Imperium’s Portrayal of White Supremacists

Imperium (2016) follows Nate Foster (Daniel Radcliffe) as he infiltrates a white supremacist group in order to prevent an act of domestic terrorism. I was originally intending to do a review of the film, which I thoroughly enjoyed. Radcliffe is amazing as Foster, and Toni Collette is masterful as his supervising officer, Angela Zamparo.

I decided to forgo a review and focus on the film’s portrayal of white supremacists. I tried to go to IMDB to discuss the film itself, its acting, its ending etc. However, most posters are still hung up on the film’s portrayal of white supremacists. In many ways, they come across as people offended or amused by how white supremacists are represented. Or they are simply annoyed that a film on white supremacy was made.

Imperium interested me when I first heard about the film, due to its exploration of white supremacy through the eyes of an undercover agent. I have previously discussed Imperium on this blog, since the backlash the film received was highly indicative of racism. IMDB was filled with one thread after another criticizing Hollywood for creating more “left wing propaganda” that was attacking white men and making them “feel guilty”.

White supremacists exist, and we shouldn’t be banned from showing them on screen because some insecure people might see it as a personal attack. Of course, these same people will argue that anyone who complains about negative portrayals of minorities in films are “politically correct” or “social justice warriors”. To them, it only matters if American society’s dominant group, straight white men, are depicted negatively. Imperium does not depict all white men in the film as bad guys. After all, Radcliffe’s character and his supervising officer are both white people, but the alt-right doesn’t want to see any white people portrayed negatively. Meanwhile, minorities must simply disregard every single negative portrayal of themselves since it is “just a movie”. These negative portrayals don’t make us “feel guilty” but they do bother us since we see them so often.

One of the alt-right’s most popular arguments is that Imperium should focus on more pressing issues, like Islamic extremism. Firstly, most terrorist acts in the US are committed by non-Muslim Americans. Even if Muslims were the most deadly terrorists in the US, is a film only allowed to show a fictionalized version of society’s most pressing issues? Would these same people criticize films about serial killers because most murders aren’t caused by serial killers?

Of course, there were also IMDB users who openly defend groups like the KKK and the Aryan Nation since there is nothing wrong with having white pride. Even groups that are openly racist reject the label of “racist”, which is why phrases like “I’m not racist but…” are so popular nowadays. I won’t spend anytime trying to enlighten such people.

I read American Swastika: Inside the White Power Movement’s Hidden Spaces of Hate for a university assignment and was interested to see if this film would reflect any of the case studies explored in the book.

One key theme of the book is that white supremacists are no longer just uneducated rednecks. It is comforting to think that white supremacists all live in the back woods, but that is not fact. American Swastika explored white supremacists of varying education levels, classes and careers. Off the top of my head, one of them was a manager at a technical support company. Many of the ones studied were middle-class or upper-middle class, just like the white supremacists we see in the film. Many of the white supremacists in American Swastika were typical suburban families in many ways, which only makes them more unsettling. The whole point of the book is that someone in your neighbourhood, or maybe even your neighbour, could be a white supremacist.

There was one post on IMDB where a user criticized the film for showing a white supremacist barbecue where one of the wives was serving cupcakes decorated with swastikas.

The cupcakes might seem over the top but American Swastika describes birthday parties where parents would decorate their children’s cakes with white supremacist symbols. Homes are a “safe space” where people can invite other like-minded individuals and unabashedly embrace their views. However, it is easier to see the cupcakes and dismiss it as the work of liberals instead of realizing that such gatherings happen every year in the US. This poster obviously didn’t do his own research either. He saw the cupcakes, and assumed that they were a ridiculous Hollywood creation. Since he calls out “liberals” for their supposed mistake, we can assume he is a conservative and probably someone who was watching the movie feeling like he was personally being attacked. Therefore, he was eager to pick apart the film’s premise and portrayal of white supremacists.

White supremacists aren’t such a fanatical “lunatic fringe” any longer. They realize the importance of blending in from day to day, whether it is in the suburbs, or in a diverse urban environment. Imperium portrays them accurately and if this accurate portrayal scares you, good. It’s supposed to.

 

Imperium- Racists Saying It’s Racist to Show Racists

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Daniel Radcliffe has undoubtedly been typecast as Harry Potter and he has worked hard to break out of the typecast since, with his roles in varied works like Equus, to his upcoming one in Imperium.

Imperium (2016) follows Radcliffe as a FBI agent who goes undercover to stop a group of white supremacists from carrying out a terrorist attack (yes, non-Muslims can be terrorists too).

The film got my attention and I went to IMDB eager to discuss Radcliffe’s latest attempt to escape his typecast. I have noticed that any film dealing with discrimination, such as holocaust or slavery films are always criticized for their depiction of racism. Far too many people see these films and get defensive, thinking that the films are accusing them of personally being racist. Or they think the film is trying to make them “feel guilty” and As a result, they argue that such films exacerbate racial tension and are the real cause of racism. Or they may even argue that racism would end if such films were no longer made. This ties into the colour-blind rhetoric that I have discussed previously, where people believe racism no longer impacts minorities. This leads to discussion of racism being viewed as unnecessary and an instigator for racial conflict. In terms of film, this mindset is very prevalent with Imperium.

I have stopped reading any online discussion since it is mostly one comment after another calling the film racist, because it explores racism or portrays white people in a bad light. These will be the same people to call you “politically correct” or a “social justice warrior” if you criticize negative portrayals of minorities in movies (which are far more common). This is the new order: arguing that negative portrayals of the dominant group (straight, white men) are part of an “agenda” while also arguing that negative portrayals of women and or minorities are meaningless. While whitewashing and one stereotypical minority character after another are cast aside as irrelevant, any negative depiction of white people makes the new colour-blind racist lash out.

“lisasmithandme” of IMDB explained it perfectly:

“Typical white racists who believe that only non-whites should be portrayed evilly. They do this type of complaining a lot in historical movies as well such as slavery and the holocaust. They think the media is ‘anti-white’ and is portraying them unfairly. Of course, when you complain about how blacks or other groups may be unfairly portrayed in the media, they start telling you to stop your “political correctness whining.” They are like reversed SJW except anything which isn’t positive about white males makes them go bonkers.

The other reason is that they secretly or subconsciously agree with white supremacy, so when you attempt to criticize it, they feel as if their ideals are being personally attacked and start to lash out and say incomprehensible things like: “I’m not a racist but this movie about white supremacist racists is…racist.”

On YouTube, you won’t see a bunch of Muslims invading the comment section of a video which speaks out against Islamic extremism. On the other hand, you will get a bunch of whites males attempting to justify white supremacy on any video which speaks out against white supremacy such as this movie. It doesn’t speak well for their character.

There’s really NOT much of a difference between a white supremacist and an Islamic extremist.
One will chop your head off for your RELIGION and believes you’re an infidel.
The other one would gas you for your RACE and believes you’re inferior. ”

Imperium

Aside from the colour-blind racists, we have the full on apologists who seem genuinely hurt that skinheads are being portrayed as racist. They are only people trying to “protect their country, their heritage” etc. I know some people may be tempted to say all of these comments are the work of trolls, but it is highly unlikely that every single racist comment online is simply someone seeking attention or looking to start an online fight. If anyone is bothered to look it up, instead of living in a cocoon of denial, there is evidence that racism is still alive and well. Online discussions are just one place where we can see this at work.

Like my post on Jesse Williams, I am making this one to get some thoughts off my chest and attack some of the straw man arguments that have cropped up in the wake of the film’s trailer release.

1) This film is stupid since most racists aren’t even skinheads.

This argument is the equivalent of saying films about serial killers are stupid since most murderers aren’t serial killers.

This film explores a pocket or subgroup of racists, it is not meant to argue that all racists are skinheads. This is elementary level reasoning but it seems to elude people once their defensiveness gets in the way. When people hate something (because it makes them feel defensive), they will look for any reason to tear it down.

2) It’s films like this that divide us. Typical liberal Hollywood etc.

Racism exists. Exploring it, studying it, depicting it in fiction should not divide us. What really divides us are the colour-blind racists, the apologists and the people who are openly sympathetic to white supremacy. Whether it is because they believe everything is equal anyway, or because they believe whites are now oppressed, far too many people have a hard time facing this topic. While racist practices by Hollywood executives, employers, judges, cops etc. are either ignored or supported daily, these apologists and colour-blind racists think they are now victimized because a film about racists is being released.

Radical Islamic terrorism is an issue now as well, and avoiding the topic in the news, books and movies won’t make it go away. People confront very few problems with the mentality that if it is ignored or never discussed, it will go away. Racism isn’t a bully, it is a pervasive issue that affects everything from entertainment to housing and police brutality. We can’t simply ignore it.

Bringing up the terrorism analogy also brings me to the next straw man argument.

3) There are more important issues now, like Muslims, and this film wants to focus on skinheads.

This film doesn’t say skinheads are the world’s only threat. One film normally focuses on one issue or one set of issues. Have you ever seen a film try to address every single world issue in 2 hours? The stupidity of this argument is simply baffling.

Anyone who is not living under a rock knows that radical Islamic terrorism is an issue. There are movies and books on that too. People only use this argument for specific topics they don’t want to see on film. You won’t see people criticizing romantic comedies saying that “with all the issues in the world, these filmmakers decide to focus on romance?”. You know what, let’s not make movies on any topic that isn’t trending in the news.

“Deep Breath”

Think I feel better now. Imperium looks very interesting and it will be my first time hearing Radcliffe perform with an American accent as well. With all the negative feedback it doesn’t look like it’ll be a box office hit, and it could possibly bomb. Either way, this is one that I am planning on seeing in theaters.