So far the best treatment I have read online of the colonialist themes in the Indiana Jones films is Gary Dauphin’s “Does Indy Diss the Developing World?” published in The Root. Dauphin criticizes the ways the Indiana Jones films have commonly been discussed, in terms of box office sales, action, and so forth, and even some anthropologists seem to want to comment more on whether it was fun, a romp, whether the plot made sense, and look for obscure hints about the history of archaeology in the film.
As Dauphin would say, “that is mighty white of someone”:
The Indy flicks have been accused of being, Seinfeld-like, about nothing, but that reading is, as they say, mighty white of someone. These movies may be mostly about rigorously-constructed action sequences and “fun,” but many of their excitements have been a highly specific, Tintin kind of fun. Indy is a likeable Anglo-American hero engaged in various forms of derring-do against colored, exotic backdrops.
Speaking of the Orientalism that informs the film series, Dauphin states:
The villains were cardboard cut-out Nazis and commies in three out of the four movies, but this is still a series that started out as an update of the “mummy” genre, with all the Orientalist blind spots and racism that implies. Spielberg may have rather brilliantly flipped that particular script in Raiders by moving the movie’s central artifact from ancient Egypt to ancient Israel, but the overall subject was still a lingering fantasy of a bygone British colonial world, albeit one lensed through the sensibilities of an American director. The world that Indiana inhabits and explores sits in the contested historical space between the colonial and post-colonial periods, but you’d never know it, the only struggle on screen exclusively between First World Axis and Allies, commies and capitalists.
Dauphin reminded me of the Temple of Doom film in the Indiana Jones series, something I wish I had continued to forget. That ridiculously racist trash flick is what kept me away from any further Indiana films, let alone rival rubbish such as Pirates of the Caribbean. Added to Apocalypto and perhaps Pocahontas and we seem to be continually exposed to colonial themes in cinema, as if we were still in the 1920s. Back to Doom, Dauphin reminds us:
It’s no accident then that the “worst” Indy film from both creative and financial standpoints is also the series’ most colored. Temple of Doom is a would-be horror film set in Northern India and focusing on the so-called “Thuggee cult,” groups of Indian highwaymen who populated the nightmares (and adventure stories) of the British colonial era. Temple of Doom went the extra mile by turning what many scholars view as the potentially overstated Thuggee threat into a blood-soaked ooga-booga orgy of human sacrifice and child-abduction, and for its trouble it was banned in India for many years.
Gary Dauphin’s writing can also be found on his blog.
And no, I have not and will not be paying money to see the latest Indiana inanity.