March 20, 2007

300, like Apocalypto

'300' mixed messages

The film's team says no big statements were intended. Sure. We believe that.Someday, maybe, the "entertainment defense" will no longer hold water. But for now, we're slogging through the era of the completely implausible denial. Like many films that seem to riff on everything without stooping to make a point (which would be just so hopelessly earnest and dorky), "300" proudly claims to be about nothing. Or rather, like another type of purchased pleasure, it claims to be about anything you want it to be. As long as a movie is dumb and violent enough, it can quote whatever cultural allusion is handy, then deny that it did with impunity.

Granted, as hard to buy as these denials are, their claim to meaninglessness does seem entirely possible. Sure, Frank Miller, on whose graphic novel the movie was based, has a political point of view. On NPR's "Talk of the Nation" last month he expressed his dismay about the "state of the home front" and his disappointment at the fact that "nobody seems to be talking about who we're up against—and the 6th century barbarism that they"—by which he meant not just terrorists, but entire civilizations—"actually represent." (He also, incidentally, quoted philosopher Will Durant's line—"A great civilization is not conquered from without until it has destroyed itself from within"—which opened "Apocalypto," another movie that was either a comment on our current political situation—or not.)
More criticism of 300's depiction of Persians:Most of the "Persians" were not played by actual Persians. The casting consist of people with heavy make up, stereotypically dressed. It offers a racialized depiction of Persians as exotic and barbarous monsters without any accurate or authentic representations of Persia or its people.

Xerxes is demasculinized with painted eyebrows and wears heavy lipstick. If this is not orientalism, then I don't know what is. The great commander is painted as feminine and the movie suggests that he's sexually ambiguous, both in the way he looks and the way he acts--leading to a generalization of an exotic culture. I'm not sure if the film makers were trying to equate sexual ambiguity/feminine characteristic with weakness on purpose, but that's what I got from the film.

Persia is full of mythical creatures and Xerxes will do anything to win this war. This all goes back to the orientalist idea of Asia as exotic and mysterious, where the Persians use mystical magic and animals and plays dirty, while the good old Spartans just use their bodies and spears.
Comment:  Compare Leonidas and the Persian messenger in the trailer. They're very clearly meant to be different ethnic types.


Rob said...

Is laughing too hard also your excuse for not addressing the issues? I guess so.

I already explained the difference between fan reactions and critical commentaries. Feel free to read my response again and reply to it this time.

Rob said...

My postings can't be ephemera since they define the content of this blog. But "ephemera" describes your long non-responsive postings well.

I guess you need to look at the picture you weren't able to look at before. I'll post it so you can stop daydreaming that the Spartans have darker skins.

Rob said...

A comment from elsewhere in this blog:

I think you really got apocalypto and 300 wrong. Are you even Native American? I'm half (and half white) so I try to understand both sides and what i got from Apocalypto was the message that the Mayans were only concquered because they were already having their own internal problems otherwise they would have been able to defend themselves. I'm not saying this is the reality but that's what it seems like Mel Gibson is trying to say. As for the 300, it is based off of history and it was the european Greeks versus the non-white Persians. Are they going to make some of the Spartans non-whites? If you watch the movie there are all sorts of races on the Persian side. What about movies like Glory Road where it is dark skinned versus light skinned and it makes the light skinned look bad? I think it goes both ways and you can't really look too deeply into it and try to find messages that aren't there.

Rob said...

No, I'm not Native. But what does that have to do with anything? I've written hundreds of articles and thousands of Web pages showing my ability to understand both sides. The whole point of my work is to promote a multicultural perspective.

Which side do you think I haven't understood...the Native side? Natives and non-Natives alike have criticized Apocalypto for its false and stereotypical depictions of the Maya. There's no "side" that supports Gibson except Native actors who love employment and film buffs who love bloodfests.

I understand what Gibson was trying to say. He has every right to use false and stereotypical images to promote his message. And I have every right to point out his false and stereotypical images. That's all I've done.

The Persians who fought the Greeks were mainly Caucasians just like the Greeks. They definitely didn't wear "multiple piercing, needles, clips, ear rings, nose rings and chains," to quote one 300 critic. I covered this point when I quoted another critic:

Most of the "Persians" were not played by actual Persians. The casting consist of people with heavy make up, stereotypically dressed. It offers a racialized depiction of Persians as exotic and barbarous monsters without any accurate or authentic representations of Persia or its people.

Rob said...

Here's a 300 review by an Iranian (Persian) that sets the record straight:

300 Spartans, The Real Story!
A Historically Accurate Review on 300, The Movie (2007)

[M]ostly Northern Iranians are of the White "Aryan" Race. So these [Hollywood] bozos call themselves Aryans, which [they] are not, yet they call us Rag Heads [when] we are the true white Aryans! These idiots still assume that we are Arabs! Typical Redneck illiterate Americans!

Please enjoy the latest Hollywood Spoof to glorify Greeks as fathers of the Western Civilization and trash Persians as Savage dogs! Another Hollywood garbage to undermine 8000 years of Iranian history, the mother civilization of the world!

Anonymous said...

I guess you're right about the way the persians were portrayed. I still think this was done as stylistic touches. Still, I admit you tore my argument to shreds. I was just saying as a(half)Native it didnt really make me feel like he was portraying them negatively. (Although I'm a northern Native not a Mayan)I liked both movies, Apocalypto more than the 300. Both had violence that was a little over the top. Still I think it was nice to have a movie about Natives that actually had true descendants of that tribe. Better that than New World which had a South American playing Pochohantas.(without so much as a whimper, nothing like what people said about have chinese actresses portraying geishas)It's not so much that they're ethnically different, it's just the fact that there's so few of the tribe members left they cant even find an actress among them to play the part. I can see how people would be angry about 300 though.

Rob said...

You have a point about actors being ethnically correct. Even when Natives play Natives, they're usually not from the right tribe. Gibson did better than most producers by hiring several Mexican and Maya Indians to play his Maya roles.

Rob said...

Comment on Russ's first posting: Do you seriously think that American filmmakers, like Americans in general, aren't prejudiced against Middle Eastern people? Wow, how naive can you get?

There doesn't need to be a conspiracy for Hollywood to denigrate Persians and Arabs. If each filmmaker independently chooses to stereotype them as villains, the cumulative effect is racist.

Anonymous said...


Rodrigo Santoro is not spaniard, he is brazilian, and Badler has the darkened aspect (at least in the eyes) so that he has more similar with the greek classic. But to think that all the spaniards are of brown, of black eyes, etc, is really absurd, because the spaniards don't have the skin so dark, and there are spaniards of very white skin, clear hair, clear eyes, etc, like it is my case. In the same way that there is british (and other northern european) that could seem mediterranean for their aspect, griegos,etc. For example, there are many celebrities:

British: Sacha Baron Cohen, Rhona Mitra, Catherine Bell, Clive Owen, Orlando Bloom, Catherine Zeta Jonnes, Ian Holm, James Masón, John Rhys Davis, be Connery, Amelia Warner, Joseph Fiennes, Kate Beckinsale, etc etc etc...

American: George Clooney, Cindy Crawford, Jennifer Love Hewitt, etc etc etc...

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

And I am quite white, Writerfella. It is possible that more white than you, Writerfella. You come to my country and you won't say certain foolishness and you won't speculate about our color of skin

Anonymous said...

By the way, our queen, Sofia, is greek. By if this serves you...

Rob said...

Okay, Santoro is Brazilian. That doesn't change the fact that he played a dark-skinned version of Xerxes. In fact, his skin was artificially darkened to make him look more fearsome and non-Western (same thing):

Santoro was cast as Persian emperor Xerxes I in the movie 300, based on the Frank Miller comic of the same name, in 2007. The role had many special requirements, such as extensive CG work to portray the 6'-2" Santoro as the 7-foot god-king, a four-and-a-half-hour makeup application process, and the complete removal of Santoro's body hair first by waxing and then by shaving when that proved too painful.[1] His eyebrows were kept intact, however, covered over with prosthetics and drawn in rather than being shaved.[2]

Rob said...

I believe Russ is 15/16th Kiowa Indian, so his skin may be as dark as Xerxes's.

Anonymous said...

I was just wondering with the whole messenger thing, how does the writer of the article know specifically what the messenger looked like? In terms of white-Aryan,black or whatever. Was there a picture of him or certain historical documents stating this is what this guy looked like and where he was from?

Rob said...

The messenger undoubtedly was a fictional character. The point is that many in 300's version of the Persian army were dark-skinned, barbaric, even monstrous.

I mentioned the messenger only because he was juxtaposed with King Leonidas (Gerard Butler) in the same frame of the trailer. This refuted Russell Bates's claim that "Gerard Butler is the dark-skinned one."

Anonymous said...

I found it a quite obvious knockoff of braveheart in a few ways, and adjusted accordingly.

You have the scot(playing a spartan?) so you have braveheart covered, you also have the crazy irish sidekick who makes insane comments in the midst of a battle(was he irish though in 300? I doubt it), and Braveheart, er, I mean Leonitis even stole a line, when he tapped his kid on the head and said "First you must learn to use this, before you learn this" and then grabs the sword. Braveheart's Uncle (ironically from rome) said almost the identicle thing to him.
Not to mention the fact that both Braveheart and Leonitis were depicted as being 'specially handpicked and trained' from childhood.

I thought that fact was more obvious than it apparently is to the masses of sheep following one thought to the next, so far behind the head of the pack they will never have a chance to hear straight from any horses mouth.

Further, I agree with the critiques of the bastardization of persian culture and people, and it seemed like GW's speechwriters contributed to Leonitis' speeches..."They hate us because we are free...we are free...they hate us for that...they hate us because we are free..."

Otherwise, it was a visually stunning piece and if you can get past the manic depressive anxious feelings that some apparently get when watching a film that is less than accurate, then I would say definately watch it.

Aside from the bs, I thought it was an awesome film, and a sidenote regarding the makeup and effeminism of Xerxes, I found the whole film riddled with homosexual overtones, that being the least of them. Everything in film has a definate purpose, but I think that the whole gayness aspect of Xerxes was just a part of the writing/directing decisions made because even Leonitis had some interesing and questionable moments himself.

What's with the purple spandex anyway?

Anonymous said...

I belive the movie portryed persians as barbaric idiots that are vicious and cruel the story isnt even right they did have a battle with the spartans but persia WON but then the greek came with them and THEN defeated persia