Assignment 3 – Portrayal of Arabs in Film

Analysis of Persians in the movie 300 and the ways they are made to look subhuman or otherwise like villains

Dehumanization – 10 counts of notable traits and appearances which lack human values and even recognition. [Represented by Dark Blue on the graph]

Villainy – 6 counts of notable evil although they are the villains throughout the movie [Represented by Dark Green on the Graph]

Eroticization or objectification of women – 4 counts  The Persians treated all women as inferiors however they were not shown but a few times throughout the film [Represented by Purple on the graph]

Bestial (inhuman or resembling a beast) – 4 counts.  Some very grotesque creatures were employed by the Persians in and out of combat. [Represented by Red on the graph]

Swarthy (dark complexion) or otherwise unattractive and grotesque appearance – 5 counts [Represented by Mint Green on the graph]

Ignorance – 4 counts [Represented by Lime Green on the graph]

Amoral actions or practices -5 counts [Represented by Light Blue on the graph]


Slurs towards the Persian Arabs include: Coy, soulless, beasts, barbarians, slaves

Poster for 300 featuring one of the inhuman monsters employed by the Persians.

The movie 300 is about an elite fighting force of Spartans who vow to give their lives defending their homeland from an overwhelmingly massive force of Persian invaders.  In a way the movie (which was made in 2007) reflects modern day schema about arabs in a post 9-11 world.  But in another respect, the film is actually based on an historic battle in which a Greek King battled against overwhelming odds to delay a Persian invasion.

The Persians in the movie 300 were lead by the self proclaimed god-king Xerxes who vowed victory at any cost against the isolationist and democratic Spartans.  Xerxes had a bald head and a very dark complexion in the film which is not consistent to artists depictions of the king which show him having lighter skin and well groomed hair.  Xerxes, in the film, had no regard for the lives of his soldiers, which are slaves for the most part and charge foolishly into battle over and over again despite ineffective battle strategies which leave thousands dead at the hands of the highly-skilled Spartan troops.  The Persians themselves are either very dark or completely covered up.  They are portrayed as ignorant and extremely fearful their king.  The Persians do not value freedom or honor, and they serve their empire out of fear instead of duty.  The Persians also do not respect their women, they are surprised when they find out that Spartan women are permitted to voice their opinions.  The only Persian women that are shown in the film are covered in body piercings, partially naked, and performing erotic acts for the pleasure of the Persian nobles.

In many ways the perceptions of Persians in the movie reflect Americans views about Arabs in todays world.  They are seen as poor fighters with little honor which is comparable to attitudes about the war in Iraq.  Even with a numbers advantage, arabs cannot fight as efficiently as their enemies whether they be ancient Spartans or current day US ground forces.  It’s estimated that somewhere between 100 thousand and one million Iraqis have died since the 2003 occupation began, while US casualties number around 4,000.  Despite the mass casualties faced by Iraqi forces and insurgents they are seen as villains even though many are just trying to defend their homeland.  Terrorist organizations often see their soldiers as disposable, much like the generals of Xerxes’ army who pledge victory no matter the cost of lives on either side.  The Persians did not value their women and objectified them for reasons of sex and entertainment.  Todays arabs(in some, more religious muslim countries), in contrast, try to protect their women and keep them covered up, this does however severely limit their rights and freedoms.

Desensitization Theory – This movie is an example of today’s desensitization towards violence against people of Arab ancestry.  The film is filled with violent and gruesome depictions of decapitation and murder against arabs, none of which would seem inappropriate by the films target audience

My counterpoint to the demagnification of arabs in the film is the fact that these battles actually took place.  King Leonidas is a hero of Greek history as he did in fact give his life holding off an overwhelming force of Persians and saving thousands of Greeks ives.  While the film portrays the Persians as dark-skinned, heartless invaders, the real-life Persians were just following the military orders of their king in an attempt to expand their empire.  The Persians gave the Spartans a chance to surrender and live under Persian rule, but they valued their democratic system and their king decided to make a final stand to give time for the city of Athens to be evacuated.  The strategy that the Persians employed of buying off a Spartan traitor with promises of women and gold is much like modern-day strategies or bribery in return for strategical information.   One big difference between the Spartan-Persian war and todays war on terror is that the Persians, both historically and in the film lead a campaign to invade the Spartan’s land.  In todays war on terror, Western forces invaded the foreign lands or Afghanistan and later Iraq for the reason of hunting down international terrorists and finding illegal weapons, neither of which have ever been found.  The Persians were very up-front and honest about their motivation for invasion, they wanted to expand their empire.  They also wanted to make slaves of the Spartan’s women and children, an evil cause, but such thing happened constantly throughout the ancient world.

In both struggles, the lighter skinned Westerners were seen as the good guys and fighters for justice, while the arabs were seen as offenders with bad intentions who treat their followers and their women poorly.  While some arab groups (such as the Taliban) are guilty of such atrocities, there are many modern and respectable arab nations and governments such as the Saudi Arabia and their Monarchy.  The Monarchy in Saudi Arabia has ruled the land for the past 80 years and have made it a relatively industrious and safe place.  It is also home of the two most holy sites of the Islamic religion.  They are sworn enemies of Al Qaeda and Islamic extremism but do condone Shari’a law and the practices of having multiple wives.  This is however not a matter of degradation of women but a religious tradition deemed acceptable by the Prophet Mohammed.

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