Saturday, 21 July 2018

Imperium (4 Stars)

Despite its critical acclaim this film was a box office flop. Most cinemas didn't even want to show it. Why not? It's about racism in the USA, which is an unpleasant subject matter, but other films about racism have been more successful. I think that the reason for this film's failure is the way that racism is presented. It doesn't show racism the way people want to see it.

Daniel Radcliffe plays Nate Foster, a quiet young FBI agent who's assigned the task of going undercover in white power organisations. He's picked for the task over all his older more experienced colleagues because he can understand the people he deals with. Nate doesn't just rush in with guns blazing shouting "Racism is wrong". He sits down with racists and tries to understand why they think the way they do. That's also the intention of the film. It wants to help the viewer to understand why racists are racists. That's too much like hard work for the typical anti-racist. It's easier to go to an anti-racism demonstration and throw bricks at racists.

"Imperium" shows that not all racists are the same. Different groups are presented. There are the skinhead thugs that we associate with racism. They're loud-mouthed and brash and get the most publicity. There are also Christian groups that use their religion as justification for being anti-black and anti-Jewish. These groups don't necessarily get on with one another. Then there are the polite intellectuals who sit at home listening to classical music and invite their friends round to discuss the inferiority of other races. The film's message is clear: it's this last group which is the most dangerous. You might have a next-door neighbour who fits into this category, but you would never suspect him of being racist because he's such a nice person. These people aren't seen on the streets demonstrating, not even in peaceful protests. Violent anti-racist or anti-fascist demonstrations just persuade them that they're correct.

One small digression: today the terms fascism and racism are often used as synonyms. There's a lot of overlap, because fascists are usually racists, but not all racists are fascists. Racism is just what the word says: the prejudice against other races, usually identified by skin colours. Fascism is based on three principles: nationalism, dictatorship and government control. Apart from that, the word "fascist" is often used as an insult by people who don't even know what it means.

Understanding racism doesn't mean agreeing with racism. I would go as far as to say that if you oppose something that you don't understand you're an extremist yourself, no better than the ones you're opposing.

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