The White House in January, probably. Anthony Keo
We’re shaking up Fridays by introducing The Stranger’s Film Club, a new biweekly Slog series where Stranger writers Jasmyne Keimig and Charles Mudede revisit the movies they can’t stop thinking about. The first entry into the series is Antoine Fuqua’s 2013 film Olympus Has Fallen.
Check out Charles’s post on the film below, and then watch Jasmyne and Charles talk over Zoom about Fuqua, Morgan Freeman, and whether or not Joe Biden will make us feel all warm and fuzzy about the White House. —Eds. Note
The President is rushed to the bunker by the Secret Service. There has been a hostile breach of D.C.’s airspace. A huge plane packed with all kinds of powerful guns is blasting everything in the air and on the ground. Fighter jets explode and fall. Bullets burst the bodies of tourists visiting the symbols of a civilization that dominates the world but is still very young (just under 250 years old—the Arab control of Spain lasted for a little over 700 years).
Before a white man and white woman running from the plane can find a safe place on the street, their limbs, chests, and heads are exploded by bullets that can easily pierce the armor of a tank. A massive chunk of the Washington Monument falls on and crushes a young white family.
The director of this 2013 action thriller, Olympus Has Fallen, is black, Antoine Fuqua. This is his eighth Hollywood movie. Fuqua has never made an indie feature. He might be the first black director to begin his career in motion pictures with a big budget, Replacement Killers. Most of the actors he’s worked with have names: Jamie Foxx (Bait), Denzel Washington (Training Day), Bruce Willis (Tears of the Sun), Mark Wahlberg (Shooter), Richard Gere (Brooklyn’s Finest).
This black man from Pittsburgh’s pre-gentrified Hill District—the neighborhood at the center of all the pain, the misery, the smashed dreams, the extreme poverty, the “dead niggers” that the poet August Wilson packed into his Pittsburgh Cycle plays—even made a film about King Arthur. It stars Clive Owen and Keira Knightley.
But in Olympus Has Fallen, which has stars everywhere you look (Gerard Butler, Aaron Eckhart, Morgan Freeman, Angela Bassett, Robert Forster, Cole Hauser, Ashley Judd), the White House is at the center of attention. It is the target of the rogue plane in the sky and a team of terrorists on the ground. The mastermind of this operation is a North Korean played by an Asian-American, Richard Yune.
So, here we have a mess that’s hard to break down into its atoms for a proper analysis. A black man has directed what’s essentially a film in the Yellow Peril genre. But there is even more to consider. The black director also seems to have no mercy on his white extras. The North Koreans (the enemy from the East) blast them to bits and pieces for long stretches of the film. And the camera is unusually hard on us. It will not turn away from the very violent deaths of ordinary citizens and Secret Service agents.
And then, of course, there is the near total destruction of the White House. We can’t tell who enjoys it more: the director from the Hill District or his fictional North Korean terrorists. The White House was, after all, built with unpaid black labor.
The film also speaks to our chaotic and even terrifying post-2020 presidential election moment. The blasted monuments of our civilization, the bullet-ridden corpses of the men and women who failed to protect our elected officials, the obliterated White House—all of this cannot be dissociated from Trump’s daily assault on what many considered to be our sacred, untouchable, undoubtable democracy. The film ends with an America we expect to find when we wake up on January 21, 2021.
Stream Olympus Has Fallen on Netflix, or rent it via Prime Video, iTunes, or Scarecrow Video.