Saturday, May 22, 2010

Sparta? Iran Responds

In a recent post I talked about the potential that Hollywood movies, such as the latest Robin Hood, can hold in promoting effective public diplomacy. Similarly, they can play on stereotypes and only promote negative perceptions, vilification, and, in many ways, build on and further push certain strands of "perception management". 300 certainly belonged to the latter category, and curiously fell in line with the overly-dramatized and vilified image of Iran in the West (well, not only).

I watched the movie with an Iranian friend and we were both disappointed with it. I was very unhappy about the poor quality, over-dramatization and over-exaggeration of events that were presented as historical facts. My friend, on the other hand, was upset about the ideologized theme of the moralistic clash between the values of the "peace-loving West" (kudos, Sparta) and the "ever-evil Persia" (pick one to your liking: Iran, "the Orient", etc...). Interesting, and very sad, indeed. If people studied history closer than the Box Office, this would not have been a major concern; however, I'm afraid, that is increasingly not the case...

The movie came out in 2007. It took the Iranian authorities three years to respond. But they did. Here is a piece I came across on IRNA (Iran's official news agency) today:

300 Spartans screened, reviewed at Tehran’s Cinema Home
Tehran, May 22, IRNA – 2nd session of 300 Spartans survey and review will be held at Cinema Home on Saturday, May 22, 2010
According to Public Relations of the Cinema Home, the Second Session in a series of workshop programs of the Cinema Home will begin at 5:30 pm with the screening of Zach Schneider’s 300 Spartans.
The feature’s story is a war between the hundreds of thousands’ strong army of ancient Persian King Xerxes and the 300 man army of the ancient Roman Commander Leonidas.
The director has presented quite a biased satanic image of the ancient Iran that is in direct contrast with the truth of the matter.
After the screening of the Warner Brothers feature, a review session of the film will be held at the presence of such critics as Keyvan Kasirian and Davoud Hermidas Bavand.
“300” is based in the time frame when Greek mythologies were at their peak several hundred years BC. The movie starts by showing the tough and heartless training that Spartan children had to go through to become true warriors. The training of the future king of Sparta is also shown who fights with other children first to prove himself fit and is then sent to a freezing abyss that contains all kinds of dangers. There he has to survive and return to claim his throne. He survives by killing a vicious beast and brings back his skin.
At that time Persia was ruled by Xerxes, a ruthless magician who claimed to be a god. He used all kinds of tricks and black magic to rule Persia and keep his people in control with fear. Those that he could not scare, he corrupted with greed of women and gold. In the lust for more power and land he turns towards Greece to conquer it. He sends a messenger to Sparta who threatens the king by showing him skulls of the kings that Xerxes killed from previous lands that he conquered. King of Sparta becomes infuriated and pushes the messenger in a well along with his soldiers. After that a glorious battle begins where only 300 Spartans go against thousands of Persians."

An extremely delayed effort to address a public diplomacy challenge, perhaps? (I wonder who will be the select few to attend this historic screening...??)


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