Don Cherry’s Xenophobic Remarks on Ovechkin Should Not Be Tolerated

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Someone needs to call Don Cherry out on his childish xenophobic rants.  Regarded as a legendary ice hockey analyst and Canadian icon, Don Cherry is known for his often inflammatory and controversial remarks, but it seems that the general public recurrently lets his ethnocentric diatribes slide rather than holding him accountable.

For years, Cherry has been characterizing European players as “cowards” for not understanding the “Canadian way” of hockey.  When asked to comment on why he didn’t have any European players on his junior team, he said, “They call me a racist because I don’t want any Europeans coming to play for my Ice Dogs. If a kid comes over here and becomes a Canadian, I’ll put him on in a minute. But I will not parachute him in so that he can grab the money and run.”  Cherry took similar jabs at the dazzling Czech center, Jaromir Jagr, accusing him of being “everything that’s wrong with the NHL.  He gets hit, he goes down and stays there. Get up!”  In the same interview, Cherry compared Jagr to another hockey legend, Tim Horton, a player who, according to Cherry, would stay on the ice and finish his shift even if “blood would be coming down his face.”  Apparently, Cherry thinks only Canadians know how to play “tough.”

So what’s eating at Don Cherry these days?  See number 8 on the Washington Capitals, a remarkably talented Russian left-winger named Alexander Ovechkin. Actually, to say he is “remarkably talented” is an understatement.  The guy is a magician with the puck and arguably the most exciting player to watch in the NHL today.  Playing in his fourth season, Ovechkin not only led the league in goals, but he has also earned his place in the pantheon of hockey superstars.  Cherry’s beef?  Ovechkin’s goal celebrations are too “over-the-top.”  That’s right.  Ovechkin’s enthusiasm is too much for Cherry’s “Canadian” standards.

On CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada, Cherry complained that Ovechkin was acting like “those goofy soccer guys” by “jumping up and down” after scoring goals.  In pure dogmatic fashion, Cherry pointed at the screen and lectured Canadian kids not to act like Ovechkin.  Instead, he tells kids that they should behave the “Canadian way” and act like Joe Thornton, Joe Sakic, Brendan Shanahan, Jarome Iginla, and Bobby Orr (all Canadian-born players).  I didn’t realize the NHL had a “Canadians only” stamp on it.

What’s more disturbing is how ethnocentric and racist Cherry’s presentation is.  He shows clips of dark-skinned international soccer players jubilantly celebrating on the field, calls them “goofs” and says, “Look at this! This is what we want our hockey players to act with?”  Then he shows clips of Ovechkin’s celebrations and yammers, “Look at this!  Does he not remind you of a soccer player?”  For those who missed it, here is the clip:

Cherry receives plenty of criticism for his remarks, but the problem is not just his unapologetic ego, it’s also how the media and the NHL simply brush off his words as if they don’t generate negative and stereotypical perceptions of European players (or any player who is not from North America).  On the CBC Sports website, Cherry is showcased for his opinionated views, no matter how bigoted or how xenophobic, but the line needs to be drawn somewhere.  Cherry undeniably crossed it right here (and it isn’t the first time either, he once went as far as saying Russian players have “zero heart”).  Not holding him accountable is to ignore the weight of the issue altogether.

Around college campuses and street hockey courts, I hear hockey fans debating about Ovechkin’s exuberant celebrations.  I’ve been watching ice hockey since 1997 when the Philadelphia Flyers went to the Stanley Cup finals (and were swept by the Detroit Red Wings), and I’ve never heard this kind of debate before.  It’s no doubt that the “celebration controversy” was generated by Don Cherry’s commentary, but whether people realize it or not, it reinforces this new idea that there is a Canadian/North American “unwritten law” on how hockey players are supposed to celebrate goals.  When Ovechkin scored his 50th goal of the season, Cherry ripped on Ovechkin’s “hot stick” celebration and had these words for the young star, “Have a little class and do it right.”  In other words:  Be Canadian, otherwise you’re “threatening” the “Canadian way” of hockey and aren’t worthy of admiration or praise.  It’s sort of like the Bush administration on ice.

The fact of the matter is that many aspiring hockey players admire Alexander Ovechkin, not because of his nationality, but for his extraordinary display of talent and leadership.  What worries me is how people like Don Cherry want to make Ovechkin’s nationality an issue.  It seems that he wants us to perceive Ovechkin’s style of play as “foreign” and “un-Canadian,” while making us forget the fact that Canadian-born players such as Theoren Fluery, Tiger Williams, Wayne Gretzky, and countless others have also displayed plenty of dramatic celebrations in the past.

Dictating how NHL players should celebrate their goals isn’t so much about hockey than it is about fascism.  Calling all European players “cowards,” accusing them of having no “heart,” and then comparing them with “goofy” dark-skinned soccer players is not about hockey either.  It’s called racism.  If Don Cherry is not held accountable, then what’s to stop him and other sports commentators from making racially charged statements about athletes outside of North America?  What’s to stop the xenophobia and ethnocentrism from spilling out on the ice?  Everyone remembers what happened to that other Don (Imus), right?

It’s funny because amidst all this controversy, whether its Cherry yapping on about the “Canadian” way of hockey or our generation’s hockey fans engaging in superficial debates about goal celebrations, a simple truth lies beneath it all:  Alexander Ovechkin is one of the greatest players to have ever played the game.

Great athletes don’t always have to be North American.

~Broken Mystic~

Hollywood Vilifies Muslims and Arabs Yet Again

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I seriously just wanted to come home today and escape from all the politics and racism in  the world.  Just for two hours.  Is that too much to ask for?

As I drove home from college, I decided to stop by at the video store — a place I haven’t been to in forever — and I browsed around for something to rent or buy.  Unsurprisingly, I couldn’t find anything that appealed to me, so I went home.  Or, at least, I tried to go home.  I ended up getting stuck in massive rush hour traffic.  I was literally 5 minutes away from my house, but I couldn’t get there because there was only one road open!  So it ended up taking me about 45 minutes to get home, and I’m not exaggerating!

Anyway, I wound up seeing “Taken” tonight because I heard one of my favorite filmmakers, Luc Besson, produced and wrote it.  I haven’t seen a Luc Besson film in the longest time and that’s because he rarely directs movies now.  When I was in high school, I was obsessed with his filmmaking style.  I absolutely Loved his visuals, they were really in-your-face and profound.  I was obsessed with “The Fifth Element,” “La Femme Nikita,” “Leon, the Professional,” and “The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc.”  None of these films are in my top ten anymore, but at the time, I remember being so inspired by his work that I found myself emulating his style in my own short films.  I was recently showing some of my work to one of my best friends, and I was pointing certain shots out and saying, “Oh, that shot was inspired by Luc Besson!” or “That’s a Luc Besson jump cut!”

So yeah, why not check out what ol’ Luc Besson is up to these days, right?  “Taken” is pretty much about a retired U.S. government special forces operative (played by Liam Neeson) who tries to reestablish his bond with his 17-year-old daughter.  Then one day, she wants to go on a trip to Paris with her best friend, but her father doesn’t approve.  “It’s a dangerous world out there” he basically says.  Of course, she doesn’t listen to him and neither does his ex-wife.  “I’m going to be fine” the daughter says; “she’s 17-years-old, give her some space!” the ex-wife says.  Finally, he gives in and allows his daugther to travel overseas.  And surprise, surprise, she ends up getting kidnapped!  This is what happens, of course, when women don’t listen to men, right?  They get kidnapped by women-trafficking Albanians when they go to France.  It’s priceless when our fearless protagonist informs his ex-wife about their daughter; she has the “oh-my-god-I’m-such-a-stupid-woman-who-should-have-listened-to-my-ex-husband” face.

At this point in the film, Liam Neeson immediately transforms into an indestructible killing machine.  Cracking necks, twisting arms, chopping throats, breaking knees, knifing stomachs, shooting people in the head, parrying punches like Neo, and dodging bullets because evil foreign bad guys couldn’t possibly have the kind of shot accuracy that White people have.  Yeah, he pretty much does everything that Jason Bourne and James Bond does.  At first we think the villains are Russians.  Oh great, I thought, Russians.  Like we haven’t seen that before.  Then it turns out to be Albanians.  Oh wonderful, even better since most Albanians are Muslim.  Now this really ticked me off because my brother has a lot of Albanian friends and my cousin is getting married to an Albanian, insha’Allah.  And now I see them depicted as women-trafficking criminals?  There’s no mentioning of Islam, but there are plenty of close-ups on their “crescent moon and star” tattoos.  Hmm, I wonder what that means?

The same stereotypical images are cultivated again:  “White guy, who is also the protector-of-females, against dark-skinned people, who also happen to oppress and sell White women.”  It’s just the same old garbage recycled again and again.  How many times have we seen this dance before?  Why are we still funding movies like this?  And the worst part of the film is how it supports and glorifies the Guantanamo Bay torture tactics (pictured above).  The scene is disgustingly ethnocentric as our James-Bond-wannabe protagonist electrocutes the hell out of the Albanian character and talks about how it’s so much easier to torture in France since, as opposed to third-world countries, the power doesn’t go out.  After relentless torture, he gets his answers out of him.  Then he kills him.  Hey, torture works!  Maybe they should keep Guantanamo Bay open after all.  Thanks, Luc!

At the end of the movie, our invincible hero finds that his daughter gets purchased by an (drum roll) Arab!  Of course!  How can you make an action-packed suspense thriller without beating up some A-rabs!  Yes, a final showdown with Arabs.  Wonderful.  I think Luc Besson must have been stuck on an ending until co-writer Robert Mark Kamen came up with the ingenious idea of Arab thugs.  Luc probably got so excited, “Yeah, yeah!  Throw that in there!  People Love that s***!”  I Love the fact that the hardest guy to beat up is the dark-skinned, bearded Arab guy (who happens to have a hairstyle similar to mine, so I’m double-offended!).  It’s kind of like those video games where you reach the final boss of the whole game and he just takes forever to kill!  As they fist-fight with some insane choreography, the Arab — oh snap!! — whips out his curved Arabic blade.  Here we go, clash of civilizations right here!  But then Liam Neeson overpowers with his bare hands and forces the knife back onto him!  Dude, he stabbed the Arab with his own medieval weapon!  And of course Liam Neeson wins because, after all, he’s the main character and he’s Liam Neeson.  No one can kill Liam Nesson.   Unless you’re Darth Maul.  Or Batman.  Or some random Crusader in “Kingdom of Heaven.”  Ok, so he has died in other movies, but we know he wasn’t going to die here because Mr. Luc Besson needs to establish his point:  Good guys always prevail over Muslim and Arab scum, women should never divorce their secret government operative husbands even if they’re not around most of the time, and no one should travel overseas because the United States is the best and safest country in the whole wide world.  Not even Luc Besson, even though he’s French.

Oh I should also point out that the film likes to toss in some random Black guys for Liam Neeson to beat up.  They literally come out of nowhere!  It’s like you see him fighting Albanians, but then, whoa! Where’d that Black guy come from?!  Before you can think more about it, he gets thrown off a building or smashed through a window.  “Yes, we need some Black people in this movie,” Luc must have thought.  “Because we want Black people to watch this movie.”  Yeah, ok.  *sigh*  I just don’t get it.  I was so depressed and angry after watching this movie that I couldn’t help but feel like my efforts aren’t worth anything.  I felt like my short films, research projects, activist work, and critiques are insignificant because no matter what I do, Hollywood always has their monster-budget that will produce anything that rakes in the dough.  I felt like writing a letter to Luc Besson, but what good will that do, right?  He won’t care if he loses a fan.  Who am I?  No one.  Just some random Muslim guy whose opinion doesn’t matter.

I really just wanted to escape tonight.  I wanted to get things off my mind and just be entertained.  Once in a while, it’s nice to watch a film that isn’t so absorbing.  It’s just really discouraging how ethnocentric and racist a film can be.  All one needs to do is look at the imagery:  White man in a foreign country that is infected by other foreign people:  Albanians and Arabs.  Seriously, can I have a moment to smile?  I don’t think many people understand what it feels like to feel so uncomfortable in a movie theater when the film itself vilifies your people.  I don’t think many in the White non-Muslim community get that.

But what does Hollywood care about all of this?  Absolutely nothing.  They’re swimming in money.  They could care less about who they offend.  I’m so sick and tired of it all.

So utterly sick and tired of the unapologetic arrogance, ethnocentrism, racism, and Islamophobia…

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