avid advocate of exterminating the Native Americans. Numerous quotes from him call for waging a genocidal war against the Native Americans. And his picture is branded on American currency. Imagine if Germany still had pictures of Hitler on their currency! And, this is just real history. If Zach Snyder had made a production showing the American army as hooligans and barbarians during World War II, a petition with 2500 signatures would be the least of his worries!
Public opinion is controlled via TV and in the current political environment, we are in the crosshairs. I don’t think we should show mindless, flag-waving, “patriotism”. We should not put “God Bless Iran” sticker on our cars, nor should we hang yellow ribbons. I would criticize that kind of sheepish patriotism too. But, we need to claim what is ours. We need to be offended when an offense is targeted at us. And above all, it will serve us well to be informed about the issues and defend them.
In and of itself, “300” would not merit a second of attention from us, because there is so much more to the history and culture of Iran/Persia. But in the Western vacuum that exists about our culture and history, films like “300” amplify the negative perceptions created about Iran and Iranians. Zach Snyder may not have intended to add a political angle to his fun-flick, but John McCain’s election chances ride on exactly such political angles. As a final note, I would recommend you to see a very short film made by Jacqueline Salloum called “Planet of Arabs”.