The Iranian government has taken the
row over "300" to the United Nations. In a letter to the UN Educational,
Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), Iranian Ambassador Mohammad-Reza
Dehshiri described the film as an "insult" to Iranian culture.
He called on UNESCO to take up its
responsibility to promote coexistence rather than "hatred, war, and
In Tehran, "Time" magazine correspondent
Azadeh Moaveni says there is a general sense of outrage among Iranians. Iranians
living abroad are also disturbed.
"Sparta was a slave society, so the whole
idea of them being upholders of democracy is kind of ridiculous," one film
critic told RFE/RL.
'I Was Shocked'
"It's very important for me not to remain
silent, particularly about issues that are very sensitive in my view, and
national honor and prestige are among them," Mitra Farokhzad, an Iranian living
in the U.S. state of Arizona, told Radio Farda. "When I watched the movie's
trailer and some parts of it, first I didn't understand it because it was very
weird. But when I saw how they are portraying King Xerxes, I was shocked and
thought, why are they giving such a [negative] picture of a great
Some observers believe the Iranian
government is exploiting the anger over the Hollywood production to advance its
own political agenda. They say the authorities are provoking nationalistic
feelings to get Iranians to rally in support of the government at a time when
the Islamic republic is under international pressure over its nuclear program.
The U.S. film distributors, Warner
Brothers, deny that "300" is deliberately meant to disparage any culture. They
say it is a fictional work with the sole purpose of entertaining audiences. The
film is proving something of a hit among the public, taking in $70 million in
its first week.
History And Art
"300" tells the story of the battle of
Thermopylae in 480 BC, when 300 Greek Spartans were able for three days to block
the advance of a Persian army numbering in the hundreds of thousands.
Thermopylae is a narrow pass between the
mountains and the sea, where the sheer numbers of the Persians was to no
advantage. Repeatedly the Persians attacked, only to be thrown back with heavy
In the end, through an act of Greek
treachery, King Xerxes' army was able to surround the Spartans, who were all
killed, along with their leader, King Leonidas.
The film sticks closely to the account
given by ancient historians, including Herodotus, a Greek. It's the portrayal of
the two warring sides that has caused the antagonism. The Greeks are seen as
noble defenders of Western culture, while the invading Persians are seen as
decadent, irrational, and barbarous, with King Xerxes receiving a particularly
Victors Write The
But U.S.-based film critic Joe Queenan
questions the need for so much fuss over "300." He told RFE/RL that the film is
merely "ridiculous," with its comic-book style and likeness to a video
Queenan also notes that history is
written by the victor, in this case the Greeks, who have elevated the story to
the level of myth. He says the Persians have their own stories and, if they
don't like the Greek version of Thermopylae, they could have written their own
Queenan suggested that today's
Iranians should view the affair from a broader angle.
"If the Iranians made a film about
Genghiz Khan's invasion and destruction of Persia in the 13th century, then the
Mongols might turn around and complain about the way they were portrayed," he
Queenan also takes issue with the film's
underlying suggestion that Spartans had set out to protect proto-Western
democratic values from the Asian hordes.
"Sparta was a slave society, so the whole
idea of them being upholders of democracy is kind of ridiculous," Queenan says.
"The Athenians did not let women vote and had a lot of slaves, but still the
situation [concerning democracy] was not completely out of control there like in
Sparta, where they killed children. They killed deformed children. They killed
off a lot of girls. It was a total militaristic society, so there is a direct
line from the Spartans to the junkers and Prussian military, to the
The battle of Thermopylae gave heart to
the Greeks, who later that year won a decisive naval victory at Salamis. A
victory on land followed the next year, and Xerxes withdrew, ending the Persian
attempt to extend its empire into Europe.