Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time opened this past weekend in the US. The movie is based very loosely on the critically acclaimed 2003 Ubisoft game of the same name and stars Jake Gyllenhaal as the Prince (named Dastan in the film). There is a lot to criticize about the film, particularly from an anti-racism standpoint, so I thought it would be a good idea to host an open thread to discuss the film.
My spoileriffic thoughts behind the cut.
First of all, the whitewashing is ridiculous. It’s embarrassing from the first few minutes, which shows a plucky young white boy (Dastan as a child) standing up to the cruel Persian guards who beat another street orphan for getting in the way of a horse. Naturally, this act of heroism causes the kindly King to adopt him as a son (in addition to his two biological sons, although their mother is never mentioned at all).
The only people of color in the film are villains, except for Dastan’s plucky sidekick, who is killed off in the first 15 minutes and immediately forgotten about. (There are some white villains, but there are no people of color who are heroes throughout the entire film.) Some of the villains are redeemed, only to immediately die. This happens a lot, particularly in Disney movies (I’m thinking particularly of Pirates), and it is seriously lazy writing. As soon as someone who has done some bad things redeems themselves by helping the hero or saving his life, they die. They never have to actually deal with whatever bad things they’ve done. This happens three to four times just in this movie.
In addition, the heavy-handed Iraq war analogies are downright offensive. The Persian army invades the city of Alamut because the king has been led to believe that Alamut has been making weapons for some undefined “enemies of Persia.” We later find out that Alamut doesn’t have any weapons! The evidence was forged by the king’s brother, who wanted to take over Alamut in order to find for his own benefit an extremely valuable substance hidden beneath the city! (THE SANDS OF TIME ARE LIKE OIL, YOU GUYS, DO YOU GET IT???)
There’s only one actual female character, and the rest of the women in the movie are sexy harem girls or servants. So of course it fails the Bechdel Test spectacularly. Princess Tamina is repeatedly held captive throughout the first hour of the film and is vaguely threatened with sexual violence (you know, in a Disney-fied “I like a girl with spirit!” sort of way). And how hilarious is it when Dastan trades her off to Sheik Amar (who is apparently a Teabagger, constantly complaining about taxes screwing over the small businessmen!) without knowing what he’s going to do with her–and it turns out he puts her in a skimpy outfit to serve drinks to the men attending his ostrich races with a bunch of other women? Answer: NOT HILARIOUS AT ALL.
Also, we first meet adult Dastan shirtless and wrestling another man to show us what a manly man he is in a scene almost exactly like the boxing scene in the new Sherlock Holmes, but without the awesome calculating part. Later on, there’s a scene where Dastan figures out what the Dagger of Time does, and here’s what happens: the princess attacks him, he uses the dagger to go back, he is shocked and she attacks him again, he uses the dagger AGAIN, then he stops her from attacking him and then mansplains what the fucking dagger does just in case we hadn’t figured it out by now. The princess is the guardian of the dagger, dude, she knows what it does!
Also: the supervillains with evil magical powers are called AS-SAND-SINS. WHAT THE HELL.
The “best” part is the ending because basically everyone dies, but then Dastan manages to use the Sands of Time to go back to when he first got the dagger, just after the Persians took over Alamut, and avoids the entire fucking story by managing to kill his uncle before anything happens. YEAH. And somehow he still gets to marry the princess, even though she doesn’t know him and has every reason to resent being forced to marry him by an invading army, but this is all okay and supposed to be a happy ending because we KNOW they’re DESTINED to be together because it happened in an alternate timeline. The ending isn’t completely out of place because the Sands of Time are established as a thing pretty early on, but it is still a cop-out because it erases basically everything that happened in the movie.
As for good things, the action scenes are great: both the parkour and the fighting are very fun to watch. The best fight scene is the one between an As-sand-sin and Seso (a knife-thrower who chases after Dastan for most of the film and then redeems himself by fighting the assassin and retrieving the dagger right before he dies), which was quite intense. Also, at the beginning there is a cute meta moment where Dastan and his pals are sneakily invading Alamut and the camera zooms ahead to show us where they have to go, just like in the original Sands of Time game.
That’s enough of my rambling–have you seen the movie? What did you think? What problematic elements have I missed? I’m sure there are plenty.