Sunday, November 14, 2010
Race and Contemporary Hollywood Part 03
When I last did a post on this I made it a point to add an aside concerning an aspect of race and contemporary Hollywood that is often ignored by a majority of critics. That aside concerned the prevalence of Eastern Europeans in roles often occupied by minorities (i.e.-the group that needs a Western saviour, the terrorists, the crazy foreigner, etc.). Now I'm sure at some point most of us have seen movies like Hostel or old action flicks with Steven Segal or Jean Claude Van Dame, where the bad guys were thoroughly bad and irredeemable. Of course there were Black, Latino, Arab, etc. villains, but if there was a "white" villain to be found they were more than likely Russian or Eastern European (how many times has the bad guy been Czech or some similar nationality?). Well in this post I'm going to breakdown some of the most prevalent and offensive stereotypes found in most Hollywood films concerning Eastern Europeans.
1) "Loose"/"Party Girl": Eastern European women are often depicted as being "looser" and more into partying than their Western European or U.S.-American counterparts. Movies such as EuroTrip (which was a terrible attempt at comedy and possibly satire) and, to an extent, that deplorable tripe known as Hostel portrayed the women as readily grinding on, flirting with, and, in many instances, sleeping with a man. Transporter 3 is another example. It had a Eastern European female...well I wouldn't really call her a protagonist, but they had someone/something similar, and, in short and understating, she was not the most demure of women. Not that being demure is anything to aspire to, but...well watch the movie if you really want to know what I'm getting at. (Warning: You will role your eyes right out of your head at both her character and the story overall)
2)Conniving/Opportunistic: This is a stereotype all women have to deal with, but in film it is more often than not the minority women who are depicted in the worst possible light as it concerns this. There are countless examples in films directed by U.S.-Americans, the aforementioned film Hostel being a particularly malicious example, and in every instance the woman, or women as the case may be, is made into a completely irredeemable monster or must be taught the "error of her ways" by the "hero" or "heroine". Once again, this is stereotype is not exclusive to Eastern European women, but I have noticed that there is not much mention of them during discussions involving this topic.
3)The Sexy Spy or Secret Agent: Whether it be because their accent, or the magical appeal of all things "foreign" to Western audiences, there seems to be some kind of infatuation with Eastern European women taking up the role of the evil secret agent or spy. Often they will embody one or both of points 1 and 2, and will more than likely end up dead. Just watch a spy flick, a James Bond film for example, and see what I mean.'
4) Nagging, Bodybuilder, Manish, and/or Haggish: Though not quite as prevalent as other stereotypes, at least based on the number of films I've seen or heard of, whenever an "ugly" character is needed, and they're white, they are often Russian or Eastern European. I'm sure we all know the stereotype of Russian women, and, by some twisted logic, Eastern European being "manish" builds or being bodybuilders, especially when it comes to comic relief in film or cartoons. I'm sure we all remember seeing at least one nagging and/or haggish old woman portrayed as a similar nationality. While these stereotypes are not solely endemic to depictions of Eastern European women (Black women face these kinds of stereotypes more often than others, at least as it concerns Hollywood films), you would be hard pressed to find a Western European woman or American woman, outside of possibly Italians, presented in such a light.
05) Prostitutes/Sex Slaves: Playing into the very real problem of female sex trafficking, this stereotype is prevalent in a lot of t.v. shows and films. Shows like Law and Order and Without a Trace have used elements of this stereotype to construct narratives. Movies like the phenomenal Eastern Promises used this stereotype as well. However, with the way its presented, you'd think that sex trafficking would be limited to Eastern Europe and parts of Asia (more specifically China and Southeast Asia) because, based on another flawed stereotype, the police in those countries are more incompetent and impotent than their U.S.-American counterparts. Of course, for those of us who know that the U.S. is a crap-sack country, the same problem exist in the States with young girls, especially young Black and Latina girls, being trapped into lives of prostitution from ages as early as 9 or so.
1) The Gangster/Mobster: More often than not, when there's a European mobster or gangster in a film he, or in some cases she, is going to be Eastern European. Sometimes you might get a nationality from them (Czech seems to be the most popular for some reason), but more often than not they're simply, "That Zany Eastern European Bad Guy". This also ties in with the number 2 point, Eastern European men being abusers and alcoholics, as many gangsters and mobster are shown to abuse the prostitutes/sex slaves under their employ to make them seem like really bad guys. They are also shown to have anger management issues, and are highly volatile and unstable in many instances.
Grand Theft Auto IV is a good example of this in video games.
-Note: Italians are the second favorite (used to be first before the 90s or so) for sophisticated European mobsters/gangsters, followed by Asians, and then African-Americans and Latinos. However, that order is reversed when the gangsters are incompetent and/or bumbling.-
2) Abuser/Alcoholics: While definitely not limited to Eastern European men, this stereotype is quite prevalent as it concerns their film roles. Often under these circumstances the man, be it the father or boyfriend, is made out to be an irredeemable, lazy, abusive drunk who ruins the lives of those around him. Also, more often than not, their death, when they actually die in the film, is made out to be one of the high points of the movie.
3) Terrorist: While people from the Middle East have started to pick up this mantel at a rate far outpacing their Eastern European counterparts (i.e.-September 11th, War on Bullsh-I mean "Terror", War in Iraq, etc. influence over popular film), whenever you need a communist, white terrorist bad guy they'll either be Russian or Eastern European. A good example of this is Bad Company starring Chris Rock and Anthony Hopkins. Much like their mobster/gangster counterparts, the Eastern European terrorist is an extremist bad guy with anger management issues. If there's a party scene in the movie, you can almost guarantee one of the terrorist, be it the leader or one of his men, is going to be an abusive womanizer.
4) Evil Communist Soldier(s): See number 3).
Eastern Europe as a Whole
Eastern Europe as a whole is often presented as being underdeveloped (i.e.-in the industry stage of development) or less developed than Western Europe. Often many countries are presented as lacking many of the amenities that Westerners enjoy, and the currency of most countries is seen as being mind-bogglingly lower in value than that of American monies and currencies like the Euro (e.g.-Eastern European currencies are seen as being at the same level as countries like Zimbabwe, or only slightly better). The scenery is often presented in a very bleak and cold manner (perhaps in an effort to present a subliminal message about the people who live there) with most of the surrounding scenery appearing as though most, if not all countries, are stuck in a perpetual state of winter.
Occasionally the countries will be presented as being staunchly Communist, ethnic groups being highly competitive with one another to a self-destructive extent (i.e.-often fighting wars against one another, new states declaring independence, etc.), and/or retaining a Cold War/Soviet Union mindset. Further, although some mention is occasionally made of Eastern Europe being composed of separate states with independent ideologies and systems, often one gets the image of Eastern Europe being a monolithic entity like Africa and Asia.
In short, exaggerations or fabrications mixed with occasional hints of the truth.
Well, I suppose that concludes this post. Feel free to comment or what have you. Also, I hope that, to any and all readers of Eastern European origins/heritage/etc., I did a decent job of pointing out some of the offensive stereotypes or exaggerations of Eastern Europe.