Wednesday, March 4, 2009

"300" and Racism

There’s a lengthy but on-the-money piece by Jehanzeb Dar over at Broken Mystic, about the racist and homophobic imagery in the movie 300. I know the film is a couple of years old now, but the article really resonated with me. At its most basic level, 300 is good for what it is, a violent chop-em-up war movie with some interesting comic-book stylings. But there was a lingering unease for me about the film’s subtext; it doesn’t take a paranoid conspiracy theorist to notice that 300 also plays out like a white supremacist’s wet dream.

The outrageously chiselled and noble warriors of Sparta (who look anything but Greek, by the way), constantly spouting odes to their own uber-masculinity, take on a thoroughly monstrous Persian horde. There are no shades of goodness in the Persians, who also represent various types of “otherness”. They are brown. Some of their fighters are hideously disfigured or look like freakish monsters. Their emperor is represented as effeminate, androgynous and possibly homosexual (and played by a Latino). Riding strange beasts, wielding exotic weapons and mystical arts, their appearance and range of dirty tricks represent the the scary strangeness of the non-white world. A collection of Western stereotypes about the otherworldy barbarism of Asians and Africans, the Persians represent a horde of swarthy savages trying to force their way into the realm of the noble white man. It ain’t hard to see the parallels with present day events. And no surprise that it didn't exactly earn rave reviews in Iran.

The movie is perhaps even more offensive to disabled people (I’m not one, so I’m just guessing here). Deformity and disability are associated with evil and moral cowardice a number of times, in contrast to the physical perfection of the rippling bodies of the Spartan warriors.

Also in the article is an excerpt from an interview with the writer of the 300 comic book, Frank Miller, in which he describes his views of the clash of civilizations in today’s world – and it gives a clue to some of the racist themes that mar the movie.


  1. I remember one line from the movie- "Pile those Persians High"- that I thought would become the title of the mooted US invasion of Iran- "Operation Pile the Persians Higher". But apart from the timing (US-Iranian tension), I think its possible to read too much into the racism angle. The movie is deliberately narrated as half saga/half myth and I remember the director saying that he wanted to get across the distorted reality and exaggeration that comes with that. And I reckon most of the Greeks looked pretty swarthy and for the most part, as a "nation", certainly weren't portrayed in an enviable light. Maybe another interesting subtext for the movie was that most of the filming and extras seemed to be done by cheap Eastern Europeans, while the "face" of the movie was Western.

  2. Yeah I get what you're saying bonoboboy. No doubt there is much exaggeration to enhance the mythical qualities of the movie. I don't necessarily think there is any intentional racism, but I still think it sends a worrying message to its audience. The homophobia is more obvious, and again while not necessarily intentional, I just think they didn't really care.
    Apart from having dark hair, I really don't think anyone looked Greek. I mean, David Wenham?