Last weekend I saw the movie "300" at the Edwards IMAX at Ontario Mills with a multiracial group of friends. There were six of us, ages 22-36, all male: three Hispanic, two white, and one black (I feel that you need to know these things since we’re discussing race). After the movie, we gathered in the movie theatre lobby to discuss what we had just seen. The comments were about what you would expect from a group like ours:
“‘THIS IS SPARTA!’”
“Dude, what was up with the guy with blades in the place of arms?”
“’We’ll fight in the shade,’ that was awesome!”
Just the sort of typically breathless comments about the action, the fighting, the style, and of course, the gratuitous sex scene that you would expect from a group of comic book fans.
I, however, remained silent. Eventually the group turned to me for my input. It may or may not be important to know that I was the only person in the group to attend a four-year university. My buddy Mark asked me, “Wasn’t it awesome?” To which I replied:
“Well…It’s impossible to ignore the racial undertones of this film. The Greeks, who are white, represent all that is good and virtuous— they are the good guys. While the Persian army, a mixture of almost all the non-white races, represents all that is evil and unholy— they are the bad guys. The Persians fight for a ‘god-king’, using monster and magic to support their ‘false religion’. The white Greeks are ‘civilized’; they fight for democracy and freedom (hmmm… a Western democracy fighting a Middle Eastern nation with a different religion— sound familiar?). Also, Leonidas (the good guy king) is quite proud to tell Xerxes (the bad guy king—you can tell by all the x’s) that there are no slaves in his army, which means that the white Greeks are not slave material, unlike the non-white Persian army comprised of mostly slaves.
You also have to look at the depictions of sex in the movie. The lasting image of Greek (white) sexuality is of the king and queen, a heterosexual married couple, ‘making love’. It is in the dark, and they are in private, and the emphasis is on the couple’s love for each other rather than sexual desire. This contrasts nicely with the enduring image of Persian sexuality—Xerxes’ harem. His harem included many women (all non-white) in various stages of undress, engaging in all sorts of sexual acts, even with each other, in a well-lit room and with no desire for privacy. The emphasis is on sexual desire (Xerxes is using his harem as to tempt someone to join his side). What this says is that the civilized, virtuous whites only have monogamous, married, heterosexual, loving sex in the privacy of their home, while the ‘bad guys’ are sexually perverted because there use of sexuality is the polar opposite.
Also, the treatment of women is important to understand. The Greek queen is a strong woman, bright politician, and devoted wife. The only image of Persian women is as part of a harem.
It’s obvious that this movie strengthens all of the stereotypes of the inferiority of all non-white races.”
One beat of everyone silently staring at me, followed by another beat of them looking at each other in stunned silence, and then they all burst back into their previous adoration for the film and the action therein as if I had never spoken. I thought to myself, I should have just said “yeah.”
Two weekends ago I went to a concert at the Glasshouse in Pomona with some of the same guys I would see 300 with the next weekend. One of the opening bands was Meg & Dia, a band fronted by two Korean-American sisters. After about their second song, my buddy turns to me and says, “Isn’t it cute to see a girl in a dress play guitar?” To which I responded:
“It is interesting how our first conversation about them is how ‘cute’ they are. When the last band of all men was onstage, we never once commented on their attractiveness or on their choice of wardrobe; they were judged strictly by their music. But because this band happens to feature two attractive girls, we discount them as musicians by focusing solely on how they look and what they are wearing. Shouldn’t we be instead talking about whether the music is good or whether the guitar player can play? But by treating them as sex objects, we fail to take them seriously as artists. To talk of them as ‘cute’ feels sort of condescending, and I wonder how much of that is because we are not accustomed to seeing Asian females in a style of music that is dominated by White males.”
One beat of blank staring is followed by another beat where my friend looks back at the stage before responding with “Dude, the lead singer is really hot too.”
He was right, it was really cute that the girl was playing guitar in a dress, and the lead singer was really hot. I should have just said “yeah.”
Taking this class has definitely made me more aware of certain things (like the “invisible knapsack”) and changed the way I view the world, much to the chagrin of my poor friends who just want to enjoy an action film or comment on an attractive girl.