Hollywood still propagates those old stereotypes about Russia and Russians. They have this persistent image or myth, that all Russians wear Ushanka hats, drinks way too much alcohol and swears way too loud. The example of such mythical easterner is Lev Andropov ( actor Peter Stormare), Russian cosmonaut from the movie “Armageddon”. Somehow he is always drunk and wears Ushanka even in a space station. Better not forget the Russian space station that looks as abandoned as the proper image of Russia. So how exactly Hollywood perceive Russians?
If American movie makers choose to depict Russians in their criminal thrillers, at the end of the day their attempts turn to parodies and comedies. This misrepresentation might turn into an insult in the eyes of proper Russians. Most of Hollywood actors struggle to speak Slavic. Most of the time they mangle Russian words and exaggerate their image way too often. Russian audience criticize Americans for their narrow minds and perception. However, Russians might do the same mistake with the representation of American culture. The problem is, that we live in cosmopolitan world, but our idea of different cultures is too narrow ans stereotypical. Why do we link Ushanka hats just with Russian culture.? This type of headgear was and still is popular with the westerners.
Actually Ushanka hats can look stylish and classy on the head of a westerner. Jay-Z, Rihanna, Jared Leto and others American celebrities tried on that Russian hat and it looked perfect. Enough about the West, because East is East. The biggest problem Hollywood studios have to face, is not the appearance of their Russian characters, but the language. Such language difficulty can be seen in “The Bourne Identity” and “The Terminal”. In these two films character names should be Slavic and what we get is Foma Kiniaev spelled as “Fshf Lshtshfum” (The Bourne Identity) and Tom Hanks in the Terminal driving license with the name Gulnara Gulina, which is actually a Muslim female’s name. Such minor details and mistakes might not bother Americans, but it will irritate Easterners.
In Hollywood, even the biggest studios, rarely checks facts. They hire Americans to play Russians, no wonder they speak Russian with accents. One proper Russian actor, who lives in U.S now, Igor Zhizhikin say: “Hollywood makes pictures for itself”. Maybe for their own amusements they create such cartoonist Russian characters and put those Ushanka hats on their heads. However, Viktor Alisov a true Russian film producer thinks that Americans are to incompetent to notice such thing as an accent. Instead of hiring a competent adviser who checks facts, they economize everything. For the biggest film studios it’s not forth the wait. Today actors and special effects are the gods of cinema.
While some people say that such misrepresentations is just the result of American’s incompetence, Erik Sarkisian, who supervises the cinema archive at the Moscow Province Ministry of Culture, thinks that Hollywood is making a political statement. This idea could be relevant to the years of Cold War. Is it ethical to portray an alcoholic Russian cosmonaut who wears Ushanka hats? What if they add a bear and a nesting doll to that? Of course Americans have a good sense of humor. They criticize and mock themselves. However, the real responsibility for mockery and misrepresentations lies within the American media. Hollywood only fallow that misleading path.
Russians with Ushanka hats are still depicted as Mafiosi, communist, KGB agents and above all the biggest archenemies of U.S. Till today easterners, especially Russians are thought to have some sort of superpower. In Hollywood blockbusters we usually see such eastern superpower. Unfortunate most of Russian roles are still misleading and comical. Among the worst Russian accents and characters in Hollywood, there is one exception. Viggo Mortensen the most authentic Russian criminal in Eastern Promises. He didn’t even need Ushanka hats. Such authentic image of an easterner is rare, especially in American pictures.
Stereotypical images of Russians in Hollywood movies
Are they still wearing Ushanka hats in Hollywood movies? Lets have a look at 7 different Russian characters in 7 different Hollywood films. Just remember, misrepresentation of easterners is not necessarily a bad thing. Don’t think that all Russians wear such outfits as in 1984 cult film Red Dawn.
1) Ivan Danko ( played by Arnold Schwarzenegger) in Red Heat 1988
In 1988 Red Heat, Arnold Schwarzenegger portrayed a Russian police office named Ivan Danko. The film plot takes us back to Soviet Moscow. As we can predict from the film’s title, this story revolves around Communists. Why this film is famous? The Hollywood filmmakers once again managed mock Soviet policemen who where Ushanka hats. The typical routs of Russian policeman such as the bus chase and visit to sauna do its job to turn film into a parody. Till today this film remains to be the mockery of Russian officers.
2) Cosmonaut Lev Andropov (played by Peter Stormare) in Armageddon, 1998
I’ve mentioned earlier that Peter Stormare’s role of cosmonaut Lev Andropov is misleading. The man spent 8 months in wrecked and abandoned space station. He is found their all drunk wearing Ushanka hats most of the time. Lev still has black and white photos of his family. He also wears T-shirt with “USSR” title and five-point star. For real Russian astronaut this image is an absolute mockery.
3) Boris “The Blade” (played by Rade Šerbedžija), in Snatch, 2000
Boris “The Blade” is a former KGB agent, who is stocking up guns, leather jackets and expensive cars. The same image was popular in 1990′s with foreigners, who thought of Russians as Communist that are unable to put up with Democratic order. They have no idea how capitalistic world works. It seems that they only lived from black market. Boris in Guy Richie’s Snatch represented such myth. For him intrigues, plots and violence was a norm in this world of black market.
4) Veronika Voronina ( played by Olga Kurylenko) in Hitman,2007
Another stereotype in Hollywood films is a Russian prostitute. I doubt that such character will be wearing luxurious Ushanka hats. Somehow Hollywood screenwriters think that no other jobs are available for Russian woman. In Hitman Veronika, a street walker, witnessed the attempted assassination of the president. Somehow she began dating on of the cold-blooded Hitmans. Hollywood actress with Ukrainian roots, Kurylenko usually plays the girlfriend role of the main “hitman”.
5) Ivan Vanko (played by Mickey Rourke),in Iron Man 2, 2010
Ivan Vanko/Whiplash is a Russian engineer and the main archenemy in the second film of Iron Man. Vanko has Communist roots ( so predictable). Mickey Rourke didn’t wear Ushanka hats, his Russian look was created by professional Hollywood make-up artist. They put some metal teeth and gave him that prison look with large tattoos on his entire body.
6) Ivan Simonov (played by Brian Cox) in RED, 2010
RED or in other words Retired and Extremely Dangerous. This is a story about former special agents. RED anagram could also stand for Russian spies. Ivan Simonov is a former KGB agent who helps former FBI spies and of course his long lost lover. Stereotypical Ivan spends most of his time in the dark, wearing a fur coats and of course Ushanka hats. We can find him in this dark room drinking vodka straight from the bottle. Of course such image looks as a caricature. In his retreat house you will definitely notice an old samovar and a bear skin on the wall ( so typical).
7) Vitaly the Tiger (played by Bryan Cranston), in Madagascar 3, 2012
And at last, some time for animations and Russian characters. Meet Vitaly, he is a Russian circus tiger. This is the only character who doesn’t wear Ushanka. However, this character is a bit rude. He was unlucky in one of his performances. He burned his fur while jumping through a fire ring. This tiger is not just rude but depressed. He drowns his sorrow and pity in borscht soup. While Americans are light-hearted and cheerful, Vital is deeply melancholic.
You see there are several versions of Russian characters in Hollywood movies.