Saturday, February 23, 2019

Hollywood's 300 vs. Iran's 69,000,000

by Reza B (writer), West Hollywood, March 15, 2007


A little background before I begin...

In 1935 the Shah (King) of Iran, Reza Pahlavi, decided that, in order to distance himself from the failings of the previous Qajar Dynasty, he would change the ancient name of Persia to Iran (a word derived from the word Aryan—or Ariya in Farsi, the official language of Iranians). From that moment on, Persians were no longer called Persians; rather they became the first Iranians. The Persian Empire—at least in name—was gone, and in its place rose Iran.

Flash forward seventy-two years to 2007 and we find ourselves in the midst of yet another struggle between the artistic and expressive freedom exercised by Hollywood, and the political and cultural realities of the 21st Century—we find ourselves in the movie theater watching the movie “300,” or you may have accidentally stumbled into “The Number 23,” in which case your experience was significantly different, and nothing about this article will make any sense to you.

Since the release of the movie “300” by Warner Brothers, I’ve been inundated by emails from friends and, in some cases, complete strangers, motivating me to action in protest against the film. Some of the emails plead with me to sign Internet petitions that will be forwarded to the studio executives at Warner Brothers, while others are links to, or actually, articles regarding the movie “300.”

Here are just a few examples (where appropriate names have been removed):

An email:

Please forward to your friends who are Persians.

Dear friends,

As some of you may have heard, recently Warner Bros. Pictures has made a movie about the famous battle of Thermopylae between Persians and Greeks in 480 B.C. called “300.” In this movie the Persians were pictured as some monstrous savages and animals. My friends have created a petition against this unethical action. Please join us to sign it and forward it to all people you know as well. You can find the petition online at:


Iran Outraged by Hollywood War Epic

Iranian Official Lashes Out at Hollywood Movie "300" for Insulting Persian Civilization

Iran Condemns Hollywood War Epic

And the variations go on and on. . .

I want to begin by reiterating something that should, by now, be sinking in, and that is that “300” is a movie based on, in a very loose way, a historical event. Furthermore, the movie itself is based on a graphic novel “300” by Frank Miller, the guy behind the movie and graphic novel “Sin City” (a fantastic movie by the way) and directed by Zach Snyder. Sure the depiction of Iranians as semi-androgynous barbarians may be construed as offensive, but from my perspective, the people who should truly be offended are Blacks and Arabs. (In the movie, the most, barbarous, ignorant, and arrogant characters are Black and “Arab” looking, complete with turbans, which incidentally, Persians during the 5th Century did not wear.) But I digress. . .

The movie depicts the battle of Thermopylae, in which, historians tell us, a small contingent of Spartan soldiers, with the help of other Greek allies (Thespians of the non-acting variety, Thebans, and Spartan slaves called Helots), held off an approximately 200,000 man Persian invasion force for two-days.

While the battle of Thermopylae did occur as part of a greater series of conflicts between the Persians and the Greeks, called the Persian Wars, it is unlikely that the battle played out as depicted in the movie “300.” But, Zach Snyder’s responsibility as a film maker—at least in making this particular film—is not to stay true to history and tell a factual story, rather his responsibility is to make a movie that’s entertaining enough to entice us out of our homes, and into plush theater seats. If, as some have pointed out, the movie has an incidental undertone that can be construed as a metaphor for current U.S.-Iranian relations, so be it, it’s still just a movie, and it’s definitely not the most offensive thing Iranian’s have to endure.

The truth is that since January 16, 1979, when Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi fled Iran, quite a bit has happened that should have elicited the outpouring of outrage and mass mobilization conjured up by this movie. For example the following should have made every Iranian, no matter where they reside, or which passport they hold, turn red:

• The formation of an Islamic Republic in a country comprised of people from many different faiths (religion and government should never be mixed anywhere—period);

• The taking of 52 American hostages in Tehran, the capital city of Iran (I’ve heard every justification, and there is none);

• The burial of the Shah of Iran in a mosque in Egypt rather than in Iran (whatever he did wrong, he did do some good, and that should never be ignored);

• The Fatwa against Salman Rushdie for his novel the Satanic Verses (again, outrage directed in the wrong direction—who cares what Salman writes, don’t like it, don’t read it, but for God's sake don't draw attention to it);

• Supporting clandestine operations aimed at civilian targets (some call this terrorism, and it is wrong no matter who’s doing the bank rolling/training/supplying; this means you too Washington, London, Paris, Moscow, Riyadh, Damascus, Tel Aviv, New Delhi, Islamabad, Tokyo [okay maybe not Tokyo, sumimasen);

• Electing a leader—Mr. Ahmadinejad—which has mistaken leadership with incitement;

• Allowing a faith, a culture, and a people to be defiled and abused for more than 28 years;

• Not, I repeat, not, cherishing and protecting the lofty and noble ideals of the Empire whose ridicule in a movie based on a graphic novel so offends the Iranian senses.

Iran is not what is depicted on the television in Tehran or in Los Angeles, and the misrepresentation of the truth of what Iran is should be offensive in any form—propaganda is propaganda. If Iranian’s really want the world to respect Iran/Persia it would behoove them (us) all to remember that we stand as evidence for or against the perceptions of the people we want to shelter from a movie. In the end, “300” is just a movie—a fiction—but Iran is a reality, and a reality, no matter how hard it may be to manage, always deserves the greater balance of our attention.

For more information about the battle, and those that fought it, check out these links:

About the Writer

Reza B is a writer for BrooWaha. For more information, visit the writer's website.
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8 comments on Hollywood's 300 vs. Iran's 69,000,000

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By Steven Lane on March 15, 2007 at 07:40 pm
I got Persian ring-tones for my ad, now THAT is targeting. Well written piece, I am going to see the movie tonight, and then I will reread this.
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By Noa on March 15, 2007 at 09:24 pm
Hey Reza! This is the best article I've read in a long time! I agree with 100% of everything you wrote! Haha, the first thing I was thinking while I was watching the movie was "why are all these Persians black"? Ha, whatever, I did find the movie extremely culturally irresponsible and I think it's going to land us in a lot of trouble. Furthermore, anyone who finds themselves in a theater full of people hooting and hollering for this movie will notice that it brings out the worst of American stereotypes. But, that said, whatever, it's Hollywood. And you're right, real Iran is what people need to concentrate on. The problem is that movies like this give some hypocritical Iranian officials something legitimate to gripe about.
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By pkafka on March 15, 2007 at 11:34 pm
Nice word choices, tone, style and information. Makes me want to see the movie and create my own opinion. Thanks. -pk
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By Steven Lane on March 16, 2007 at 04:33 am
F*** the politics, a great movie.
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By Tumerica on March 16, 2007 at 12:15 pm
Reza, enjoyed your article MUCH! Please write more about Iranian/Persian culture. We westerners have much need of enlightenment about the Middle East and about Iran in particular. Somehow in my public-school education, I don't think the word "Iran" was used a single time. My family subscribes to a gorgeous magazine called "Saudi Aramco World." I know, it's Saudi, not Iranian, but each issue beautifully highlights a different area of Middle-Eastern culture, including Iranian. (Subscriptions are free, by the way, just go to Thanks again, Reza--I'll keep an eye out for more of your articles.
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By C. Scott on March 16, 2007 at 06:25 pm
A Monumental Irony The outrage that 300’s FICTIONAL account of the battle of Thermopylae has generated is an indication of the social, cultural and political polarization that exists and has existed between east and west since the establishment of Israel and the Iranian Revolution. While it may be true that historical facts of the battle of Thermopylae are not well known to most Americans, it is equally true that very little is taught of western civilization in Muslim countries. Without being presumptuous it could easily be said that little is know by most of the population in these countries since it is well established that only a positive, self-righteous view is promoted of their country in the educational systems and certainly in the madrasa. It would be difficult for any educated person to view 300 and mistake it for historical fact. But what isn’t difficult to misunderstand is Iran’s leader’s declaring that the holocaust was an elaborate hoax and leaders of Muslim countries allowing the perpetuation of this distortion of documented fact. This rhetoric is just as offensive to Westerners and Jews as the cartoon of Mohamed was to Muslims, the difference is our responses to the controversy. The sad reality is that rather than address real hardships of civil rights, poverty, education, or representative government Muslims would rather look to far distant causes of these issues instead of seeing them as home grown problems. 300 is just another convenient distraction that the leadership of these countries will exploit to distract their population. The Iranian’s in western countries should be able to recognize how miss-guided and distracting the issue of 300 is to more important issues. And if they can’t accept that they now live in a free society, which one of the main freedoms is free speech, then they should return to the oppressive regimes where their simplistic views and rhetoric are heralded as profound.
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By Hooman Arshon on March 16, 2007 at 08:50 pm
Reza, I enjoyed reading your article and strongly agree with a lot of your points. I saw the movie and I must admit it was entertaining. With that said, I also did expect the simplistic, dumbed down Hollywood version of "the Brave Spartans" versus the "Evil cowardly Persians." Should I, or any other Iranian living abroad, be surprized? Hardly. To the average gullible American audience, this is a feel good movie! Nothing in this world happens in a vacuum and I don't think a minor detail such as historcal and factual inaccuracy of this movie or its extreme bias would spoil the feel good factor of watching some "Axis of Evil", "unranuim-enriching" Persian getting their ass kicked. Granted this is a story about a war that happened over two millenia ago but that does not really matter, does it? Hollywood exacutives are no dummies! They know what their audiences like to see and they are non too shy to provide it to them on a silver platter. At the end of the day, unfortunately, the ignorant masses will remain ignorant. The tickets will be sold and the shareholders will be happy.
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By V on March 23, 2007 at 08:54 pm
Thank you very much for such an informative, interesting and current article. I didn't intend to see that movie, but now I will. And, like Steve, will then re-read this article.
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