A Student of History

April 8, 2007

Is the film “300” racist?

Filed under: The past that is still with us — John Maass @ 9:10 pm

My previous post on the movie “300” has generated an enormous number of hits, not because of what I wrote but because so many folks have had so much to say about the film and its depiction of the Persians.

Now there’s an HNN piece on it that merits a look.  Is the film “300” racist?  One historian says yes, and his conclusions are here

In short: 300’s depiction of the battle of Thermopylae is not merely inaccurate, as any film adaptation of a graphic novel has the perfect right to be. It’s what the Iranians say it is: racist and insulting. It pits the glorious Greeks with whom the audience must sympathize against a “mystical” and “tyrannical” culture posing an imminent existential threat. It is, de facto, an anti-Persian/anti-Iranian propaganda film, and should be rated appropriately: not just R (for racist) but X—for extremely stupid and vicious and dangerously ill-timed.

I personally do not think the film was meant to be racist and insulting, but did it come out that way?

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10 Comments »

  1. I know an ample amount on the history and it is historically inaccurate but that didn’t deter me at all. The way they depicted the Persians isn’t virtually accurate but it isn’t exactly inaccurate. The Persians aren’t as ruthless and unhonourable as made out in the 300, but they certainly aren’t as liberal as other people want to believe. The producer of the graphic novel, Frank Miller, didn’t know much on the history, so he didn’t know how to depict the character – but, you know what, it didn’t matter; he thought it would make a brilliant graphic novel, and it did; and, as it is a graphic novel, it wasn’t designated to be historically accurate and it didn’t have any moral or message that was to be conveyed, meaning there wasn’t supposed to be any depiction between the Greeks and the Persians. Sure, he didn’t think too much of it, but neither should others; it is a graphic novel, after all. So it was put on screen, what difference does it make? Apart from the blaintant fact that it is even more significant as a film. The fact that people bothered to formally complain says the film is worth arguing about.
    Personally, though, racism did come into my mind at one point in the film, but I don’t think any racism was meant.
    The moral of the film is to convey the message of The Battle of Thermopylae and it did. I know about the history and have respect for King Leonidas but I also like Xerxes, and I didn’t find anything denouncing or absurd in this film. Anyone who contradicts is titled to their opinion but it is a ‘prejudice’ opinion.

    Comment by Leonidas — May 15, 2007 @ 9:33 am | Reply

  2. i think everyone discussing this topic might be interested in this video i made about 300. its a short deconstruction of the archetypes 300 uses to tell its story and then the video compares how these types have been used in other hollywood movies throughout history.

    check out the video on youtube here at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XwFOpYOXBQ0

    Comment by RPM2008 — January 19, 2008 @ 9:40 am | Reply

  3. actually the persians were democratic and granted people many rights similar to the U.S’s Bill of Rights. Racism was most likely not meant but could have been easily avoided.

    Comment by greg — February 14, 2009 @ 2:07 pm | Reply

  4. Face it folks. The only reason why people think it’s racist isn’t because of any sophisticated knowledge of history or any deep insight into the matter. The charge of racism is made quite simplistically; the protagonists are white and the antagonists are not. In this day and age of politically correct dogma, the concept of a non-white or non-western “bad guy” or “bad guys” is incredibly unappetizing to the general race-mongering populace. The masses want white bad guys and good non-white guys. That’s why their unhappy with the film- not because of their purported understanding of history. People would be just as unhappy with a movie about a Mongolian horde or a the Muslim (pre-crusades) invasion of Europe or India; it’s not pleasant/convenient history because you have non-white, non-western people doing bad things.

    Comment by Rycher — November 24, 2009 @ 11:54 am | Reply

  5. The real problem in this film is not about the persians, because most people watching will notice the main feature is not conceptual, visa vi Nationalist, but racist about anyone with darker skin tones being evil, and people of white skin tone are made out to be heroes. Frank Miller has always had severe racist tendancies, as evidenced even in the great graphic novels the dark knight and batman year 1. he glorifies the iconography of the shocked black man caught in his foolhardiness, now being punished for his essential essense. for example, the ‘black dandy’ character in year 1, and a similar character, drawn where the man’s eyes are white round circles, just like the classic minstrel posters. this icon covers most of his works, though it has exception in “Give Me Liberty” which has me considering its a half subconsious iconic system.

    The film on the other hand takes things to a very intense level, where the white men surround the black man in a classic lynching. I read posts of people saying “hey relax man, ” and so on. I can understand it from the perspective of one who hasn’t really looked at it, and lives life in an easy going way, and doesn’t want to be ‘dragged down’ by a possible reality of real problem here. But its only neccesary to look at these films as potentially problematic, to be open to the idea there is a major trend going on here, and then, if a person still says its no big deal, thats based on their own sense of the situation.

    But moreover i find people just laugh it off without ever checking into it. I spent a few years abroad, and before I returned to the States, I passed through India. India has people of all skin types, but there is no sense of that being ‘races’ or that different people’s skin color means they are a different race. In fact, I started to not notice after a while what skin color someone had, because they didn’t project it. films didn’t project it. no particular association was made between color and culture, because what i saw was that they all basically had the same culture, and eventually, even though intelectually i saw there are different tones, it diminished in import.

    Flash to coming back to the USA, suddenly, I’m flooded with it, and I notice it because I haven’t been here in a while, and because its very very intense. I was open to the idea that there are BS icons that push color and culture ideas. but it had never hit me till i was away then returned. Now its close to being able to walk in a persons shoes who was of African lineage.

    I feel it very viscerally, how white movies and tv put white and black icons, identify them with really clear and historic images associated with cultural attributes that go beyond an accent or musical style, and really are dangerous. And on the street, i see people are being like this, like they see in the movies. Not in major ways, but in subtle ways. Its drilled into our heads night and day until we believe it.

    And if it were not drilled into our heads, we would start to free up and loosen up, there would be more intermarraige, and less identifying by race as skin color at all.

    Comment by Ariel Elisha — May 8, 2011 @ 7:21 pm | Reply

  6. This is amazing ! What is wrong in white peoples making a movie, depicting themselves as nice guys and Persians who wanted to take over Greece as bad guys? It is indeed a fact that Persians launched a first strike against the Greeks! Its natural for people of a country to consider themselves as good guys and the invading aggressors as bad guys! Aren’t you not allowed to do that in the Western World?

    As regarding skin color, well the Persians were indeed a darker shade, may be they made them even darker, to make them look evil. I think thats just artistic licence!

    Persians may have had a democratic system, but if Xerxes had won, there would not have been anything left of Greek civilization. We would have had a Persian democratic country and the Greeks today would be speaking in Farsi.

    Its an achievement the Greeks can be justly proud of, instead of self-flagellating them like this.

    Even Gandhi said “You Greeks are proud of Thermopylae, but every lane in Rajasthan is Thermopylae”. He was referring to the valiant defence of Hindus against muslim invaders. Was Gandhi a racist?

    Comment by Parthiban — September 5, 2011 @ 12:37 pm | Reply

  7. In India, you could actually make fun of peoples skin color and ugliness and given the diversity in India, we have people of every size,color and even shape, and notwithstanding the constant bickering that goes on between the 18 major cultural groupings in India, nobody brings in the racist argument.

    Comment by Parthiban — September 5, 2011 @ 12:43 pm | Reply

  8. Come on, if there is any racism here, it is against the Africans, rather than the Iranians or Arabs. I was rather astonished to find Xerxes in the form and habit of a Zulu Shaka than a middle easterner of any sort, ancient or modern. I cannot completely do away with the suspicion that in order to avoid an anti-Persian bias, given what is happening, the film-makers resurrected some anti-African prejudices.

    Comment by Merik Igen — July 25, 2012 @ 3:28 am | Reply

  9. White folks trying to look almighty. That movie was racist from the beginning when she makes the comment about the black guy kind being lesser. The black dude looks more agile and will most likely kick his ass in a battle. Look at sport for instance.

    Comment by Antoni — December 4, 2012 @ 11:11 am | Reply

  10. Not racist ?! joking ! just google the picture of Xerxes and compare it to the one in the movie !

    Comment by Anthony — September 2, 2015 @ 1:27 am | Reply


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