If you’re cable wired, then you know what it means to be bludgeoned by the exposition of sorts of all the James Bond films over Rupert Murdoch’s STAR Movies Channel. From the very first Bond film – Dr. No – to the last Pierce Brosnan edition, we were shown the varying landscape of world villains through the over 40 years those 007 movies ran in the box office.
To the political watcher like your chair wrecker, the entire gamut of Bond films would seem to be a showcase of western propaganda where the villain of the period matches up against Mr. Licensed-to-Kill, Agent 007.
When the Bond film series started, the world was at the height of the Cold War that pitted the NATO countries against the Communist states led by the old USSR and China. Under this backdrop, it was fashionable to portray the Russians as the threat the world has to watch out for under every bed. Russian villains were the staple of From Russia with Love all the way to the Roger Moore series.
Somehow as we entered the period of détente, the Russian character in Bond movies underwent adjustments. The rivalry became more chivalrous until finally Bond found himself cooperating with a Russian female secret agent to foil a sinister group that wanted to sow global strife.
By the time Pierce Brosnan was playing Bond, the Russian was already considered obsolete for villainous acts. Enter the North Koreans and extremist Arabs to fill the bill. In Tomorrow Never Dies it seems that media mogul Rupert Murdoch was the inspiration for the character Bond jousted with.
Hollywood has been long suspected as a co-opted vehicle for US and Western propaganda. During World War II, Hollywood did produce feature films that were intended to boost morale of both the troops and the citizenry. John Wayne’s The Green Berets was seen as propaganda for the Vietnam War.
Among Hollywood’s biggest political critics these days are those who sympathize with the Arab and Islamic adversaries of the Israelis. When you check out the names of people who run Hollywood, you can’t help notice the Jewish surnames that standout. The critics would cite that together with the dearth of movies that ever favored the point of view of the Arab or the Palestinian as their "Exhibit A and B" for asserting that Hollywood moonlights as a political propaganda tool.
I do not agree with that assertion that Hollywood wittingly plays the political propaganda game except perhaps during World War II. In fact, there are likely more anti-establishment feature films than there are that favor the status quo. Film mirrors life and film scriptwriters can’t help using certain stereotypes that match public perceptions.
Among the biggest critics of stereotyping are movie world people themselves. Celebrity actors and actresses would tend to reject playing stereotype roles – roles that pander to a generalization of a sex, race, religion or class. You will likely find the bulk of stereotype roles portrayed on B movies and on television.
Indeed, stereotyping has victimized not just other nationals on the Hollywood screen but even Americans themselves. One of the biggest victims of stereotyping, especially during the pre-World War II era of motion picture productions, were the Native Americans – then called Indians. It was only during the advent of the anti-hero era in cinema, the early 1970s, when activism finally ended this one-sided and erroneous portrayal of one of the biggest victims of genocide.
Consistent with the period of activism during the 1960s and 1970s, cinema also evolved. In earlier films, heroes looked like gods of Olympus, clean and handsome while villains looked sinister and drab. During the 1960s and 1970s, when the establishment was questioned and assaulted and conventions were challenged, movies also deviated from their old stereotypes.
The man on the street took center stage. Actors like Dustin Hoffman, Jack Nicholson, Robert de Niro, Charles Bronson, Al Pacino, Sly Stallone and Tommy Lee Jones would never have landed lead roles were it not for this evolution in casting standards. Under the casting standards of the 1930s to the 1950s, they would have played only villains or sidekicks. You had to be a Douglas Fairbanks, Errol Flynn and Tyrone Power to be assigned the lead role in the 1930s to the 1950s.
We cannot fault Steven Spielberg for making Schindler’s List and Munich. Both productions delved on historic events that needed to be retold time and time again, especially when you are descended from the race that was victimized.
It is good to forgive those who inflict a terrible wrong but it is stupid to forget the lesson that man is capable of committing those wrongs all over again if given the same circumstances and opportunity. Remembering the lesson prevents the creation of the circumstances and opportunity that allow the repeat of these abominable acts and atrocities.
But won’t Spielberg emerge taller than he already is in the movie world if he was also to produce films that present the point of view and experience of the Arabs and the Palestinians? After all, they are also victims of brute force and irrational policies of retribution that exact casualties among non-combatants.
Feature film has such tremendous power that the conventional news media cannot approximate. If harnessed properly, the feature film could become an effective promoter of understanding among conflicting groups, nations, religions and races.
Just look at how feature film helped to change the impression that the Native Americans of the Wild West era, as depicted in those Apache movies, were bloodthirsty savages. From being portrayed as xenophobes who mindlessly and mercilessly killed settlers in those pre-World War II movies, the Native Americans were correctly portrayed since the 1970s as victims of one of the most ruthless genocides in history.
Compare the Geronimo portrayed in the early movies of John Wayne with the Geronimo that was portrayed by Wes Studi. Up to the 1950s, Geronimo was the feared merciless raider and killer of hapless settlers. The Geronimo that Wes Studi portrayed was a great leader of a people trying to preserve their tribe and their way of life.
General George Armstrong Custer was a swashbuckling hero as portrayed by Errol Flynn but a glory seeker and a butcher in Little Big Man (starred Dustin Hoffman, produced during the anti-hero film era).
Imagine that power to change mindsets if applied to the growing tension between Judeo-Christian and Islamic groups. Imagine that power to make man better than he is.
Feature film can be more than just a mirror of life and society. It can be the promoter of understanding and unity, demolishing psychological barriers and building relationships that are founded on mutual respect.