It feels like it’s been awhile since the last Hollywood film put racist tropes to use about a far away country. Blended, last year’s comedic flop staring Adam Sandler, saw the comedian take off to Africa with Drew Barrymore and their children. Lazy African stereotypes used for cheap laughs quickly ensued.
This time around, we get some action. Coming to theaters in September is the thriller No Escape. Based on the trailer, it is basically Owen Wilson playing an American with his family in an Asian country when a coup breaks out. There are lots of explosions and guns fired, as the actor best known for his comedic turns runs around trying to get his country away from danger. From the looks of it, the citizens of the country took up arms to overthrow their government and decided that Americans should be hunted down too.
The synopsis for the film provided by its production company reads:
An intense international thriller, NO ESCAPE centers on an American businessman (Wilson) as he and his family settle into their new home in Southeast Asia. Suddenly finding themselves in the middle of a violent political uprising, they must frantically look for a safe escape as rebels mercilessly attack the city.
What they do get right is that coups happen. Sometimes in Asia. Last May, the Thai military seized control of the government after a months-long political crisis saw numerous attempts by the ruling government to appease demands from demonstrators. It stepped in and took over, garnering international criticism. Efforts to find a way forward have yet to see the military junta completely step aside.
Despite these political challenges, the popular tourists destinations were not run over by angry mobs looking to seek vengeance against foreigners. It looked nothing like what is depicted in the No Escape trailer. The only Hollywood-related facet of the political crisis in Thailand was the use of the three-finger salute from the book and film The Hunger Games by anti-coup protesters.
Continuing to depict regions as caricature does far more harm than good. Sure, the film might be entertaining. It can’t be much worse than Blended, but that is an awfully low bar. As GlobalPost’s Patrick Winn pointed out, Americans are fearful of international travel. Online financial site The Street conducted a poll in 2014 where they asked Americans about their attitudes on traveling to other countries. Some 36 percent of the 1,004 people polled said they are afraid to fly internationally due to political turmoil elsewhere.
The original title for the film was “The Coup,” points out Winn. It did not stick because “the name tested poorly with audiences, who didn’t know what the heck a ‘coup’ was,” according to the Hollywood Reporter. A film that blends together the Syrian civil war, Thailand’s coup and the brutality of Islamic state only acts to increase fears of other countries and other people. It also paints the wrong picture for a a large and complex region of the world. Movies like No Escape entrench beliefs that influence the very way people understand the world around them.