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…