Extraction, orientalist production of global south and identity politics

Md Nazmul Arefin | Published: 00:00, May 10,2020

Md Nazmul Arefin, Netflix’s Extraction, identity politics, global south, Narcos, Mexico, orientalism, Pablo Escobar, KGB, western hegemony, white supremacy

Chris Hemsworth’s Asgardian god like charms and personality flowered with humanity and civilisation is the epitome of White supremacy projected in Netflix’s Extraction (2020). The screenplay reluctantly fails to recite the proper lives of people in urban Bangladeshi society. There is no cinema without politics. And there is no politics without identity. Md Nazmul Arefin reviews the film while talking about identity politics and politics of representation of the global south in western productions

NETFLIX’S latest original action thriller film Extraction (2020), previously titled Dhaka, is the directorial debut of Hollywood stunt coordinator Sam Hargrave. It is already the biggest blockbuster among the Netflix’s growing catalogue of original films capturing over USD 90 million with first month views.

The story of Extraction centres around a deadly mission of a white quasi-militarised superhuman Tyler Rake (Chris Hemsworth). Tyler is an ex-Aussie military, now a fearless black market mercenary (of course with a kind soul and tragic past) was hired to locate, liberate and return the kidnapped son of an Indian crime lord from a drug baron of Bangladesh. Then the sweaty, bloody, high-octane rescue race takes place in the roads of Dhaka.

The urban youth of Bangladesh went into a kind of colonial hangover when Netflix announced in 2017 that a blockbuster starring Chris Hemsworth was to be set in Dhaka. They were so excited and boozed with the matter that their Dhaka is going to be extensively imaged in a Hollywood movie for the very first time.

In due course, the hangover got eased with a nationalistic vomiting when ‘Extraction’ was streamed on April 24, 2020. All the anticipation turned into anger as they perceived the representation of Bangladesh grossly demeaning to their cultures and identities.

We are talking about those urban youths who hardly questioned the very ‘project of Hollywood’ about mis-projecting the Global South in films. Rather as the proud children of globalisation they participated in the process of imperial hegemony of Hollywood.

They welcomed the visualisation of Latin America and Mexico through the lens of Netflix’s Narcos. They never distrusted the projection of Africa and other cultures shown in the James Bond film series or in other ‘white-saviour’ type of Hollywood movies. To this ‘I hate politics’ young generation, cinema was a source of entertainment; not politics. But now, the perception of the urban youth of Dhaka about cinematic representation rerouted to politics as the Hollywood hits hard their nationalistic sentiments about Bangladesh. Let us have a look into some of their reactions.

Al Murad Uzzaman wrote in Google Audience Review, ‘Being a Bangladeshi, it's very disappointing to watch. If someone tries to convince me that it's just a movie and in movies all are justified. We are not Russia or China but we don't have a nerve war or economic war either with USA or any of its ally. So, it's been done intentionally either for financial motive as India is a big market for Netflix or instigated by someone.’ 

Arefin Shuvo, another viewer wrote on the same platform, ‘As an action movie, it may be called very good, but the way this movie has portrayed Bangladesh in front of the whole world is unbearable. Once again America (Netflix) showed how they see Bangladesh. When boys of this country, after watching an American movie-series, started to think of himself as ‘half-American’, this movie of Netflix seemed to say – You are slum dwellers, poor, go to our charity, what more can you show?’

The substantial amount of such critical reactions on social media and other public spheres bear the testimony of the fact that finally some sort of visual literacy developed among the politically naïve urban youth of Bangladesh. Thanks to Netflix’s Extraction! These reactions from the youth are very important from the perspectives of identity politics of the global south.

All this while, our youth has been thinking cinema as a mere innocent mode of entertainment. They have not yet been able to consider the role of cinema in creating public opinion or reforming the thought process of mass public. Our youth has to be smart enough to perceive the hidden role of Hollywood in disseminating and sustaining the ideologies that justify the superiority of the west over the global south. Without the political consciousness of the youth, it is not possible to deconstruct the Hollywood’s orientalist production like Extraction.

It is true that Extraction is by no means a realistic film, nor it is based on a true story. But as the script writer Joe Russo chose to image a real world city of the global south. And Dhaka is not a comic mythos universe like Wakanda or Gotham. Despite that an ‘imagined culture’ of Dhaka has been produced in this film. The screenplay reluctantly fails to recite the proper lives of people in Bangladeshi society. Though this movie is all about canvassing Dhaka, the actual shooting took place in India’s Ahmedabad and Mumbai and some shots were taken in Thailand. And the set and character design of Bangladesh is nothing but the repetition of producing a stereotype imagined culture of global south cities.

Power of drug kingpins, corruption of police forces, poverty, grimy slums and juvenile armed criminals -- the same old structural representation of the ‘uncivilised’ margins by the ‘civilised’ centre. This is all about continuing the neo-colonial project of producing binary oppositions of ‘high culture’ and ‘low culture’ for sustaining the white supremacy in the globe.

The police and Bangladeshi military were also portrayed as the homogenous sketches of Orientals to the worldwide audience that they were shaky, bribed, controlled and can be used by the drug lords even in personal war. Most people perceive this painting as fictional. But this is the strategic game of manipulating viewers’ thought processes, to form a map about the military of the global south.

Vilifying KGB against Western heroes was a very successful Cold War propaganda tool used by Hollywood. Similarly, in Extraction the police and defence forces were portrayed as the patron of drug lord Asif who was remarked as the Pablo Escobar of Dhaka. For a criminal like Asif, the law enforcement of Dhaka even can shut down the entire city to prevent a white one-man army.

Hemsworth’s Asgardian god like charms and personality flowered with humanity and civilisation is the epitome of white supremacy projected in the film. And with jumbo budget Hollywood has always succeeded in selling the white swag to the world. Youth of the global south cities are hypnotised with this swag, which they are not even aware about. They love and envy western way of life and hate oriental politics.

But they do not even realise how they are doing politics on behalf of the west by hating their own political cultures and withdrawing themselves from participating in it for a change. The sooner they realise that their identity never can be altered through the blind adoption of western wardrobes, foods, values or English accent the better they understand that to the westerns they are nothing but a dominated uncivilised subjects without originality. 

I seriously do believe that Extraction has brought about some thematic changes in the thought patterns of the urban youth of Bangladesh regards to the politics of cinema. There is no cinema without politics. And there is no politics without identity. As a citizen of the global south every youth needs to be smart enough to critically decode the identity politics of Hollywood. It is real smartness to understand that we live in an absolute exploitative system of global political-economic relations.

Here, moral inferiority and dependency of the global south is very important to the west to sustain their political-economic dominance. There are so many medium used by them to foster the dependency. Cinema is one of them. Medium is the message. And as a Western medium, Extraction has conveyed many messages about Bangladesh to the millions of households around the world.

Youth, Let’s learn to identify and deconstruct the messages. Let’s learn to develop our own ‘soft-power’ weapon of cultural retaliation.

Md Nazmul Arefin is an independent researcher on cinematic representation of identity politics.

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