There are many countries that we don’t know much about because very little news emerges from them. If they are large and powerful countries such as China and Russia, we may know about their economic successes, their military power, their political strategies or competition with other countries. In any case, this information is not well-known and certainly not comprehensive when compared to what we know about countries such as the United States, from which news, tweets and political or artistic events emerge every second.
The truth is that though there is a problem with the lack of information coming from many countries, when there is abundant knowledge about a country such as the United States, it is no less complicated because it generates excessive reactions and passionate outcry, which lead to panic and fear.
It may be that film has been the most expressive medium through which we’ve learned about the United States. The first wave of such films involved movies about people migrating from the east to the west in the United States. During this migration, Americans faced the drama of departure, the transition from poverty to the search for gold and wealth and the constant dangers of Native Americans and extreme temperatures.
The second wave of films that spread knowledge about the U.S. came in the 1960s, when Mario Puzo’s novel, “The Godfather,” was published and made into a movie. The original film in 1969 and the sequel in 1972 both won Oscars. Both films featured the mafia, a theme that was repeated in a series of crime films. Thus, American cinema essentially divided American society into two groups: police and criminals. Some of the police were more honorable, while others were corrupt. The criminals were also divided into categories such as murderers and crooks. This led to different types of films, for example, dramas and comedies. America was no longer perfect. There were other American values, many influenced by cruelty, the law and constant violence. Westerns fell out of style, and the mafia was no longer Italian but quickly became Russian or even Irish.
The third wave of influential films came at the end of the 1970s, when George Lucas directed “Star Wars,” a movie that symbolized the policies of President Ronald Reagan, who had launched a new arms race that led to the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War. The American became a researcher, colonizer and space traveler, regularly discovering new worlds and horizons in movies portraying good, as they did in “Avatar,” or portraying evil, as in “The Evil Empire.” The “good American” returned in various forms, for example as the nice astronaut in “The Martian,” or as the not-so-nice type, as in “The Avengers.” Those were movies that focused the relationship between powerful evil forces and even more powerful forces such as in “Captain America,” where evil is conquered and overcome.
It is now possible that America is on the verge of a fourth kind of story related to Donald Trump’s election to office, a story that is completely different from that which began with the founding of the United States and lasted until the assassination of John F. Kennedy, when in addition to its president, America lost much of its alleged innocence. But until this story emerges, the three kinds of stories, together or separately, present different versions of contemporary life in the United States from the beginning of the 20th century until now. That is, since the film industry has been reflecting America and its realities, realities that include the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, two world wars, the Cold War, globalization and the War on Terror. Who knows what the next war will be?!