Art & Culture

Devdutt Pattanaik on Intolerance: the movie

Devdutt Pattanaik
Devdutt PattanaikNov 25, 2015 | 15:31

Devdutt Pattanaik on Intolerance: the movie

In 1915, DW Griffith, the "inventor of Hollywood", made the silent movie Birth of a Nation which explores the relationship between two families with opposing ideologies during the American Civil War. It was a commercial success. But only amongst White Americans. African Americans were appalled at the portrayal of black people as unintelligent and sexually savage. Many of the black roles were played by white actors painted black (infamous as the "blackface").


The film also showed the formation of the Ku Klux Klan as something heroic. Naturally, there were attempts to censor and ban the film. Griffith was so infuriated that he made another film in 1916. It was a colossal undertaking with massive sets, period costumes and thousands of extras. It was called Intolerance. It was a flop.

Since then, however, the film Intolerance has been critically acclaimed as the world’s only "film fugue". Fugue is a musical technique in which the same musical score is played at different times by different musical instruments to create a symphony that reaches a climax. Bach, the great musician, was the master of the fugue. The film intercuts between four stories, all of which narrate tales of intolerance in different periods of Western History.

Story 1 deals with the intolerance between the worshippers of Bel-Marduk and Ishtar in the city of Babylon that results in the fall of the city at the hands of Cyrus of Persia 2,500 years ago.

Story 2 deals with the intolerance that leads to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ in Judea 2,000 years ago.

Story 3 deals with intolerance that led to the St Bartholomew's Day Massacre of Protestant Huguenots by Catholic royals in France 400 years ago.


Story 4 deals with intolerance that leads to moral puritanism, capitalistic exploitation and crime in contemporary America.  

Intolerance continues to plague the world. Let us look at intolerance through the lens of homophobia (pathological irrational hatred of homosexuals):

1.  Arabic countries do not make room for non-Islamic faiths. No temple or church can be built in many countries of the Middle East. Homosexuals, if discovered, run the risk of being killed.

2.  Africa is torn between Christians and Muslims, who kill each other in the name of Abraham’s God. Both agree homophobia is a good thing.

3.  Europe wants to see itself as secular and atheist and does not know how to deal with the rising tide of refugees who have strong religious beliefs. The refugees seek freedom from oppression back home, but also demand the right to oppress homosexuals.

4.  America has a strong Christian tradition that is no longer private, and increasingly more intolerant of other faiths, as more and more young Americans are sent to war in the Middle East. Its Supreme Court upheld the right of homosexuals to marry, long after it had decriminalised homosexuality. The Conservative lobby in not amused.


5.  America supports Israel that is infamous for using "Pink Washing" – using its liberal attitude towards homosexuals as propaganda against the conservative homophobic Islamists.

6.  India’s Supreme Court used procedure to justify intolerance against homosexuals, dismissing them as "miniscule minority". This happened before Modi. And all political parties hesitated to condemn it officially in their manifestoes, for fear of losing popular support in elections.

So yes, there is intolerance in the world. Intolerance has always been around. Homosexuals have lived with it for a very long time. More today than yesterday? The answer has become a surrogate marker of your political leanings. Nobody is interested in removing the real/perceived intolerance. Everybody seems to be more worried about branding!

Last updated: November 25, 2015 | 18:44
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