1:48 pm - 03/13/2014

Zack Snyder and the West Should Stop Killing Ancient Persians


The story of '300: Rise of an Empire' comes from a graphic novel, but it's based on a travesty of history that has long existed in the Western imagination

Shortly after the 2007 release of 300—Zack Snyder’s computerized gorefest about the ancient Battle of Thermopylae—the Iranians issued an angry response. Then President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad did not take kindly to the film’s garish depiction of hordes of feral Persians, swarming and dying around the famous band of Spartans whose last stand 2,500 years ago briefly checked the Persian Empire’s advance into mainland Greece. The film was “an insult to Iran,” said one of Ahmadinejad’s spokesman; it was “part of a comprehensive U.S. psychological war aimed at Iranian culture,” said another.

The current, more diplomatic Iranian President Hassan Rouhani has yet to react to the movie’s sequel, 300: Rise of an Empire, which made $45 million on its first weekend in U.S. cinemas. But he surely won’t be pleased. Like its predecessor, the new 300 presents a spurious clash of civilizations. The muscled, taciturn Greeks—this time fighting on sea—carry on flexing their freedom-loving biceps, hacking and slashing their way through faceless mobs of easterners. The Persians remain the incarnation of every Orientalist stereotype imaginable: decadent, oversexed, craven, weak, spineless. They are also incapable of winning a battle against the Greeks without the help of a Greek traitor: in the new film it’s Artemisia, a woman consumed by a crazed desire for power and destruction. “My heart is Persian,” she says in a viperous voice.

A quick turn to the source material—specifically, The Histories by Herodotus, the most famous Greek chronicler of the Persian wars—shows how ridiculous some of this is. Far from being a lone, blood-thirsty warmonger, Artemisia was one of countless Greeks serving in the Persian armies and a figure of considerable wisdom. According to Herodotus, she cautions the Persian Emperor Xerxes against fighting the disastrous naval battle at Salamis, which, in the film, is an engagement she pursues with a furious mania. The burly Themistokles, the new 300‘s jacked Athenian protagonist, is made out to be a selfless champion of Western liberty; according to ancient Greek accounts, though, he later defects to the Persians and joins Xerxes’s son.

The larger cultural picture painted by this new 300 is not any more edifying—it sets a tyrannical, violent East against a folksy, democratic West. At various moments in the film, the narrator reminds the viewer with mind-numbing seriousness that the Persians “fear” or “mock” or even “are annoyed by” Greece’s fledgling democracy. To hammer home the crude, ahistorical message, the Persians win their only victory in the film when a suicide bomber is able to destroy a number of Greek ships.

It would be nice to chalk off this atrocity, as many have, to the silly imagination of Snyder, the film’s producer and co-writer, and Frank Miller, the graphic novelist whose blood-drenched books form the immediate basis for the movies. In no other chronicle of antiquity is Xerxes a hairless, bejeweled creature of camp fetish. To be sure, the film’s creators know this isn’t a story based on facts: it takes place in a “fictionalized, mythological world,” says Snyder in notes distributed to reporters at an advance press screening last week.

But Snyder’s bludgeoning Hollywood franchise is hardly alone in its fictions. A tradition of Western myth-making gained traction in the 19th century that insisted these battles between Greek city-states and the Persian Empire were a showdown over the fate of Western civilization itself. Preeminent historians of the time believed that Xerxes’ defeat helped preserve supposedly Greek attributes of free-thought and reason in the face of Eastern backwardness and mysticism. It’s a dubious view that some conservative scholars in the West continue to propagate to this day. The far-right, anti-immigrant Golden Dawn party in Greece holds ceremonies at Thermopylae, as TIME reported in 2012, chanting “Greece belongs to Greeks” before a bronze statue of the slain Spartan king Leonidas.

300: Rise of an Empire shamelessly indulges this demonization of the Persian—of the alien, dangerous “Other.” That’s far removed from the way many of the ancient Greeks saw their world at the time. The Persians by the Greek playwright Aeschylus, who actually fought at the Battle of Salamis, imagines the scene in the Persian capital in the wake of the empire’s disastrous defeat. There is weeping, lamentation and a cautionary tale about hubris and imperial overreach. It’s a lesson not just meant for Persians. Flush with glory, Aeschylus’s Athens is about to enter a long, grinding war against other Greek states, especially Sparta, that will bring decades of devastation to the Greek world. That’s a story I challenge Snyder and Miller to tell.

source: time
bossm 13th-Mar-2014 05:55 pm (UTC)
>The film was “an insult to Iran,” said one of Ahmadinejad’s spokesman;<

Won't read any further.
satellite__eyes 13th-Mar-2014 06:01 pm (UTC)
Pretty much.
phookie 13th-Mar-2014 06:44 pm (UTC)
I'm Iranian, and I found the film offensive. As did a lot of other Iranians...so.
dreamformula 13th-Mar-2014 07:01 pm (UTC)
um..it was offensive and incredibly racist. Have you even seen the way these films portray Persians?
bossm 13th-Mar-2014 07:33 pm (UTC)
I talked about this quote. You don't quote Ahmadinejad’s spokesman.
alfendi 13th-Mar-2014 06:00 pm (UTC)
I constantly forget that these movies are based on anything historical. They're so fucking bizarre.
whiskybars 13th-Mar-2014 06:03 pm (UTC)
but do the producers/writers act like it's accurate or that's just people assuming it is just because it's ~historical~?
should 13th-Mar-2014 06:06 pm (UTC)
They don't, but idk like, people are pretty dumb. The people I went to see it with were all like 'oh man old history is so interesting, i had no idea all this stuff went down!"
lipstiq 13th-Mar-2014 06:10 pm (UTC)
whether they intend to be accurate or not , it still speaks to this trend within Western cinema that the article talks about imo.
20727 13th-Mar-2014 06:31 pm (UTC)
it's really annoying when people say that the racism in the films is just a reflection of the prejudices in herodotus' text

these films are racist in an entirely and obviously modern way, just stahp
yurasama_love 13th-Mar-2014 06:01 pm (UTC)
Upon watching the first film all I could think was, "what the fuck even there is no historical truth anywhere"
ahkna 13th-Mar-2014 06:09 pm (UTC)
Well, Artemisia was a real Persian commander under Xerxes and Greek by birth.

But I doubt the veracity of Xerxes jumping into a Bath of Evil and coming out giant and gold. ;)
yurasama_love 13th-Mar-2014 06:13 pm (UTC)
OK, so they get some names right, but the article also points out how Artemisia counseled against the naval battle.
saintvlas22 13th-Mar-2014 06:17 pm (UTC)
I would have remembered that from history class, hopefully
pervert_bitch 13th-Mar-2014 06:26 pm (UTC)
Whatever. I am a hobbit. I would love to go that Evil Spa and come out taller, fit, hairless and full of bling!
saintvlas22 13th-Mar-2014 06:19 pm (UTC)
My thoughts when watching the first film were: SO MANY BULGES, SO LITTLE TIME.
cageyb 13th-Mar-2014 07:07 pm (UTC)
My reading of the first film was that since it's a story told by a guy leading troops into battle, a lot of it is embellished and reworked with favoritism towards the Spartans in mind for the purposes of galvanizing an army, so some inaccuracies in the telling can be forgiven because the narrator is unreliable.

Can't forgive the flagrant racism though.
mjspice 14th-Mar-2014 09:52 am (UTC)
Lol even tho I love the movie, I quite agree. :/
should 13th-Mar-2014 06:03 pm (UTC)
"according to ancient Greek accounts, though, he later defects to the Persians and joins Xerxes’s son." lmao, well.
jigglemypuff 13th-Mar-2014 06:22 pm (UTC)
They should have included that.
ahkna 13th-Mar-2014 06:06 pm (UTC)
But, like, Artemisia was a real Greek who led part of the Persian navy under Xerxes command. So that part is difficult to refute.

TBH, I thought Artemisia was the hero of the movie. Having her family be murdered by Greeks and years of being gangraped by them was a way more compelling story than the dull white guys going "for democracy or something! I'm good at shooting a bow!"
jigglemypuff 13th-Mar-2014 06:11 pm (UTC)
I didn't like the way they only wrote a part for her. The rest of the cast got nothing. I felt bad for the actors, because they had a very talented cast and they made them sign on without a script.
ahkna 13th-Mar-2014 06:13 pm (UTC)
I thought Lena got some good stuff and if Themistocles wasn't played by the most boring guy ever I think I would have liked him. His onscreen charisma was so bad I was just waiting for Eva or Lena to back on screen.
jigglemypuff 13th-Mar-2014 06:15 pm (UTC)
I don't like the ending at all. Themistocles and Artemisia should have faked their deaths and run away together while Xerxes and Gorgo fought to the death in an epic battle that actually gave Lena some screen time.
leperheart 13th-Mar-2014 06:20 pm (UTC)
People watch this for the plot?
black_swan87 13th-Mar-2014 06:29 pm (UTC)
Complaining about 300 not being historically accurate is a waste of time
20727 13th-Mar-2014 06:39 pm (UTC)
the complaints aren't about historical accuracy per se, it's about the racism and stereotyping that underlie these kinds of films.

when people say that a film is 'junk' and we shouldn't pay attention to the content, it ignores the fact that it is important to look at the stories we choose to tell ourselves.

i rewatched 'the mummy' the the other day and it's a pretty mindless film but you're like damn, these orientalist tropes could be straight of the hash of classics-based films released in the 60s, and it's disturbing that hollywood is still making films that rely on those tired old racist tropes.

agatharuncible 13th-Mar-2014 07:20 pm (UTC)
yeah the mummy is really bad about it. it's not supposed to be historically accurate, and I could have understood if they were telling the story from the perspective of the main guy (who was a white person in the 1920s) but they didn't, so it feels like they're not so much showing how the characters think or doing something clever with the tropes as much as they are repeating them to make the movie seem ~exotic~.
gaberone 13th-Mar-2014 06:34 pm (UTC)
I didn't actually realize the movie was based on anything historical at all, oop @ me but it wasn't exactly plot- or character-driven, just like... drivel. Seriously, what a garbage movie. Iranians should probably be offended, but I'm pretty sure the average person only has a very vague idea of what or where the fuck Persia even is.
20727 13th-Mar-2014 06:57 pm (UTC)
i'm going to stop but the point isn't that the film is drivel that perverts history - the point is that it is racist and jingoistic drivel. i don't think the fact that people know jackshit about ancient history matters - the point is that this kind of orientalism in films is so prevalent that people go in and watch it without even recognizing it for what it is.

like it isn't important that x happened in herodotus and y happened in the film, but what is important that you see that this film, whether consciously or not, has been explicitly written in a way that perpetuates racist tropes.
diamond_dust06 13th-Mar-2014 06:41 pm (UTC)
Frank Miller and all of his comics should be fired into the sun so we don't have to suffer through him anymore.
agatharuncible 13th-Mar-2014 07:19 pm (UTC)
I haven't watched this movie but isn't the point to portray things from the perspective of the spartans in terms of aesthetics and things? like making the spartans look super macho to the point of being ridiculous, etc. etc.?
getmeadoctor 13th-Mar-2014 07:30 pm (UTC)
for it being offensive and paints a different image, who doesn't have an ugly image about Persians sans Persians? no hate but seriously lmao their track record speaks for itself.
dreamformula 13th-Mar-2014 07:43 pm (UTC)
this is a disgusting comment
getmeadoctor 13th-Mar-2014 07:49 pm (UTC)
I can understand why you might think that but I'm thinking from a historical/political POV, they have not been the nicest around. Pretty sure that's an indisputable fact.
dropthecrates 13th-Mar-2014 07:56 pm (UTC)
maids 13th-Mar-2014 08:09 pm (UTC)
people like you were the reason i pretended to be japanese when i was in my teens. disgusting.
astralwish 13th-Mar-2014 09:24 pm (UTC)
no hate but you're a racist, your track record speaks for itself.
nice_vibe 13th-Mar-2014 09:47 pm (UTC)
this would be coming from an eminem fan
nalty7 13th-Mar-2014 08:11 pm (UTC)
Tbh I don't even remember being teached about this battle in history class lmao. We were focused on Thermopylae and Marathon. I found Miltiades and Alkiviadis more interesting as commanders. The only reason i'm enjoying these films are the semi-naked men.
mimblexwimble 13th-Mar-2014 10:31 pm (UTC)
I don't doubt it was propoganda, but I wonder how many Americans actually know that Iranians are Persian.
mjspice 14th-Mar-2014 09:54 am (UTC)
They ain't wrong. Even my mom kept complaining about the portrayal of Persians in the movie(s). :/
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