27 Jan 2007, 1:52am
Film & Television
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4 comments

Looking at Frank Miller and 300

Comic-book artist Frank Miller was interviewed on NPR’s “Talk of the Nation” this week, as part of a “diverse group of creative thinkers” talking about the United States’ state of the union from their vantage points.

I’ve always been (and still am) a huge fan of Miller’s artwork and much of his storytelling, and the cinematic vision of his latest comic-turned-film, 300, is nothing short of breathtaking. The film is based on the Spartan-Persian Battle of Thermopylae, in which 300 Spartans fought to the death against the massive Persian army. Clearly, this movie is not stacked in favor of the Persians; everyone loves an underdog, and you can’t get a more prototypical one than the Spartans in 300. To be fair, the story is told from the point of view of the Spartan king, and it’s more historical fantasy than fact. The Persian king, Xerxes, is reportedly portrayed as Greek historians wrote him, effeminate and beastly, while the Spartans wax poetic on the freedoms of man (never mind the fact that Sparta was an intolerant police state). In fact, until I’d heard this week’s “Talk of the Nation,” the visual merits of 300 had been enough for me to chalk up to artistic license the blatant historical inaccuracies and demonization of Persians in this movie. But “Talk of the Nation” revealed Miller’s disturbing bias against the Middle East, and this subsequently casts 300 in a whole new light.

In the interview he says, “The entire western world is up against an existential foe… Nobody seems to be talking about who we’re up against, and the sixth-century barbarism that these people actually represent. These people saw people’s heads off. They enslave women, they genetically mutilate their daughters.” [Writer’s note: I believe Miller is referring to genital mutilation.] At first he sounds as if he’s talking specifically about terrorism, and this article isn’t a defense of that type of barbarism. But it’s a critique of the giant brush Miller is using to paint the people of the Middle East as barbarians, because as the interview progresses, it sounds as though he doesn’t see much difference between the fringe, like Al-Qaeda, and the rest of us, who don’t adhere to or support that ideology. Nor does he seem to recognize the fact that the people actually suffering for the war in Iraq are largely innocent civilians. It also seems Miller thinks America has the patent on independence, free-thinking, and innovation; he actually says, “I’m speaking into a microphone that never could have been a product of their culture.” Perhaps he doesn’t know that the Middle East is the cradle of civilization and his comments sound tinged with racism. In light of these comments, it’s hard to see 300 as just a movie.

It appears that 300 supports the idea that western ideology is one that respects independence and freedom while Persians are a warmongering, unsympathetic lot bent on the destruction and submission of others. I understand the concept of artistic license but this film perpetuates the concept of a race of people inherently incapable of understanding the rights of human beings. It’s what Miller seems to believe, and it’s what his movie seems to promote.

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A much better book than 300 is Gates of Fire: An Epic Novel of the Battle of Thermopylae

A Greek friend recommended it to me, he also mentioned another interesting fact to me. There were a series of Greek mercenaries on the Persian side, he had read 300 and didn’t think much of the way Miller had portrayed the story.

I’ll probably go see it just for the visuals but it’s unfortunate that Miller holds such a racist view of the ME.

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