Cinema Rewriting History

Spoiler Warning: If you want to eventually see Avatar or Inglorious Bastards, I reveal plot details here.

There has been quite a bit written about James Cameron’s Avatar. Here are two examples:
Annalee Newitz’s “When Will White People Stop Making Movies Like Avatar?”
Ariel Boone’s “Avatar: Count the ‘isms'”

I get it. I understand all the racial, imperialistic, and gender issues with Avatar. I knew all that stuff going in. And, you know what? It didn’t bother me that much. I was actually able to enjoy the movie, despite the “White guilt” sign that practically flashed on the screen every other scene.

What I find interesting, though, is Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Bastards. In it, there’s quite a serious rewrite of history, in which a Jewish woman, whose family is killed by the Nazis, is able to destroy the leadership of the Nazi party, and a rebel American group gets to carve the Swastika symbol on the foreheads of other Nazis so that they can’t later pretend they had nothing to do with the Holocaust. A nice, quaint rewrite of history, just as James Cameron’s Avatar says “Oh, wouldn’t it have been nice if one of the White settlers in the Americas could have led the Native Americans in revolt against the other evil White people, and the noble savages could keep the land pure and untainted by technology and corporate interests?” Tarantino’s Inglorious Bastards says “Oh, wouldn’t it have been nice if we got all those Nazis, and if the Jews themselves could have given the Nazis a taste of their own medicine?” The cinema itself becomes a kind of gas chamber for Nazi leadership.

No one in the theater I saw it in was horrified. People were cheering. Everyone seemed to enjoy the film. I enjoyed the film. But I wonder… if Quentin Tarantino had decided to make a movie in which Black slaves in the American South in the 18th or 19th century violently revolted against their masters and lynched those White slave owners, would (predominantly White) American audiences still cheer? After all, those White people aren’t you, right? For many White people in America, those slave owners aren’t even their ancestors. And for those White Americans who did have slave owning ancestors, do you think about how the descendants of Nazis feel watching Inglorious Bastards?

Maybe I’m guessing wrong. Maybe American audiences would give it the same kind of reception. Maybe it would, as Avatar seems to do, soothe some White liberal guilt. Maybe James Cameron’s next movie will feature John Brown leading a successful slave revolt at Harpers Ferry. I just haven’t seen anyone discuss this angle when talking about Inglorious Bastards. For those of you who’ve seen both films, what did you think? Is there a connection between the two? How did you think about them sociologically?

P.S. I don’t really dig White liberal guilt. I am a non-White liberal (very liberal when it comes to race, gender, politics, etc.). If White filmmakers want to make a real change, a great start would be making more films that feature Asian American, Latino, and Native American (both female and male) protagonists (no reason to have foreign-sounding accents, either). The White straight male protagonist with a supporting cast of women, geeky men, non-Whites, and possibly a gay person approach has been done… and overdone, way overdone in Hollywood movies.

1 comment

  1. I enjoyed Inglourious Basterds quite a bit. Not that my ancestors were Nazis, but I’m Austrian, so my grandfather was a soldier in the war. Now, I know some Germans and Austrians were bothered, but from their comments, I doubt they’ve actually seen the movie.

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