Thursday, May 20, 2010

Rambo, popular film among Burmese and Karen refugees


Sometime ago, I wrote about how the film "Rambo," AKA "Rambo 4" was an extremely popular film among the refugees from Burma that I knew. The plot of the film deals with Rambo, played by Sylvester Stallone, entering the Karen territory of Burma to rescue some American missionaries. The American missionaries were bringing bibles and medicine to the Karen people. However when Burmese soldies attack the Karen village, the missionaries are captured by the Burmese soldiers.
It is, according to many refugees from the Burmese police state, a criminal offense publishable by two to four years in prison to watch or possess this movie in Burma.
It's a very simple movie, thematically, and I'm not sure what to make of it.
The Burmese army is bad. Rambo kills them.
But, nevertheless, I confess that four minutes in the movie my eyes began to water as sadness and pent-up emotions began to come out.
The film begins with a brief description of Burma and its brutal government and the atrocities it commits on its Burmese and ethnic minority citizens. It's all true (Aside from the strange fact that they indicated that it was only the ethnic minorities in the east who are rising up against the government. The truth is the minorities on all sides are rising up. This government is bad, very bad and there's not much that can be done to state otherwise.)
This is followed by some scenes of Burmese soldiers driving prisoners across a minefield and then commiting atrocities on the remaining prisoners.
It's brutal. In another context, I would dismiss this as gratuitous violence. Yet it is exactly what has happened and is continuing to happen in this part of the world.
The strange fact is that I have refugee friends who I know have been exposed to this sort of thing in various ways. What's terrible is when your talking to a good hearted college age guy who you've know for a while and he starts talking matter of factly about doing wood cutting at his parents' house in Burma. And you ask him to clarify because you thought he was in Thailand at that time. His explanation is that he visited them. When asked if that was possible, he explained, with no emotion except for a shrug, that it was but you had to sneak through the woods and stay off the roads or you'd be shot on sight by soldiers who might mistake you for a guerilla or rebel.
I'm not surprised by the response the film received from Karen and Burmese refugees.
The violence, the brutality, the injustice they have suffered is great.
And not just the horror of it all, but the obscurity of the issue in the minds of most people you meet, is incredible.
I cannot imagine what it would be like to spend most of my life suffering persecution and attempted genocide because of my ethnic background and then finding myself in a room full of people who had never heard of my ethnic group.
And yet this is exactly what happens whenever a Karen refugee from Burma tries to interact with Americans or most non-refugee groups such as, for instance, a college course of English as a Second Language.

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