In my review of “Act of Valor” last week, I included a criticism of the movie from a Jewish-American writer, Debbie Schlussel, who labeled it “an anti-Semitic tripe wrapped in the American flag with a Navy SEAL cherry on top” because, in her view, “the script makes a Jewish billionaire the bad guy and the smuggler and financier behind the major terrorism plot.”
No one from Schlussel’s Jewish community posted any disagreement with her outrage at the film. While Filipinos in the US may have the same number of people in the US as members of the Jewish faith — about four million, the response to my criticism of “Act of Valor” has been markedly different.
Last week’s article drew 106 comments in one week with most criticizing my review as “overreaction” even though, unlike the one Jewish and the one Chechnyan character in the film, there were 16 men and women who were identified as Filipino terrorists. “C’mon, it’s just a movie” was a common reaction.
One reader who identified himself as “Joe Kano” wrote that he found it “incredibly racist” that I only objected to the portrayal of Filipinos but that I did not seem to care that the mastermind in the film (who spoke Tagalog) was from Chechnya. The reader demanded that “Rodis be banned from the Inquirer until he learns to apply his criticism equally, without regard to race or national origin.”
I replied to Joe Kano that I would hope that a Chechnyan columnist writing for a Chechnyan newspaper somewhere would denounce the anti-Chechnyan reference in the film just as a Jewish writer denounced the anti-Semitic reference in the film in a Jewish blog. I wrote my article for a Filipino publication so I make no apologies for only criticizing the racial profiling of Filipinos in the film.
The negative reaction of many Filipinos in the Philippines may be due to the lack of experience with the pernicious effects of racial profiling in the US. Filipinos in the US, however, are more acutely aware of how racial profiling can affect an entire American ethnic community for the actions of people of their ethnicity outside the US.
After the Navy of Imperial Japan bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, US Pres. Franklin D. Roosevelt, on February 19, 1942, signed Executive Order 9066 which authorized the internment of 110,000 Japanese-Americans who lived on the west coast of the US even though not a single one of them was ever charged with involvement in any activity against the United States. Future Senators Daniel Inouye and Daniel Akaka were among those who spent almost three years cooped up in concentration camps that were set up in deserts all over the US.
Almost 50 years later, in 1988, the US Congress passed legislation that apologized for the government’s internment of Japanese Americans which, according to the legislation, was based on “race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership”. The U.S. government disbursed more than $1.6 billion in reparations to Japanese Americans who had been interned.
In his book, “Racial Formation in the United States,” UC Santa Barbara Professor Howard Winant wrote that “the United States has always had this tendency to racialize its international conflicts domestically, to view international conflicts as domestic threats…As a nation of immigrants, it’s the easiest place in the world to internalize its external conflicts.”
In numerous polls conducted in the US after 9/11, a majority of respondents said that authorities should single out people who look “Middle Eastern” for security screening at locations such as airports and train stations. A Gallup poll showed that 39 percent of Americans admit to being prejudiced against Muslims and declare that they would not want a Muslim for a neighbor.
Ansar Mahmood was a young Pakistani green card holder working as a pizza delivery man in New York when he was detained in October 2001, a month after 9/11, for taking photos of the Catskill Mountains near the Hudson Water Treatment Plant. He was cleared of any terrorism charges but after FBI agents learned that he lived with two Pakistani citizens who were from his home town whose US visas had expired, he was charged with “harboring illegal aliens” and deported from the US after spending 32 months in federal custody.
As Anthropologist Paul Silverstein concluded, Muslims in the US “are the object of a series of stereotypes, caricatures and fears which are not based in a reality and are independent of a person’s experience with Muslims.
Even though Filipino Muslims make up less than 15% of the Philippine population, most of America is not aware of this statistic and may easily believe from watching “Act of Valor” that most Filipinos are Muslims and then extend their hostility towards all Muslims to all Filipinos and make us all victims of guilt by association and the politics of fear.
On October 10, 2007, I wrote an article (“Desperate Apologies”) criticizing a September 30, 2007 episode of the ABC-TV comic hit “Desperate Housewives” where the Terri Hatcher character inquired from her gynecologist about where he graduated from, voicing her concern that he may have acquired his medical training from “some med school in the Philippines”. The clear implication of the Hatcher crack was that Philippine-trained physicians are quacks.
In my article, I inquired about how this script was vetted with the writers, producers and ABC executives. Were any of them sensitive to how this negative reference may affect Philippine physicians and how it may subject them to ridicule?
Through the National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA), we sought and obtained a meeting with ABC executives to discuss our concerns. Because ABC is owned by the Disney Corporation, we even demonstrated in front of a Disney store in San Francisco’s Union Square to press ABC executives to meet with us.
The offshoot of all this activism was that ABC apologized and edited out the demeaning reference to graduates from “some med school in the Philippines” in the episode’s reruns and in the DVDs.
“Act of Valor” is far more destructive of the Filipino people’s character and image than that “Desperate Housewives” episode could ever be. And yet where is the outrage?
The executive producer of “Act of Valor” is Ryan Kavanaugh, the billionaire mogul who owns Relativity Media which is distributing the film worldwide. His office address is 9242 Beverly Blvd. Suite 300, Beverly Hills, CA 90210 and his phone number is (310) 724-7700 in case you want to inquire about how “Act of Valor” was vetted.
Mr. Kavanaugh, sir, with tens of thousands of Filipinos actively serving in the US Navy, was any thought given as to how your film may affect their morale and their image?
Mr. Kavanaugh, sir, you claim in your $30 million publicity campaign for this movie that it is “based on true events”. What factual incident can you point to that involved Filipino Muslim terrorists attempting to infiltrate the US to sow terror?
Perhaps Mr. Kavanaugh can be requested to consider editing the scene where US Navy SEALs, hiding out in a hill overlooking a Somali dessert, spot a plane that lands and unloads a group of 16 men and women who then bow down and pray on their knees. Using his binoculars, a SEAL immediately identifies them as Filipinos. How could he possibly know that?
Perhaps the scene could be changed so that the soldier identifies them as “Muslims”, which would be the logical conclusion as they were all facing east towards Mecca and they were wearing Muslim garb. If they are not identified as Filipinos in that critical scene, then their later attempts to infiltrate the US border wearing suicide vests would not cause a major racial profiling problem for Filipinos.
Otherwise, in viewing this film, I am inclined to paraphrase Mark Twain: There are lies, there are damned lies and then there’s “Act of Valor.”