Wednesday, October 19, 2005

What should a Persian Actor look like?

Below is the description of a Persian messenger in a casting call for a Warner Brothers movie:
[PERSIAN MESSENGER] MALE. Age: 30's - 40's. ETHNICITY REQUIRED; PERSIANS are scripted as being: Assyrians, Arabians, Bactrians, Cappadocians, Medes, Karians, Babylonians, Armenians, and other Asiatic tribes...'a hundred nations'. Could be middle-Eastern, Asian, African... They can (and probably should) have an 'old world' somewhat Arabic-sounding accent. MUST BE SCARY, TOUGH & POWERFUL LOOKING; A scarred face and sharpened teeth (all prosthetics) through which he delivers his message to Leonidas: kneel in servitude to the God King Xerxes or perish. It is the same message he has delivered to many other Kings and he carries pieces of their skulls as a grim warning to those who would oppose Xerxes's rule. He has no fear. He serves Xerxes - the most powerful man in the world - and what's more, he is a messenger and so believes that he is untouchable. But his arrogance is his undoing. Leonidas holds everyone accountable for their words. Even messengers. And his insults directed at Sparta and her Queen earn this messenger a one-way trip down a very deep well...HORSE-BACK RIDING EXPERIENCE A PLUS. APPROXIMATELY 4 SHOOTING DAYS.
Yes, ... Middle-Eastern, Asian, African, ... doesn't matter. As long as he doesn't look European. His face should show that he is inferior to us. His scary "scarred-face" and "sharpened-teeth" face should reveal what kind of a savage he is, and how dangerous he can be to "our freedom."

By the way, did the Greeks really look like the blue-eyed blonds as Hollywood movies portray them? As far as I know Greeks do not look like this at all. Even the Romans did not imagine Greeks to be blonds (look at this mosaic of Alexander in Pompeii.) As a matter of fact the Greeks, and later on the Romans, considered their northern blond neighbors, the Germans and Gauls, to be nations of savages, far more barbarous than the sophisticated empires to their south and east.

I don't want to sound "nationalist" here, nor do I want to rant about the "great Iranian empire" and the other crap many Iranians talk about these days. But to me it is important to see what Hollywood-style Greeks stand for in today's pop culture. Greeks in these movies and novels are blond and European-looking. They clearly represent the "West." They are depicted as the only open-minded, rational, and intelligent people of antiquity, thus implying that Western culture (meaning European and Northern American Culture) IS the only open-minded and rational culture of the world. Europeans are the only real civilization in the anciant world, and the rest of the world are depicted as a bunch of Barbarians. There cannot be any dialog, any cultural exchange, or anything else between the barbarians and the Greeks. Greeks are freedom-loving creatures by birth, and the Eastern barbarians are incapable of understanding it. There is no way to make peace with the barbarians except by conquering their countries and ruling their lands, as Alexander finally did. The Greeks here are not a part of history, but rather a character in a mythology that creates a certain worldview and justifies a certain political agenda.

In this mythology it does not matter how far this story is from reality, or that Greece never was a part of "European" culture, or even how false the whole argument is. What matters is that Bush should look like Alexander entering Babylon, and Persian/Middle-Easterners should look like a bunch of scary animals that should be killed in a preemptive war.


  1. You make some great points about characterization of different civilizations in box office hits.

    Any expert in anthropology, history, and Greek art, culture, and war will be able to soundly agree that Greeks were very different looking from most northern europeans. They had big noses, pronounced darker features, and of course, they were not nordic AT ALL.

    I suppose, many people tried mixing up Alexander (who was a Macedonian with supposed lighter features) to Romans and Greeks and all the civilization that represented the West at that time. I think we both agree that Persians were not all Arabs, and all Arabs were not Persians; All Persians looked different at that time, some were light and others, yes, there is a problem with the way the West is played out and the East is diminutized by the great Hollywood names like Warner Brothers...

    I wasn't exactly amused with "Alexander the Great" or "Kingdom of Heaven" or any other groups...but there is a classic movie that is about Persian slaves in Rhoders (I forget the name) but that movie casts a light that shows Persians as the humane slaves that go against the Western slavers...I guess you have to watch everything with a pinch of salt.

    The fact that movies like "Kingdom of Heaven" and "Alexander the Great" are in theatres but movies that hail Cyrus's achievements may not be is probably because most Westerners are not Persian, and know very little about old Iran, and it rise and fall...they're just happily content with their own heritage. I suppose the fact is, there is no support for revering Eastern heritage, there's no money in it.

  2. and "heaven forbid" if anyone tries to point out that the person who is known by the name Jesus Christ would not have been caucasian.

  3. Actually, Many Greeks from the mainland ARE blonde-haired and blue-eyed. The Islands, which were conquered by other peoples throughout history have mostly dark-haired and brown-eyed people. To assume that anyone from Greece must be dark, or from Italy or from Spain or Portugal for that matter is also wrong. This is because it is the prevalent gene expression of the Northern Mediterranean. France should be included for that matter. It is left over from when the Moors conquered vast swaths of land near the Med. America isn't the only melting-pot, you know.

  4. Modern Greeks are a messegnition from many generations of Ottoman Rule. Ancient Greeks were decended from an IndoEuropean peoples from the north c.a. 1500 B.C. and successive invasions from Thrace (red hair/blue eyed people) north of macedon. Their statues and frescos appear to me anyway to indicate they were more closely linked to northern europeans than todays greeks some 2500 years later.
    The Plato to NATO idea of West Civ. is a deeply ingrained ideology to which a we white guys still like to cling to. In america what other narrative could we subscribe to as heritage? I myself am blonde/blue but am part Italian/German/Polish/English/
    So we don't have the luxury of saying ah ha our people are from Iran! and claim cultural identity with that land or region.
    Besides which democracy or republicanism is the prevailing governmental system which fits very well with the ancient greek connection. And more symply if I am going to fork over twenty bucks and three hours of my time I don't want to see 'the others' win or get muddled confusion with whose the good guys and whats the point of it all as the case in Alexander.
    But then what the hell do I know.

  5. The Modern Greeks are a Mediterranean, Alpine and Dinaric people like there ancient ancestors. Blonde hair and blue eyes does not allways signify Nordicism. Nordicism in ancient Greece did not exist, it has been proven by many Anthropologists. Its only the die hard Nazi's and Anti Greek Nationalists who continue use this petty arguement.

  6. this is one of many stereotypes that there are and are overused in Hollywood and T.V. shows, for western culture, just with the title of Persian, they imagine that that person is a warrior, assassin or a thief. They have to change those misconceptions once and for all!