BAGHDAD (AFP) – Their city besieged by coalition troops, Baghdadis lucky enough to have power pass the time watching movies. One of their favorites is about a militiaman who reluctantly takes up arms for his country after seeing brutality by British forces.
The film is “The Patriot,” and Mel Gibson is fighting for America’s independence.
Even though Baghdadis can look out the window every day and watch US bombs and missiles raining down, ironically their top choices on the small screen are war films — Hollywood war films.
The best-selling movies for merchant Abu Abbas are “The Patriot” and “Ticker,” the 2001 thriller in which cop Steven Seagal searches frantically for a bomb planted in San Francisco.
“The films I sell are mostly the ones where there’s some action,” explained another movie seller, Ali Hassan.
“During an evening of airstrikes, provided there’s electricity, customers want to wind down and be taken in by a story in which the good triumph over the evil, like us against the Americans,” said Hassan, 46.
Seagal is an especially popular actor in Baghdad. For people who have been through decades of war and economic sanctions, there is something attractive about a muscular special agent who can always save the day through his impeccable fighting and exceptional audacity.
Besides Seagal, favorite actors include American action hero Wesley Snipes, Chinese martial-arts master Jet Li and James Bond, the smooth spy in service of Britain — whose forces are part of the war aimed at toppling Saddam Hussein.
Other popular films in Iraq include Jean-Claude Van Damme‘s 1996 action drama “Maximum Risk” and just about anything starring Sylvester Stallone.
“Customers really like these types of films because of the quality of the story and one shouldn’t mix that up with politics,” said another movie seller, 23-year-old Fellah Hassan.
“Look at our fighters. They’re the ones who most resemble Wesley Snipes or Jet Li, not our enemies,” he said.
In another sign of US media influence in Baghdad, two boys enjoyed themselves at a hotel computer club playing a videogame of urban tank battles. The American tanks, of course, are the good guys.
“First I like action, war, detective and kung-fu movies, and then Arabic music videos,” said Ali Hussein, a 21-year-old who before the war worked for a computer company.
Just being able to watch a movie at home is a small luxury in Baghdad. With days of blackouts, the only way to watch television for most people is by using a power generator.
And there are few video shops to choose from. Most have downed their shutters since the start of the war, with the owners storing their merchandise at home for safe-keeping.
For those desperate to get something new, movies are sold from the wooden stalls of the Bal al-Shorjah bazaar.
Another option is state television which offers a regular menu of patriotic films, particularly those about Saladin, the Kurdish warrior who led the historic Muslim victory against the Crusaders in 1187 — and who was from Saddam Hussein‘s hometown Tikrit.
“I also sell lots of Arabic music videos and Egyptian films, which Iraqis love, along with cartoons for the children,” said movie merchant Ali Radi al-Zuweri, 47.
For many, movies provide a needed escape from the war, as schools have been closed since its start and children are staying at home.
“Films soothe us. For a moment we can forget war is around us,” said Ibrahim Abu Jabbar, who has been indoors with his family for nearly a week.
– Craig Zablo