Global Analysis from the European Perspective. Preparing for the world of tomorrow

Cinematography in the service of hate

Reality finds expression in and is depicted by words, pictures and symbols. These in turn have a life of their own in that they are potent enough to impose the perception of the world through the meanings that they convey. An animal or a particular species may be perceived as a part of higher matter or a being endowed with a soul. Correspondingly, it can be disposed of without compunction or venerated. Think about cows in India; think about the treatment of dogs and cats in Europe as opposed to that in China; think about the attitude towards pigs in the Semitic and non-Semitic world, about clean and unclean animals, about edible and inedible species in different parts of the world.

Much the same is valid for humans. Depending on time and place they – or rather different categories of humans or – to be precise – different classes or groups of them are viewed as a legitimate booty or an object of veneration. Vera Mukhina’s Worker and Kolkhoznitza Monument of 1937 was a homage paid to the underclass people elevated to the highest status of veneration in the first socialist country. The perspective was changed and so the category of people once looked down on was transmuted to the category of people regarded as the pillars and pinnacle of society. Reversely, monuments to the heroes and members of the once ruling classes were pulled down, their memory tarnished or obliterated. Before that epic change could happen, hundreds of books, poems, pictures needed to be produced, hundreds of literary works or works of art that assailed the perception of reality and transformed it stepwise, thus paving the way for that change. The process is slow but very effective. It begins with casting doubt on the sacred and the acceptable, it continues with critique of the hitherto untouchable and sacrosanct, it ends up with the overturn of the scale of values, with elevating yesterday’s slaves and servants and debasing today’s lords and patricians. 

The Worker and Kolkhoznitza, a monument in its own right and a logo of a Soviet film studio: the once downtrodden elevated to the pinnacle of society.

In this manner the ancient gods of Egypt, Greece and Rome, the deities of the Celtic, Germanic and Slavic peoples were dethroned; in this manner the value of honour and dignity has been supplanted by the value of productivity and effectiveness; in this manner women are given preferment over men and adolescents are given advancement over adults. Animals are treated with reverence – at least in the white man’s world – so eating meat, wearing natural furs and using cosmetics tested on living creatures is frowned upon. These and many other changes take some time before they come to fruition. The champions of new ideas are assiduous and canny, their opponents – stupefied and won over or at least rendered ineffective.

The way for profound, revolutionary, enormous changes have always been paved by thought, thought put across to ever larger masses of people by literature, visual arts and – especially nowadays – the combination of the two: the movie industry. This is one of the most effective and compelling tools with which those who run the industry can shape the perception of the world in the minds of tens and hundreds of millions. The majority of people learn their history, moral and political lessons from (predominantly) feature and (less frequently) documentary films. 

Literary works, works of art and visual arts perform two functions: they reflect the world as it is or they send a message what the world ought to be. Usually the two functions are blended to a lesser or greater extent. Even a simple photograph has the power of extolling or belittling a person, an event, a symbol. A ninety-minute film is a series of roughly 130.000! photographs (frames) that worm their way into the viewer’s mind. These photographs are provided with appreciating or depreciating words which help to evaluate events, attitudes and behaviours. These frames and words are accompanied by music that acts exclusively on emotions. With picture and sound, the watcher’s world is made complete. Only the senses of smell and touch are not assailed, but these play a secondary role in humans. The genuine world is gradually supplanted by a world created by those who have power to finance the production of motion pictures.

Soviet cinematography was skilfully exploited by the communists. They understood the power of visual arts coupled with a soundtrack, word and music. This power convincingly taught the citizens how bad the former political system and how good the new one was; the depiction of heroic commissars, revolutionaries, and activists was impressed on the minds in a way that made them adore their new leaders, leaders who were made up of fiction mixed with reality. The heroes of the former political system and their achievements were condemned to oblivion or presented as wicked. Those few historical figures that could not be dispensed with were reinterpreted in a way that suited the purposes of the new authorities. Cinema was entertainment-cum-college: its influence was formative. A well-made movie is intellectually seductive. If the whole world was so deeply taken with shots from Sergei Eisenstein’s Battleship Potemkin, all the more so were the Soviet people. They all learned to regard the red as good and the white as bad. 

Battleship Potemkin: a clear-cut emotional differentiation between the evil and the innocent

Consider Karl May’s, the most popular German writer’s, Indian novels, especially those about fictional Apache chief Winnetou, published towards the end of the 19th century. They not only fired the imagination of boys and girls alike – which in itself is nothing remarkable, given the topic and the skilful narration – but they also did something more: they made white Europeans like, love, identify with the red Indians. White boys played at Indians and cowboys and it was the Indians who in their minds were noble, while white settlers were wicked. Much the same process can be observed with reference to American western movies where initially Indians were depicted as primitive, treacherous and bloodthirsty, with time, however, their image evolved to that of a positive character whose moral principles dwarfed those of their white counterparts or even friends. Movies like 1990 Dances With Wolves or 1992 The Last of the Mohicans represent fictitious Indian characters in a favourable way while 1991 Son of the Morning Star (about the 1876 Battle of Little Big Horn, where Sioux chief Sitting Bull vanquished General George Custer) and 1993 Geronimo – An American Legend attempt to include the great Indian leaders in the pantheon of all-American heroes. This, however, was not what the sights of the producers were set on. It was not enough to change the attitude towards Indians from hostile to neutral, to favourable. The next step was to induce guilt on the part of whites about their treatment of the Indians. Pride had to be reversed into humility. The 1995 documentary series 500 Nations, with Kevin Costner (starring also in Dances with Wolves) as host was all about the subjugation, displacement and near extermination of the indigenous inhabitants of the American continent carried out by white settlers. The many horror stories contained in the series dispelled any doubt as for who the villain was.

Much the same can be observed in American cinema in terms of the racial relations between blacks and whites. The innocuous 1967 Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, where an interracial marriage is the topic, followed by 1997 Roots, a saga of a black family, spanning generations from enslavement through emancipation till the present times, were rather reconciliatory in their message. Then followed an avalanche of feature movies, where whites were invariably portrayed as rogues, villains, scoundrels – you name it – who maul, mutilate, betray, rape, discriminate against and insult innocent, good blacks wherever an opportunity presents itself, gratuitously, just for the fun of it or out of sheer, unfounded prejudice, loathing or hatred. Here are some of those movies:

1997, Amistad: black slaves mutiny on the ship that carries them to the United States. The few spared white sailors double-cross the blacks and, making believe that the ship is bound for Africa, they deliver them into the hands of the white crew of a patrol boat off the American coast;

2012, Django Unchained: an incredible story, whose black protagonist eventually goes on a shooting rampage, taking revenge on slave drivers, bounty hunters and generally whites;

2013, 12 Years a Slave: a story of a free black man living in the North of the United States, abducted by evil whites and sold to slavery in the South;

2013, The Butler: a story based on a real character of a black butler who served a number of presidents in the White House; gratuitously, the fictional character and his relatives – unlike their real-life counterparts – suffer nightmarish experiences at the hands of the whites;

2013, Fruitvale Station: a story of a young black man shot by white policemen (a prefiguration of George Floyd?); and finally

2021, The Harder They Fall: offered by Netflix, where – as the trailer shows – blacks take their fate in their hands, shoot at whites here and there and generally replace typically white characters in their typically white roles played for decades in Western films. 

The Harder They Fall: a black woman – rather than a white cowboy – with a pistol. A psychological compensation?

The common denominator of these films is the total reversal of roles: blacks are the good, clever, compassionate and innocent guys, while whites are evil, dumb, cruel and guilty. The message is simple: whites are to be punished for the wrongs their ancestors perpetrated.

How do black viewers perceive such movies? How do those films affect their psyche? What emotions do they stir up in them?

Racial reconciliation is certainly not the target of such films. The plots are charged with hatred, vindictiveness, and entitlement. The world is divided into the good and the bad, with nothing in between. Just think of it: movies with such messages are usually made in the run-up to war or during hostilities. The enemy is relentlessly painted in derogatory, denigrating terms; the enemy has no legitimate claims whatsoever because the enemy is to be brought to his knees, annihilated, wiped off the surface of the earth. The unfavorable portrayal instigates the watchers to mercilessly eliminate the enemy, without having second thoughts. Are we being primed for war? Racial war?

Recall the posters circulated during World War One, showing German soldiers impaling children with their bayonets. Recall the Bloody Sunday massacre (Bromberger Blutsonntag) of 3-4 September 1939, a myth created by a series of German news reports about alleged Polish atrocities against the German minority in the town of Bydgoszcz /BID-gawshch/, which was to justify the later German retaliation. Already then such and similar things were also transferred on the cinematic screen. The 1941 film Heimkehr (Homecoming), with a Polish(!)-German cast by showing (heavy-handedly) the appalling atrocities committed by Poles against the German minority justified the German aggression of 1939 and the resultant harsh subjugation of the defeated – but guilty – nation. Recall all the post-war movies, which invariably portrayed Germans as evil and the allied forces as noble. The Dirty Dozen (1967) tried to convince the viewer that even supervillains released from prison and fighting against the German soldiers were morally better. Note that just as Poles willingly or reluctantly starred in the anti-Polish movie mentioned a few lines earlier, just as post-war Germans willingly or reluctantly starred in anti-German movies, so do white Americans – willingly or reluctantly – take part in motion pictures that drag through the mud their own race and venerate the race whose members are evidently hellbent on taking revenge.

Who allocates quite big money to produce movies that excite blacks to take revenge on whites, that keep reminding them of the wrongs that they suffered from whites? Who wants to play blacks off against whites? Why do white actors perform in such films, why do white viewers watch such movies and pay for them? Do they enjoy seeing their likes humiliated? Have they been psychologically blown inside out? Do they so much as notice what they endorse? What results can we expect after millions of blacks have seen hundreds motion pictures like the ones described above and have soaked in a vision of the world in which blacks “justifiably” execute whites?

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