Is the new Dracula movie Islamophobic?
Always comfortable with Hollywood’s distortion of history as long as it suits their propagandistic motives, progressives and their Islamic allies are the first to try to discredit films that don’t fit their narrative. You can be sure that any film they attack on grounds of supposed “historical inaccuracy” must be uncomfortably close to the truth.
Writing in the New Statesman (and reprinted in the New Republic), Turkish writer Elest Ali asks the burning cinematic question, “Is Dracula Untold an Islamophobic movie?” She’s referring to the new Universal picture starring Luke Evans and Dominic Cooper, a fanciful epic about the actual historical source of the outlandish Dracula legend we all know and love: Vlad Tepes III, 15th century Romanian hero and legend who dared resist invasion by the feared Ottoman empire.”
Elest Ali recently saw the film in Turkey with a friend who declared, “That film was very anti-Muslim.” “What else is new?” she replies – because we all know how openly bigoted Hollywood currently is toward Muslims, am I right? Ali decided to write about her issue with the movie’s “historical accuracy, and contemporary significance.” Non-spoiler alert: she denounces it as Islamophobic, the kneejerk, go-to accusation leveled at anything and anyone that doesn’t shine a flattering light on Islam or Muslims (see Affleck, Ben).
“Hollywood is no genius when it comes to accurate representation,” she begins, and I couldn’t agree more. From the “Bush lied, people died” message of Matt Damon’s The Green Zone, to the ahistorical moral equivalency of the Crusades epic Kingdom of Heaven, to the lies about Ronald Reagan and race in Lee Daniels’ The Butler, Hollywood rewrites history to ensure that its dramatic version becomes history in the popular imagination.
But Dracula Untold doesn’t suit Ali’s biases, so she casts the suspicion of bigotry over it. “In the current climate of global political tension and escalating Islamophobia,” she asks, without considering Islam’s responsibility for the former or providing any evidence of the latter, “what political statement does Dracula Untold make in pitting our vampire hero against the armies of Mehmet II?” Probably no political statement at all was intended by the filmmakers, but in any case it wasn’t the statement Ali wanted to see.
She suggests that in Vlad’s time (which she oddly labels “the Age of Enlightenment,” a period that was at least two centuries distant), Islam was an “appealing,” “fast-spreading faith” that was “glamorized” by “wealthy, cultivated Muslim travelers” in Europe, seducing large numbers of European converts. In fact, Islam has always spread not because its appeal is irresistible (except to barbarous killers like today’s ISIS sympathizers), but through the coercive power of the sword. She feels that the movie’s use of the word “Turk” to characterize the glamorous, cultivated, multicultural Ottomans is a subtle historical slur, “an attempt to tribalize the Islamic faith and associate it with foreign, potentially threatening powers, which were the common enemy.” Well, in the time and place in which the movie is set, the Islamic Ottoman empire was a threatening foreign power. For that matter, Turkey today is a threatening foreign power.
“I’ll fill you in on some more history,” Ali continues condescendingly before proceeding to whitewash the imperialist Sultan Mehmet II, while dismissing Vlad as “progenitor of the vampire myth.” She claims that Vlad’s father, the Prince of Wallachia (essentially present-day Romania), “willingly offered” the Sultan his two sons in return for helping him keep the throne against his enemies. This is laughably false. Vlad the elder was seized and his sons Vlad III and Radu the Handsome were taken as hostages to ensure the father’s fealty as a vassal of the Sultan. Young Vlad was a “guest” of the Sultan for six years; meanwhile, according to biographers Radu Florescu and Raymond McNally in Dracula: Prince of Many Faces, the beautiful young Radu initially did his best to resist Mehmet’s sexual advances before eventually succumbing and becoming his lover and a Janissary general. Ali doesn’t mention Mehmet’s bisexuality or Vlad’s fierce refusal to convert to Islam.
Ali continues in her imaginary take on history: When Vlad later “started wreaking carnage across the Balkans, Mehmet II dispatched Radu to quell his brother’s blood-thirst.” Wrong. Vlad was well aware that Mehmet fancied himself a conqueror on the scale of Caesar, Alexander, and Hannibal. Mehmet’s ambition was to bring all of Europe into his imperialistic fold, and Vlad was determined to make Wallachia the tip of the spear of Christian European resistance to Islam. He began by sending a very defiant message to the Sultan: he took Mehmet’s emissaries, who came demanding an overdue payment of the jizya, and nailed their turbans to their heads.
“Vlad’s insurrection was not dissimilar to the terror tactics of the so-called Islamic State,” Ali claims in her ongoing attempt to demonize him (as an aside, the Islamic State is not “so-called”; it is the name that those butchers have proudly given themselves). She is not at all incorrect about Vlad’s terror tactics – details of his widespread cruelty make your hair stand on end – but what she does not acknowledge is that Vlad learned such merciless tactics from the Ottomans while he was their hostage as a boy. He learned them well enough that when Mehmet himself marched upon Wallachia to seize it, he was so horrified to be greeted by a forest of 20,000 impaled Ottoman soldiers that he had to be talked out of turning tail back home.
Ali complains that Vlad waged a campaign of guerilla attacks against Mehmet’s larger army, including dressing his men in Ottoman uniforms and using his fluent Turkish to slip into the enemy’s camps. She says this as if unaware that the warlord prophet Muhammad himself taught that “war is deception.” Vlad would have made Muhammad proud.
Ultimately, his hated brother Radu was victorious and Vlad was offered sanctuary by his ally Matthew Corvinus and his clan. “But frankly,” writes Ali, “they’d also had enough of his grizzly antics, so they imprisoned him on charges of treason. True story,” she says, as if we should take her word for it. In fact, Vlad was falsely charged with treason for political reasons; Matthew later allied with Vlad to help him retrieve the Wallachian throne from a Turkish prince. True story.
“Vilification of Islam has reached such heights,” Elest Ali whines, without acknowledging the many obvious reasons why Islam itself might be to blame for that, “that even when the Sultan is cast opposite history’s bloodiest-psycho-tyrant, it’s Dracula who emerges as the tragic hero.” Vlad the Impaler – not the fictional Dracula – certainly earned his nickname, but he is by no means history’s “bloodiest-psycho-tyrant.” That honorific could go to any number of modern monsters such as, say, Ismail Enver Pasha, one of the principal architects of Turkey’s Armenian Genocide. But don’t hold your breath waiting for Hollywood to dramatize the truth about that.
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