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The dreary catalogue of Hollywood films endlessly repeating the same stale clichés about Russians continues remorselessly on, with a new film – Red Sparrow – featuring Jennifer Lawrence, Hollywood’s current star du jour.
For those who do not know, the film is about a Russian ballerina who following an injury is “persuaded” by Russian intelligence to turn into a sex spy working on their behalf. The first part of the film is about her ‘training’ in this task.
In the event – and entirely predictably – the spy rebels against her controllers and the ‘corrupt Russian regime’ she works for, and becomes a CIA asset.
Cold War and post-Cold War thrillers featuring Russia are two a penny, but this film – released to generally poor reviews – perpetuates a Western myth about Soviet and Russian ‘sexspionage’ that extends far back into the Cold War.
A particularly vicious recent iteration of this myth is of course the Trump Dossier – the collation of documents at the centre of the Russiagate scandal – whose central allegation is that Donald Trump has been compromised by the Russians, who supposedly have a film of him engaging in a sex orgy in Moscow’s Ritz Carlton Hotel.
In light of this it is important to say that the central claim of Red Sparrow – that the Russians train beautiful female agents in ‘sexspionage’ – is total nonsense.
Here is how the Daily Telegraph reports the comments on this subject of Rupert Allason aka Nigel West, a leading British ‘expert’ on Soviet and Russian intelligence, who has himself been the originator of some pretty wild claims about it
However, the espionage historian Nigel West — whose Historical Dictionary of Sexspionage (Scarecrow Press) was originally written as a handbook for the Intelligence community — questions the existence of such training schools, and is sceptical of the authenticity of descriptions of the sparrows’ training in Jason Matthews’s novels. Most sparrows were not full-time KGB employees but prostitutes or “actresses” who had no need of erotic instruction, he tells me.
“It’s possible that female recruits at the Andropov academy might be warned that they might have to do more than simply operate on the cocktail party circuit, they might have to sleep with a target. But the idea there was a stable of women whose job was to seduce men for the KGB, it’s a lovely idea but it just ain’t true. Think about the practicalities of it: what were they going to do all day, sit around knitting?”
Today the Western stereotypical image of Russian women is that they are beautiful. However this is not something to be celebrated. On the contrary it is something to be feared or at least to be on one’s guard against.
Where Russian women during the Cold War were thought of as plain and dull but ultimately honest, today they are represented as materialistic, money-focused, tacky, manipulative, promiscuous, under-dressed and amoral. They are femmes fatales out to gull unsuspecting innocent Westerners of their secrets, their morals, and (of course) their money. Typically they are spies, prostitutes or gangsters’ molls.
Now we have in Red Sparrow yet another Hollywood film which panders to precisely this stereotype, with the inclusion in the film of some strong sex scenes adding an extra dose of titillation to the mix.
I repeat again the point I made in my article of 16th October 2016. In a time of anti-racism and political correctness in the West, the racist stereotyping of Russians is the only form of racist stereotyping which remains not just acceptable, but actually fashionable.
That this is so is shown by the critical response in the West to Red Sparrow. Though the film is straightforwardly racist, not a single Western review I have seen about it says so. Though the film is widely criticised as tacky, no one objects to the grossly racist way Russians are depicted in it.
As to the offensiveness of that, I repeat again what I said in my article of 16th October 2016
Racial stereotyping is always something to complain about. It is dehumanising, intolerant and ugly. It is racist and profoundly offensive of its target. This is so whenever it is used to mock or label any ethnicity or national or cultural group. Russians are not an exception.
A society that indulges in it, and which tolerates those who do, forfeits its claim to anti-racism and interracial tolerance. The fact that it is treating just one ethnic group – Russians – in this way, denying them the moral and legal protection which it accords others, in no way diminishes its racism and intolerance. It emphasises it.
Red Sparrow is just one more example which makes the case.