Iranian exiles see film '300' as an attempt to vilify Persians

by Vik Jolly

The Orange County Register (MCT)

22 March 2007


The Hollywood blockbuster “300” has fueled conversations in the Iranian exile community across the United States, even spawning demands for an apology from the film’s distributor.

Others have heated up Iranian Web sites’ traffic by posting opinions both pro and con. Still others say they don’t know what the fuss is all about.

cover art


Director: Zack Snyder
Cast: Gerard Butler, Lena Headey, Michael Fassbender, Vincent Regan, Dominic West

(Warner Bros.)
US theatrical: 9 Mar 2007
UK theatrical: 23 Mar 2007

“300,” the latest film to be based on one of Frank Miller’s graphic novels, is a version of the Battle of Thermopylae in 480 B.C., when some 300 Spartans held off a massive army from the Persian Empire and won a moral victory.

Tehran-born Ali Farahani, who lives in Irvine, Calif., says the movie sets the stage for what he sees coming: a U.S. showdown with Iran.

“Personally, they’re getting the public ready for what’s going to be happening soon. Every 10 years this country sets up a boogeyman,” said Farahani, 41, a sales rep for a paper-packaging distribution company. “This, likewise, I see as a buildup of public opinion against Iranians.”

Some in the community say they understand the reaction but choose to ignore the film.

“I am not surprised with everything that’s happening about Iran these days and the way people don’t want the home country they come from to be portrayed in a bad light,” said Hamid Nabavi, 56, a Newport Beach, Calif., telecom consultant who does not plan to see the film. “But at the same time it’s much ado about nothing.”

Iran’s government denounced the film last week. And the movie, which raked in more than $100 million on its first two weekends, continues to create chatter.

“It offends certainly the sensibilities of Iranians at large,” said Touraj Daryaee, chairman of the history department at Cal State Fullerton. He draws parallels between the film and the war on terror and challenges historical underpinnings of “300” in an eight-page review.

“This issue of 300 Spartans holding up millions of Persians is really a myth that’s constructed in antiquity and is really misused in the modern age and certainly with the issues between the West and East,” he said.

Daryaee sees the movie as an extension of the war on terror in which he says Hollywood becomes an ally. The film depicts the Persians as monsters while the men of Sparta are sculpted specimens, who “have been going to an L.A. gym all their lives and who are fighting for freedom, their way of life and democracy.”

“Doesn’t it resonate with the conflicts we’re having today, the fight against terror?” Daryaee asks.

Hollywood creates villains according to the times we live in. In a 1962 film about the Battle of Thermopylae - during the Cold War - the enemies looked like Russians, Daryaee said.

“You have a projection of your current affairs and it plays into contemporary films,” he said.

Javad Mostafavi, of Aliso Viejo, Calif., the editor and founder of Payam-e-Ashena, a Persian community journal, says the chatter is only helping the film at the box office.

“As much as this movie is so stupid, making noise about it gets people more interested to go and watch,” he said from his journal’s office. “It should be ignored. Many times things that are shown or printed are incorrect. Now everybody is curious about it.”

Warner Bros. had this to say about the controversy in a statement last Wednesday:

“The film `300’ is a work of fiction inspired by the Frank Miller graphic novel and loosely based on an historical event. The studio developed this film purely as a fictional work with the sole purpose of entertaining audiences; it is not meant to disparage an ethnicity or culture or make any sort of political statement.”

The statement does not go far enough, says Hamed Vahdati Nasab, a post-doctoral student at the University of Alberta, Canada. Thousands of people have signed his online petition demanding an apology from Warner Bros. Pictures, he said.

“I don’t call it fiction. It is based on historical event and (the statement) doesn’t say `We apologize,’” he said of the Warner Bros. statement.

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