What can we learn from the Turkish James Bond?

In January 2003 Turkey got their own James Bond, Polat Amedar, a covert agent who targets the enemies of the state: the mafia, the Gulen movement, the Americans and the Israelis. The muslims have turned tables on Hollywood and released their own franchise in which a secret agent hunts down westerners  and holds us accountable for our wrong-doings.

What started as a weekly Tv-series about the mafia on Turkey’s ShowTV has exploded into a massive movie franchise with big budget productions. The first feature movie was set in Iraq, and re-enacted an incident known in Turkey as The Hood-Event. On July 4, 2003, U.S. forces surrounded a Turkish unit in northern Iraq and marched the 11 members out with hoods over their heads. They were later deported, and the incident became a source of national humiliation for the Turks.

skjermbilde-fra-2017-02-07-02-58-45In the movie, the Turkish agent Amedar tracks down the man behind the incident,  the psychopathic CIA agent Sam Marshal, played by Billy Zane. Marshal is involved in a series of other attrocities, and even conspires with his Jewish doctor friend to harvest the organs of Iraqi prisoners. There is also a scene in which an American soldier murders a young boy at a wedding, resulting in a shoot out, which kills a number of the wedding party.

The film was a smash hit in Turkey, but drew mixed criticism. Some said the movie was simply badly made. The Nationalist newspapers, however, suggested that Americans were involved in the production of the film because it provided the public with a false sense of revenge for the Hood Event.

The film did not recieve a proper release in the US, only in Europe. Variety even so reviewed the film as an average b-movie in the tradition of Rambo :”Action scenes are staged OK but without much flair, in a semi-realistic way.” they commented:  “[The] score is ethnic-melancholy, not blazingly symphonic. Effects are serviceable, and production and costume design flavorsome.” In Europe, the movie was embraced by the vast immigrant community and ended up in 6’th place in the box office charts.

But, it was the next installment of the movie franchise which would prove the most controversial, Valley of the Wolves: Palestine (2011). The film begins by dramatizing the Israeli attack on the Mavi Marmara, a Turkish ship in the aid convoy to Gaza in May 2010. Nine Turks were killed during the incident, and super-agent Amedar sets out to hunt down the Israeli general responsible. With his team of commandoes he travels to the West Bank, and launches an explosive campaign against the Israeli military in order to kill the ruthless general Moşe Ben Eliyezer.

The fact that the film was set to be released on International Holocaust Remembrance Day in Germany caused a national outcry. Several representatives from Germany’s Christian Democrats, Social Democrats and Green Party condemned the film as anti-semitic and said the choice of release date was problematic. The makers of the film claimed they were unaware of this particular commemoration. Some politicians even wanted to ban the franchise because it increased tensions with the immigrant community. There might be some truth to that.

One cannot help but wonder, however, whether the west is being played at its own game. We only get what’s coming to us. More worrisome, perhaps,  is the way the series handles domestic Turkish politics. A new installment, Valley of the Wolves: Coup, will pitch the superagent against the kurds and the Gulen-movement, leaving no doubt about the extent to which the films are being used as propaganda for Erdogan’s present authoritarian regime. Erdogan’s wife even attended one of the premieres, and later praised the movie in the media.

Some academics draw parallels to Soviet or Nazi cinema. However, the cinema which we should use as a comparison is perhaps our own. The political subtext of many western action movies are obvious on the other side of the cultural divide. The next time you wonder why James Bond or Rambo aren’t universally loved, have a look in this mirror that the Turks have created.

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