JACKI LYDEN, host:
The film "300" has been out for more than a month but it's still drawing crowds to the theaters. Commentator Ahmad Sadri says he doesn't expect strict historical accuracy from Hollywood. He can accept hand grenades and a rhinoceros in the film's depiction of the Battle of Thermopylae in the 5th century B.C. What he can't abide(ph) are the racial and sexual stereotypes that exaggerate the differences between the ancient Greeks and Persians.
AHMAD SADRI: I saw Zack Snyder's "300" at a sleepy suburban movie theater near Chicago. The lady behind me was telling her husband that she did not expect to enjoy the movie because it sounded too violent. Those who came for that exact reason got their fill of digital gore.
To my mind, "300" drinks deeply at the cauldron of rage that is still boiling six years after that bloody Tuesday somewhere in the American psyche. It speaks to the desire to rave at endless ancient(ph) hordes. In this movie, Persian immortal knights are snarling beasts beneath their sinister masks, and their king is a fierce androgynous savage. More significantly, Persians are portrayed as black, and by implication, at once, Muslim and homosexual.
In the meanwhile, the Spartan warrior dissolves into your typical white American survivalist - staunchly homophobic and somehow Christian. He is patriotic but weary of his leaders who appear as sacrilegious, scheming lepers(ph).
Of course, the real Spartans were the opposite of all these. They were fond of their elected elders, and young boys. And if they invented boot camp and state terrorism, it wasn't to liberate, but to enslave their fellow Greek neighbors.
But history is Greek to Snyder. Unlike their avatars in the movie "300," however, the real Greeks were not racists. The Greeks weren't barbarians, had cultural, not racial undertones. Xenophon, the Greek philosopher and soldier of fortune admired King Cyrus of Persia. Herodotus spoke of the Persian invaders of Greece with awe and respect. The playwright Aeschylus even dedicated a tragedy to the Persians.
A century and a half later, Alexander of Macedon would invade Iran and burn Persepolis. Iranians mourned the devastation, but they did not call their invaders monsters. And the Persian poet Nezami eulogized Alexander as a prophet.
Turning our back to Hollywood, we can learn a lesson from the wars between the Persian Empire and the Greek confederates. It is possible to fight valiantly against fierce enemies without conceiving of them as hordes of degenerate sub-humans.
LYDEN: Ahmad Sadri is chair of Islamic world study at Lake Forest College in Illinois. This is NPR News.