Wednesday, January 10, 2007

indiana jones and the temple of orientalism

As I was thinking about the Indiana Jones films and how they are set among people of "the East" (both Near and Far) and prominently feature Nazis (in the first and third films) I started to wonder if I could find commentaries on the films which wrestled with issues of orientalism and racism.

So far I've only found two:
Steven Spielberg's Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom as Virtual Reality: The Orientalist and Colonial Legacies of Gunga Din by Dr. Kaizaad Navroze Kotwal is more of an academic piece which focuses on Temple of Doom and places it in a larger context of post-colonial studies.

Reflections: Director's cut by Hani Shukrallah, on the other hand, was published in Al-Ahram Weekly and isn't really about Raiders of the Lost Ark (which Shukrallah describes as "possibly one of the most blatantly racist films ever produced by Hollywood") as much as it uses a scene from the film (the one where Indiana Jones shoots the swordsman in the Egyptian souq) as a vehicle to talk about the condition of the Arab world in modern times.

When you really break it down, it is pretty easy to criticize certain racial/cultural aspects of the various films. For example Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom was even banned in India on the grounds of "racist portrayal of Indians and overt imperialistic tendencies". I'm starting to realize that if it weren't for the Nazis (or the murderous Thugees in the second film) which make him seem heroic by comparison, it would be harder to distinguish Indiana Jones from an ordinary grave robber. On the other hand, the portrayal of the Thugees and the other "Orientals" throughout the series is itself problematic.


Hood said...

think about what Indy would always say: "I'm going to put this into a Museum where it rightfully belongs, safe from the likes of you!" or something like that

the epitome of orientalism and anthropology. Only a western museum can 'truly' value those things.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the great link! I already just read through a third of the paper, and will finish up sometime later. Also glad to discover the Film's got some good film critique, which I'm always into.

But yes, of course, the Indiana Jones films almost deserve to be called classics in the Orientalist genre of cinema.