It is only 2½ months ago that the last American soldier left Afghanistan after an exhausting war for two decades. Still, Universal Pictures might sense an opportunity to take advantage of the global attention that the U.S. military withdrawal has garnered, and Universal Pictures has reportedly already launched a cinematic retelling of American heroism during the evacuation.
Hollywood troops routinely iron out U.S. crimes and focus on U.S. soldiers serving as saviors in the Middle East.
Deadline sees it as “a ripped from the headlines, fact-based drama about the evacuation of Afghanistan.” But the same headlines report that there is an ongoing humanitarian crisis in the country. Anticipating real tragedies for entertainment is morally reprehensible, especially when, as in this case, the wounds are still fresh. (Universal Pictures is a division of Comcast, the parent company of NBCUniversal and NBC News.)
It would have been unmanageable to create a film depicting the horrors of 9/11 in the immediate aftermath of the attacks. It took five years for Oliver Stone to create the “World Trade Center,” depicting the heroism of New York’s first responders. “Four Lions”, a satirical tale of terrorists targeting London that was released in 2010 – five years after London’s own 7/7 – still received criticism from the family of the victims of the terrorist attacks.
This new venture is a particularly painful case of historic whiplash given the time it usually takes for a film to go green, and for big movie actors like Channing Tatum and Tom Hardy, who have both been cast, to be lined up. From my experience working with film production as a producer and director, I do just enough research to develop a well-structured film proposal for a topic as nuanced as this takes months, let alone get a story chosen by the screenwriter, create a budget and negotiate with actors and their agents for the roles.
The speed of the project’s studio-backing suggests that these nuances have been missed. Especially since the film in true Hollywood fashion – written by George Nolfi, a co-author of “The Bourne Ultimatum” – is to make American military troops the heroes of the film. The story plans to follow three former U.S. special forces returning to Kabul amid the chaos during the retreat to rescue stranded allies and Afghan families.
But centering the story on U.S. forces, like much of the media coverage at the time, undermines the Afghan experience. Moreover, if anyone was a hero in this story, it was certainly not the retreating U.S. military. Afghanistan has been rocked by regular bombings targeting civilians (as recently as Monday), oppression of women and a return to sectarianism. So it is easy to understand why so many Afghans desperately tried to flee the country in the last days of the US withdrawal; some Afghans even clung to U.S. military planes as they took off from Kabul, leaving some to fall to during their deaths. It was this ill-prepared and ruthless withdrawal of 2,500 American soldiers that makes Afghans vulnerable today.
During World War II, Hollywood served as an official propaganda arm for the U.S. military, as the U.S. Office of War Information developed a Bureau of Motion Pictures to review film scripts for anything critical of the United States. Although a less formal relationship exists today, the legacy of historical audits of U.S. military operations continues.
Some of the films about the US invasion of Iraq have been particularly violent. For many, the horrors perpetrated by US forces in Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison are the epitome of the crimes of the Iraq war. The images of Iraqis forced naked into human pyramids simulating sex while American soldiers smile are forever engraved in our memories. But instead of focusing on the struggles of the innocent Iraqi torture victims, Rebel One Pictures created “Boys of Abu Ghraib”. The film tells the fictional story of an American soldier who tries to help an Iraqi prisoner, only to be betrayed later, when the prisoner turns out to be the terrorist he refused to be, which tastelessly questions whether the Iraqis deserved such a treatment.
Yes, Hollywood troops routinely go over American crimes, focusing on American soldiers acting as saviors in the Middle East, from Paul Greengrass’ “Green Zone” to Kathryn Bigelow’s Oscar-winning “The Hurt Locker.” The most toxic and clearly racist is Clint Eastwood’s “American Sniper”. The story presents the real Navy SEAL Chris Kyle as a hero who protects the world from dangerous Iraqis. In fact, Kyle described killing 255 Iraqis as “fun”; the cinematic retelling traced with an increase in anti-Muslim hatred in the United States
The choice to focus on the American soldiers in the as yet unnamed Afghanistan withdrawal film is in line with the sidelines of Muslims in favor of white protagonists. Another fresh example is the recently leaked script for “They Are Us”, a retelling of the massacre in Christchurch in 2019 that killed 51 Muslims in New Zealand. Told through Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s lens and celebration of her reaction to the attack, the leaked script suggested that a Muslim-focused narrative was not compelling enough of a plot. In light of backlash from New Zealand’s Muslim community, pre-production for the film has been suspended.
Although we have not yet seen the manuscript for Universal’s Afghanistan withdrawal picture, we know it will come while the Afghans continue to suffer today. If this insensitive timed show is to continue, it should at least have a story that accurately depicts their adversity rather than reshape America as the hero.