In his most recent piece, columnist Joshua Hummell discusses the problems he sees with Hollywood’s portrayal of terrorism. Hummell’s criticism primarily revolves around the race and religions of characters in films such as “The 15:17 to Paris.” Riddled with non sequiturs, Hummell’s column speaks more to his personal issues with movies about military conflicts than it does to any pressing issues in the film industry as a whole.
In his opening remarks, Hummell pays deference to the gallantry of American heroes “in the face of real terrorist threats,” but then curiously goes on to understate the same threats. Islamic terrorism is the specific one in this case, a phenomenon largely hyperbolized by Hollywood in Hummell’s view. A glaring problem here is that he analyzes Hollywood only through the lens of several different films that happen to have mainly white protagonists, then criticizes the entire industry for lacking diversity.
Why are the main characters in these movies mostly heterosexual white males? This is not “emblematic of real life” according to Hummell, but it is, actually, insofar as these particular stories. Does this mean that all heroes have those characteristics? Most certainly not. In “The 15:17 to Paris,” in fact, one of the three main characters, Anthony Sadler, is African American. But this does not even matter, nor does the fact that the other two are white. All that matters is that all three of them are heroes who bravely put their lives at risk to ensure the safety of hundreds of others. Clint Eastwood’s portrayal of this event speaks not to the biases of the filmmakers, but to the reality of what happened.
Hummell’s obsession over race does not end there, as he laments the nonexistence of films about events such as the 2015 church shooting in Charleston. A film could “easily be made” about such an event, according to Hummell, and surely it could, but what purpose would that serve, exactly? Hummell also confusingly insists that a film should be made about the 2016 Orlando shooting, which was perpetrated by an Islamic extremist, but then goes on to say how Muslims are unfairly represented.
In a study Hummell introduces that reviews the time between 2008 and 2016, there were 201 terrorist attacks, in which “Islamic extremists only made up 63 cases.” There were 3.45 million Muslims living in the United States in 2017. That means over 31 percent of terrorist attacks in the United States come from individuals within a group that represents about 1 percent of the overall population.
We should be careful not to take movies too seriously. The theater is a place for entertainment and the demand from audiences for such inevitably leads to dramatization and hyperbole. Moreover, the theater should not be the first place where an individual solely interested in the truth should go. Despite what Hummell’s analysis would lead one to believe, there are plenty of films that depict heroes of all colors and creeds. If the goal is to gauge whether any of these films have value, we should do so on a case-by-case basis, rather than declaring that the entire industry is corrupt because a few films fail to fit a certain political narrative.
Brian Deinstadt is a senior double-majoring in political science and English.